There’s not much risk picking 21st in the NBA Draft. In fact, it’s highly unlikely the Sixers will find a future starter in that spot.
Here are the last five players taken with the 21st pick: Brandon Clarke, Grayson Allen, Terrance Ferguson, De’Andre Bembry and Justin Anderson. Only Clarke looks like a safe bet to be a long-term NBA starter.
The rest are likely role players who need the right situation to stick in a rotation. That doesn’t mean they won’t provide value to their teams, but there’s not a ton of star potential there.
To use an old Brett Brown expression, here are five players who possess significant upside if the Sixers decide to go “star hunting” with the 21st pick.
Tyrese Maxey – G – Kentucky
The case for Maxey: Kentucky players have shown a history of outplaying their draft position in recent years, with Devin Booker, Bam Adebayo and Tyler Herro all picked outside the top 10. Maxey could be the next Wildcat on that list, with his 29.2 percent mark from three-point range potentially driving down his draft stock. But Maxey shot 83.3 percent from the free throw line and his shot clearly isn’t broken. And if the shot works out, Maxey could be a steal, because the other skills are there.
Maxey’s biggest calling card is an explosive first step. He’s an outstanding athlete and when he gets past his defender, he finishes in a flash. He’s a willing defender who makes hustle plays all over the floor. At times, he looks like a 6-foot-3 Dwyane Wade. That’s an aggressive comp, and a very unlikely outcome, but Maxey has a high ceiling as an all-around guard if his shot improves in the NBA.
The case against Maxey: Is he a good enough shooter to be a two guard and a good enough playmaker to be a point guard? For all the talk about “positionless basketball," you still must be good enough in at least one of those areas to become a legitimate NBA starter. If Maxey ends up being an average to below-average perimeter shooter and just an average playmaker, that lowers his ceiling significantly.
Aleksej Pokusevski – PF – Serbia
The case for Pokusevski: A 7-footer oozing with potential playing in the Greek second division. Where have we seen something like that before? There’s no doubt that the success of Giannis Antetokounmpo is going to make teams take a hard look at Pokusevski, who is a better ball handler than Antetokounmpo was at the same stage. When you watch his clips, you’ll see Pokusevski lead the break, make deft passes, dribble into jumpers and take defenders off the dribble with ease. He is incredibly skilled for a 7-footer and is the youngest player in the draft (he won’t turn 19 years old until Dec. 26).
In the 2019 FIBA U18 European Championship, Pokusevski showed off his all-around skill set, averaging 10.0 points, 7.2 rebounds, 3.7 assists, 2.7 steals and 4.0 blocks in 25 minutes per game.
The case against Pokusevski: He is 7 feet tall and 195 pounds. Simply put, he is skinny. If he gets pushed around in the Greek second division, what’s going to happen in the NBA? Who can he possibly guard with that frame? Is he just another Nikoloz Tskitishvili or Dragan Bender — talented, perimeter-oriented European big men who flamed out in the NBA? These are all legitimate questions, which could push Pokusevski into the 20s of this year’s draft.
Cole Anthony – G – North Carolina
The case for Anthony: Before a rough season in Chapel Hill, Anthony was a projected top-10 pick in this draft. Despite missing two months with a knee injury and playing on a team with horrendous half-court spacing, Anthony still managed to average 18.5 points, 5.7 rebounds and 4.0 assists per game for the Tar Heels.
He was in a bad situation last season but still played hard and came back from meniscus surgery when he easily could have shut it down and started training for the draft.
He’s a good enough perimeter shooter to make defenses respect his shot in pick-and-roll situations and is one of the best isolation scorers in the draft. Put him 1-on-1 against a defender and Anthony will get a shot.
The case against Anthony: He shot just 38 percent from the field in his lone season at UNC. How much are those shooting struggles due to his own poor shot selection and how much can be blamed on the clunky half-court offense and lack of spacing in Chapel Hill? That’s a question NBA front offices have to answer for themselves when evaluating Anthony’s NBA potential.
He also ranked just in the 24th percentile in transition scoring, per Synergy Sports, and those numbers matched the eye test. He often failed to convert when leading the break in 3-on-2 and 2-on-1 situations. He may be more of a combo guard than a true point guard, and he’s on the shorter side for that role at 6-foot-3.
If you put better spacing and teammates around him, there’s a chance Anthony’s offensive skills could really pop in the NBA. But there’s also the chance that playing against better athletes in college exposed him a bit, and playing against NBA athletes is another challenge entirely.
Tyrell Terry – G – Stanford
The case for Terry: He’s one of the best shooters in the draft, period. The 6-foot-2 Terry shot 40.8 percent from three-point territory and 89.1 percent from the free throw line in his lone season at Stanford, averaging 14.6 points per game. That shooting prowess made him a surprise one-and-done prospect because, as Sixers fans know all too well, shooters are at a premium in today’s NBA. Terry isn’t just a shooter, though, and can take it to the basket if defenders don’t respect his driving ability. There’s some CJ McCollum-like potential as a crafty scorer who can also flat-out shoot the rock.
The case against Terry: He’s more of a scorer than a natural playmaker at this stage, averaging 3.2 assists and 2.6 turnovers per game at Stanford. He played last season at 160 pounds, though he has added muscle during the pre-draft process. If he’s more Seth Curry than Steph Curry in terms of position, he’s going to need to play off a bigger lead guard. But the Sixers obviously have a guy like that in Ben Simmons, so that may be less of a concern in Philadelphia. Terry may have trouble defending taller, stronger guards in the NBA.
Jahmi’us Ramsey – G - Texas Tech
The case for Ramsey: I’m surprised Ramsey isn’t getting a little more love in mock drafts. He’s built like Russell Westbrook at 6-foot-4, 195 pounds, and he shot 42.6 percent from three-point range in his freshman season at Texas Tech. The Big 12 Freshman of the Year, Ramsey is an attractive prospect because he proved he’s both a scorer and a shooter in a prototypical shooting guard’s body. He moves well without the basketball and was one of the best catch-and-shoot jump shooters in the country (91st percentile, per Synergy Sports). He also showed the ability to beat defenders off the dribble and get to the basket when they closed out too hard on his jumper.
The case against Ramsey: While he’s an excellent long-range shooter and driver, his in-between game needs a lot of work. He struggled when he had to put it on the floor to get his jumper off, as opposed to catching and shooting.
Also, is Ramsey’s 42.6 percent three-point shooting mark at Texas Tech a likely indicator of what he’ll do in the NBA? He shot just 64.1 percent from the free throw line, which is a red flag. If he’s primarily a catch-and-shoot guy, you have to really believe in his shot. Still, you don’t find many athletes with Ramsey’s NBA body who also shot 42.6 percent from three as a college freshman.
To borrow a cross-sport analogy, Ramsey could be a home run pick or a swing and a miss. But if you want upside, that’s usually the case with the 21st pick.