With an important week kicking off for the Sixers — and the NBA as a whole — NBC Sports Philadelphia’s Noah Levick and Shamus Clancy consider options for the Sixers in Wednesday’s NBA draft:
Levick: Daryl Morey’s NBA draft as the Sixers’ president of basketball operations is almost here. The Sixers have an NBA-high five picks and a nearly infinite array of options, but let’s focus here on their first-rounder. They own the 21st selection, thanks in part to Markelle Fultz and Mike Muscala, as the Thunder’s top-20 protected pick just about conveyed. Morey, we should note, hasn’t made a first-round selection since Sam Dekker back in 2015.
Shamus, which prospects do you think might fit well at No. 21? Are there any players you think could be worth a trade-up?
Clancy: Tyrese Maxey out of Kentucky is my guy here. I'm not positive he falls to No. 21, but is there some sort of trade out there where the Sixers maneuver up for him? Morey is such a mover and shaker, so it has to be on the table. This draft doesn't jump out to me as uber-talented, though, so I'm more resigned to not moving assets for a higher pick and just letting the board fall to the Sixers.
You won't have to trade up for him, but San Diego State's Malachi Flynn intrigues me the more and more I see of him. He won Mountain West Defensive Player of the Year as a point guard, has NBA range from deep and can run the offense in a pinch without Ben Simmons on the court. Isn't that what Sixers fans have been screaming for the last three seasons?
How about wing Desmond Bane? I think Philly has been accustomed to drafting TCU stars with the 21st pick in drafts ...
Levick: There’s a lot to like with Bane, who seems bound to play key minutes for a playoff team soon enough. He’s an excellent shooter (43.3 percent from three-point range in college), and he showcased his pick-and-roll skills in an expanded offensive role as a senior. If he’s available, it would be hard to find fault with that selection. He’d also make sense for teams like the Heat and Nets set to pick right before the Sixers. Joe Harris, incidentally, is one of the players Bane said he studies the most.
Cole Anthony, Tyrell Terry, Théo Maledon and Josh Green are a few other names that might be in the mix. Could Anthony thrive in a lower-usage role after a disappointing freshman year at UNC? Does Maledon’s high-level pro experience give him a leg up? Will Terry’s recent work in the weight room help him defensively? There are plenty of interesting storylines, and it doesn’t appear there’s any clear consensus yet from the most plugged-in experts on how everything will shake out, especially in this range.
Would you be opposed to the Sixers trading down and/or drafting a big man in the first round if the guards they like most are off the board? They do have two early second-rounders at their disposal, so perhaps they’d think about someone like Jalen Smith or Zeke Nnaji in the first.
Clancy: The big man route makes sense for me. It's an under-looked avenue given Sixers fans' desire for more perimeter help, but the role of the backup center will always play a pivotal role in Philadelphia as long as Joel Embiid is still here. Al Horford was supposed to anchor that spot at times, but that signing obviously went awry this past season.
These guys inch closer to second-round targets the team could give a chance at No. 34 or No. 36, but Udoka Azubuike out of Kansas and Gonzaga's sweet-shooting French big Killian Tillie get me hype.
Azubuike was an advanced stats dynamo for the Jayhawks with defensive metrics that give him the chance of being an impact player on that end of the court in the pro game. His 7-foot-7 wingspan doesn't hurt when it comes to swatting would-be scorers at the rim, too.
Tillie, who played in several huge tourney games with the Zags, shot 44.4 percent from three on 239 attempts during his four years in Spokane. I think back to the Sixers' blistering run at the end of the 2018 season and the way Simmons looked like he was in The Matrix dishing it out to Ersan Ilyasova and Dario Šarić for three. Tillie could be an ideal fit with Simmons in Embiid-less lineups.
Do you see Morey moving this pick completely in a player-centric trade? Are there any possible ideas you have for that? What about Josh Richardson and No. 21 to San Antonio for Patty Mills and No. 11?
Levick: Picking Tillie would be labeled as risky because of his extensive injury history, but that would probably be a slight misnomer for a second-round pick (assuming Morey doesn’t take him at No. 21). Bol Bol lasting until the 44th pick last year remains somewhat of a head-scratcher. Tillie’s not an identical player, of course, but it does look like another case where the risk/reward perception will prevent him from being a first-rounder.
Azubuike’s free throw shooting is abysmal, but his strength, efficiency around the rim (he dunks just about everything) and rim protection jump out as attractive traits. Smith’s likely more of a stretch four than a stretch five at the moment — he could benefit from adding lower body strength — but an interesting option if he lasts until the 21st pick. With the Sixers’ youngest backup big man 27-year-old Norvel Pelle, a developmental center would be a logical choice at some point in the draft.
Almost nothing Morey does would surprise me. The reported Richardson/Mills interest is sensible. We don’t yet know what the market might be for Richardson, but Mills has qualities the Sixers could use, including pick-and-roll competency and historical catch-and-shoot success.
Do you expect Morey to pull off a splashy draft-night trade? Or does he stick to his word about waiting for the right move to materialize?
Clancy: There's a confirmation bias among Sixers fans that a big move from Morey is coming on draft night because they simply want it to happen. I certainly wouldn't be shocked if Horford is on another team by Thursday, but Morey's patience has rewarded him previously.
Remember, Morey's league-altering James Harden trade back in 2012 happened just three days before the start of the regular season.
Levick: With Horford in particular, I wonder whether the Sixers consider that his trade value might be a touch higher than it is now leading into the mid-season deadline. If he looks healthy and plays decently — or the Sixers are at least something better than dismal offensively with Horford and Embiid on the court — the team’s options could expand a little.
Timing is often tricky, as Morey knows, and there won’t be much chance to deliberate in this uniquely chaotic offseason. That’ll be true on Wednesday night, and I’m interested to see how this new front office works under pressure.