Joel Embiid

The 10 best draft picks in Sixers history

The 10 best draft picks in Sixers history

In sports, we often talk about building through the draft. 

Sure, a shrewd trade or free agent signing can help put a team over the top, but generally a decent core has to be in place. Good draft selections helped usher in some of the best eras of Sixers basketball.

With that in mind, we take a look at the 10 best draft picks in Sixers history. 

10. Andrew Toney, 1980, first round (8th overall)
Toney was a two-time All-Star and big part of the Sixers’ last title in 1983. Drafted out of Louisiana-Lafayette, “The Boston Strangler” averaged 15.9 points a game in his eight-year career. There are many who believe Toney was on a Hall of Fame path before a foot injury forced him into retirement at the age of 30. If only Toney’s career wasn’t cut short, he’d likely be much higher on this list.

9. Doug Collins, 1973, first round (1st overall)
While our freshest memories of Collins are as the Sixers’ head coach, he had a productive NBA career after coming out of Illinois State. Collins averaged 17.9 points a game and helped usher in arguably the greatest era of Sixers basketball. Unfortunately, Collins also succumbed to foot and knee injuries. He retired in 1981, just before the 1983 championship, at the age of 29.

In a draft that didn’t boast much talent, the Sixers did well in 1973. After taking Collins, they selected George McGinnis — who spent four years in the ABA before two All-Star seasons with the Sixers — and Caldwell Jones in the second round.

8. Ben Simmons, 2016, first round (1st overall)
Sure, this is a little bit of a projection, but it’s hard to argue with the returns on Simmons so far. In his third NBA season, he made his second All-Star appearance and appears well on his way to All-Defensive Team honors. Though it’s early in Simmons’ career, he is the franchise leader in assists per game and assist percentage. The team also won 50 games in both of his first two seasons and was on track to be at or near that mark again before this season was suspended.

7. Joel Embiid, 2014, first round (3rd overall)
Much like Simmons, there’s a bit of projection, but Embiid’s first four NBA seasons have been dominant. His 24.1 points a game trail only Wilt Chamberlain and Allen Iverson. He also has the highest usage rate and rebounding percentage in team history. He’s a three-time All-Star and has been named Second Team All-Defense and All-NBA in each of the last two seasons.

While Embiid was supremely talented coming out of Kansas, it took some guts to take him given his injury history. Injuries have haunted him in his young NBA career, but he is on an extremely special trajectory. After seeing what’s become of the careers of Andrew Wiggins and Jabari Parker, this pick looks even better.

6. Allen Iverson, 1996, first round (1st overall)
While there may be better players and better value draft picks on this list, there is nobody more beloved than A.I. Iverson is all over the Sixers’ record books. He’s the franchise leader in threes made and steals per game. He’s second in points — both total and per game — minutes, steals and usage rate. He also led an improbable and memorable run to the Finals in 2001. Though it may have been a no-brainer to take the 6-foot guard from Georgetown, Iverson’s Hall of Fame career gets him on this list.

5. Charles Barkley, 1984, first round (5th overall)
“The Round Mound of Rebound” struggled to get on the floor his rookie year coming out of Auburn because he was “fat and lazy.” But once Barkley’s career took off, he became a perennial All-Star and bona fide superstar. Sir Charles was a six-time All-Star and is third in franchise history in rebounds and fifth in points. Unfortunately, the Sixers failed to surround Barkley with enough talent and he was traded to Phoenix in 1992 before finishing his Hall of Fame career in Houston. 

4. Maurice Cheeks, 1978, second round (36th overall)
If you’re going off sheer value, you could make an argument for Cheeks in the top spot. Easily the greatest NBA player to ever come out of West Texas A&M, Cheeks was a five-time All-Defensive team pick, a four-time All-Star and a world champion in 1983. Cheeks has the most steals and assists in franchise history. Getting a Hall of Famer at 36th overall? Not too shabby.

3. Chet Walker, 1962, second round (12th overall)
Selected by the Syracuse Nationals — who became the Sixers the following season — Walker had an excellent career. Only John Havlicek scored more points in the 1962 draft class. The Bradley product was a three-time All-Star with the Sixers and helped the team win its first title in 1967. Unfortunately, Walker was traded to the Bulls during his prime and went on to make four more All-Star teams in his Hall of Fame career. 

2. Billy Cunningham, 1965, first round (5th overall)
Cunningham is the only person on this list to be involved in both Sixers championships. After a stellar career at UNC, “The Kangaroo Kid” joined Walker, Hal Greer and Wilt Chamberlain and helped form one of the best starting fives in NBA history that won it all in 1967. Cunningham is in the top 10 in just about every stat in team history and was a four-time All-Star in Philadelphia during his Hall of Fame playing career.

It’s fair to note that if the Sixers never draft Cunningham, they don’t get the best coach in their history. Cunningham coached and won the most games in team history. His .698 winning percentage and 66 playoff wins are also franchise-best marks. He took the team to the Finals three times, winning it in 1983.

1. Hal Greer, 1958, second round (13th overall)
Greer’s resume speaks for itself. The Marshall product, who was also selected by the Nationals, went on to become the franchise leader in points, field goals made, games and minutes. He was a key cog on that 1967 championship team. He made 10 All-Star teams during his 15-year career, all spent with the Sixers/Nats.

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The 10 weirdest Sixers moments of the last 10 years

USA Today Images/AP Images

The 10 weirdest Sixers moments of the last 10 years

Extended stretches of normalcy have escaped the Sixers in recent years.

With that in mind, we decided to rank the 10 weirdest Sixers moments of the last decade. As you’ll see, we took some liberties with the definition of “moment” to try to best capture all the weirdness.

10. The tank-off
The players on the court often gave near-maximum effort, but the Sixers weren’t trying to win games between the 2013-14 and 2015-16 seasons. The unvarnished term for this strategy is tanking, of course, and the Sixers’ opponent in the 2014-15 season finale attempted to one-up them in that department.

Since a Heat win might have led to Miami owing the Sixers its draft pick, Michael Beasley, Henry Walker, James Ennis and Tyler Johnson all played the full 48 minutes. Zoran Dragic was spelled for 7:41 by Udonis Haslem.

The Sixers used just seven players — Jerami Grant, Henry Sims, Glenn Robinson III, JaKarr Sampson and Robert Covington were the starters, for those curious — and had the injured Joel Embiid draw up a play. He patted Hollis Thompson on the shoulder, pointed at a whiteboard and gave instructions as Brett Brown watched. This happened before he’d played in an NBA game. 

The Heat won 105-101, and it didn’t even matter because of results elsewhere. 

9. Embiid’s mask saga 
The Sixers had won seven straight games, were playing excellent basketball and led the Knicks by nine points on March 28, 2017. Then Markelle Fultz, in just his sixth professional game, collided with Embiid’s face. 

Embed suffered a concussion and an orbital fracture that required surgery. His team kept winning and Embiid sat and waited for the all-clear from the Sixers’ medical staff until, minutes after the Heat’s victory in Game 2 of the first round, he let the world know through his Instagram story that he was “F---ing sick and tired of being babied.” 

The big man returned for Game 3 in Miami, wearing a fancy black mask and goggles for protection, but the device got lobbed in the air, chucked to the floor and stepped on at one point by Miami’s Justise Winslow. After scoring 23 points and grabbing seven rebounds in a Sixers win, Embiid then boasted to reporters about the quantity of masks the team had in its arsenal. There were apparently “about 50 of them” on hand, just in case.

8. The wet floor game 
The Sixers had to postpone a regular-season game originally scheduled for Nov. 30, 2016 against the Kings because of moisture on the Wells Fargo Center floor.

How wet was the court? The Inquirer’s Keith Pompey gave a good demonstration.

In September of 2018, the team had to postpone its Blue-White scrimmage meant to take place at The Palestra, again because of moisture issues. 

7. Bynum's ill-fated bowling 
Andrew Bynum’s knees prevented him from ever playing a game for the Sixers. Acquired in a much-hyped four-team, 12-player trade that indirectly ushered in the Process era, Bynum experienced a bowling-related setback in November of 2012. 

The activity of bowling — “three steps (and roll),” as Bynum described it to reporters — sounds innocuous enough, but it “kind of broke off cartilage and it made the bone bruise bigger,” he said. 

6. Wroten gets an apology from MJ
Sneakers sometimes just decide to stop working, for whatever reason. Tony Wroten experienced this misfortune on March 14, 2014, when the sole of his Nike Air Jordan 10 gave way as he drove to the rim.

“Are you saying that Tony Wroten has no sole?” Marc Zumoff improvised on the broadcast

At the time a 20-year-old guard on a team deep into a 26-game losing streak, Wroten received an apology from Michael Jordan for the incident. Wroten told reporters Jordan called his agent to pass along the message.

5. NBA season suspended 
Following a Sixers home game, members of the media who wish to hear from Brown and a few players typically gather, wait for the head coach to emerge and place their recorders down in front of him when he takes a seat at the podium. On March 11, Brown was joined by general manager Elton Brand, and no players were made available. Instead of discussing the Sixers’ win over the Pistons, the two briefly addressed the breaking news that the NBA had suspended its season because of the coronavirus pandemic. 

While it was an unprecedented moment, we have four ranked above it … 

4. Okafor’s off-court drama 
Despite averaging 17.5 points per game, Jahlil Okafor had a very difficult rookie season.

In a story for CSN Philly, John Gonzalez reported Okafor unsuccessfully attempted to use a fake ID in October of 2015. Other details of Gonzalez’s reporting are certainly worth including:

Okafor and an acquaintance got into a disagreement with two men parked in a car near the corner of 2nd and Walnut Streets when Okafor tried to punch the driver through the open driver’s side window, according to a witness. The passenger then exited the car and pointed a gun at Okafor and an acquaintance before U.S. Park Rangers arrived on the scene and chased the gunman off, per the witness and both reports. The gunman was not apprehended, and the driver fled in a black Camaro with red stripes.

Okafor that year was also cited for reckless driving and speeding — Pompey reported he was pulled over for driving 108 mph — and involved in a fight outside a Boston night club. 

3. The rookie curse 
Nerlens Noel sat out the 2013-14 season as he recovered from a torn ACL. Embiid missed his first two seasons because of a broken navicular bone. Okafor’s rookie season ended early because of a torn meniscus. Ben Simmons suffered a Jones fracture in his right foot during training camp and missed the 2016-17 season. A perplexing shoulder issue sidelined Fultz from late October through March. Zhaire Smith fractured his foot in August and later had a severe allergic reaction and serious medical complications that caused him to lose about 35 pounds. Matisse Thybulle only missed eight of the Sixers’ first 65 games, but his rookie year is in limbo because of a global pandemic.

It’s still hard to believe all of the above is true. 

2. Fultz’s shoulder and jump shot 
The official diagnoses for Fultz during his time in Philadelphia were scapular muscle imbalance and thoracic outlet syndrome.

Fultz played 33 regular-season games with the Sixers. During that time, he pump faked a free throw — the ball slipped out of his hands, he claimed — became the youngest player in NBA history to record a triple-double and made four three-pointers in the regular season. 

The consternation about Fultz was ceaseless and pervasive. How did his foul shooting look in practice? What motivated the No. 1 pick to change the form that had allowed him to shoot 41.3 percent from three-point range in college? Why was his agent recommending outside medical consultations? Was fluid injected into his shoulder or drained from it

1. Burnergate 
The president of basketball operations for an NBA team was linked with burner Twitter accounts that defended his reputation, revealed confidential medical information and fantasized about “knock[ing] some sense in [Embiid’s] head” with a “medium-sized ladder.”

A story by Ben Detrick for The Ringer sparked an independent investigation by the Sixers that concluded Bryan Colangelo’s wife, Barbara Bottini, was responsible for “establishing and operating the accounts.” Colangelo resigned and brought some degree of resolution to a deeply bizarre scandal. 

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What Brett Brown hopes Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons and Sixers take away from 'The Last Dance'

What Brett Brown hopes Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons and Sixers take away from 'The Last Dance'

Over the last month, many basketball fans have been reminded through ESPN’s 10-part documentary “The Last Dance” that Michael Jordan was an obsessive competitor motivated by imagined slights, a merciless teammate who jumped on any opportunity to assert his authority. 

Sixers head coach Brett Brown has been watching, and he said in a video call Friday that he and his players “talk lots” about the documentary on Jordan and the 1997-98 Bulls. Brown has a couple of personal connections from that Bulls team. He was the Spurs director of player development when Steve Kerr was in San Antonio, and he knows Luc Longley through his experience with the Australian national team

Because I've been doing this for so long, some of the players on that team are my friends — Luc Longley, Steve Kerr," Brown said. "And so then you step back and you watch this documentary that's kind of saved the day from like a void perspective for all of us. And so you feel fairly aware of the backdrop. I have learned a lot, some of it jaw-dropping stuff.

"You're looking at it and you didn't remember that or you should've have known that. I'm always interested to make parallels to my privileged life in San Antonio, where you won a bunch of championships, and now I'm watching another team win a bunch of championships. … And ultimately, I'm just blown away and reminded of just the maniacal competitiveness that Michael had.

The documentary has not presented a complete picture of Jordan’s life or his NBA career. It’s touched on a few of Jordan's flaws, but it’s mostly told a hero’s tale, fixating on the obstacles Jordan overcame in the the pursuit of his goals and also simply luxuriating in his greatness.

In Episode 7, an emotional Jordan was given the space to provide a thesis statement of sorts.

“When people see this,” he said, “they’re going to say, ‘Well, he wasn’t really a nice guy. He may have been a tyrant.’ Well, that’s you, because you never won anything. I wanted to win, but I wanted [my teammates] to win and be a part of that as well. Look, I don’t have to do this. I’m only doing it because it is who I am. That’s how I played the game. That was my mentality. If you don’t want to play that way, don’t play that way.” 

Though Jordan’s remarks are allowed to speak for themselves, there are obviously nuances of leadership and team building that go beyond wanting to win and bluntly expressing negative feelings about teammates who don’t meet your very high standards. 

“Just the the reality of the complexity of a team,” Brown said. “The pieces that really go in to a team. The sacrifices that really have to go on within a team. … The intricacies of team, the competitiveness that it really takes, the notion that your best player has to — and leadership comes in all forms — your best player has to grab stuff by the throat and lead, and it can be done a little bit by committee. 

“But the weight of a lot of that, and I put my hand up as the head coach, too, I like our guys seeing all of this stuff. You're reminded that people like MJ and LeBron [James] and [Kevin] Durant, they didn't win championships until they were 28. And if I'm wrong, I'm wrong by maybe a year with all three of those people. So it does take time.” 

The Sixers’ two best players, Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons, are 26 years old and 23 years old, respectively. If the NBA season resumes during the coronavirus pandemic, Brown’s immediate hope for both players is that everything is copacetic in terms of health and conditioning. And he still thinks breaking through for an NBA title this year is a realistic goal. 

“That is the messaging in the conversations that I have with my staff and our players, that when it's go time, we’ve got to go,” he said. “We are hunting to still contend for a championship.”

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