While this year’s draft feels markedly less important than the past six or so, the Sixers are in a unique position where—as a contender in the East—they could actually use a rookie who can come in and provide minutes off the bench from night one.
Picking 24th overall in the first round, Elton Brand, Brett Brown, and the rest of the Sixers brain trust will look to find an immediate contributor. Fortunately for the team, they’re still reaping the benefits of Sam Hinkie’s stockpiling of second-rounders, as they have additional back-to-back picks early in the second round at 33 & 34, and two more at 42 and 54. Last summer the team struck gold in this range with Landry Shamet at 26, and they’re obviously looking to replicate that success tomorrow night.
The following Big Board is ranked in order of my preference for the Sixers. Note:
- This list only including players who are legitimately in play at 24 for the Sixers (not 33/34)
- If a player isn’t included it’s because I either:
- don’t think they’ll be available,
- don’t think the team is realistically looking at them
- or I simply think they make more sense in round two
- The list is light on centers (despite the clear need for a backup to Embiid, it’s ridiculous to think you’ll find one who can contribute right away at 24 overall)
- This list is also light on high-upside players who are in the post-lottery range (15-30), but are too raw for a team that has been vocal about needing NBA-ready products
The Sixers appear to be targeting players who meet at least two of the following criteria:
b) can guard the perimeter
c) will contribute as a rookie
My analysis generally focuses on these three things. Without further ado, here’s my Sixers Big Board:
1. Cam Johnson
SG/SF, North Carolina
Johnson is a popular option mocked to the Sixers. He’s a lengthy, sharpshooting wing who has an offensive package that figures to translate smoothly to the NBA. He’s a career 41% from three, shooting 46% on 5.8 three-point attempts per game as a senior (over 50% from the field overall). He has the consistent stroke and polished footwork of a prototypical high-volume shooter, and his height (6’9”) and quick release allows him to get a shot off over tight defense.
His age (23-years old) will hurt his value, but it also means that he’s more prepared to contribute as a rookie than his peers, which has specific appeal to a Sixers team that is ready to contend next year and is in need of wings who can step in immediately.
Outside of being able to knock down jump shots, Johnson has the ability to attack closeouts and put the ball on the floor against weaker defenders, but he won’t make a career out of getting to the rim nor hitting jumpers off the dribble at the next level. He’s a capable distributor who protects the ball, and with enough polish, he could become a bigger threat in this area as a pro than he was in college. By and large his profile projects as that of a catch-and-shoot, three-and-D wing.
Defensively he has great length, but at 210 lbs. he could stand to bulk up a little more—his lack of physicality could get exposed in the NBA. And while he moves well laterally, he’ll likely be vulnerable when switched onto the league’s quicker guards. All-in-all, however, he should be a plus wing defender in the right system.
His ability to space the floor and knock down threes would be hard to pass up for a team that has said they’re trying to find the next Landry Shamet.
2. Keldon Johnson
Similar to Cam, Keldon is a wing with good length (6’6”) and a solid shooting stroke. He knocked down threes at a 38% clip while shooting 49.8% from the field overall in his lone season with the Wildcats (13.5 ppg on 10 shots). He’s pretty good off the dribble with an explosive first step and is a capable scorer both mid-range and in the paint—he clearly has the tools for a complete offensive package, but he was somewhat inconsistent at putting it together at Kentucky.
Nonetheless, at just 19 years old he has a much higher ceiling than most prospects, along with a fairly high floor. Johnson is a good athlete with a high motor, which translated to solid perimeter defense as a freshman. As long as he’s a fast learner and can knock down an NBA-three off the catch, he could contribute in a ‘3-and-D’ role off the bench as a rookie.
The knock on Keldon has been “he’s not great at any one thing,” which may be true, but it suggests that him “being good at a lot of things (if not above-average at possibly everything)” is somehow a bad thing. Viewed in the context of him being 19-years old with loads of athleticism, the fact that he’s so well-rounded and versatile is what makes him such a high-floor guy. (A 22/23-year old who has yet to master one area, i.e.: develop a clear identity, is a different story).
If the Sixers wanted to split the difference between ‘NBA-ready’ and ‘potential’ then Keldon Johnson makes a lot of sense if he’s still available at 24.
3. Grant Williams
I’ve gone back and forth on Williams because he’s not the truly explosive athlete that you want in the first round, but we should be careful not to confuse ‘lacking above-the-rim explosion’ with ‘lacking athleticism.’ Williams is a good athlete, has a lean body, plays with great control, and is possibly the strongest player in the draft.
He possesses a throw-back post game that will translate to buckets in the NBA, and he showed the ability to make opposing defenses pay when they doubled him. Tennessee occasionally flashed him on the elbow where he was able to both facilitate the offense (pass) and face up to attack the basket/hit a jumper—the Sixers use looks like this a lot, and I can see Williams slotting right into these sets.
While that part of his offensive package will translate to the pros, his ability to stick in a modern offense will depend on his ability to shoot and space the floor—something he wasn’t really asked to do in college. He didn’t shoot well from three at Tennessee (32% as a junior on just 46 attempts, a limited sample size), but proponents of Williams argue that his 82% FT% in his final season is evidence of his consistent shooting stroke and ability to develop from beyond the arc.
Williams has always shown an ability to put the ball on the floor and create, so if he’s able to become a threat from three then his offensive ceiling is that of a player who can beat you at all three levels. That’s what you want next to Embiid.
What sells me on Williams as a prospect is his intelligence and the way he uses that to his advantage on both ends of the floor. He plays the offensive end with such awareness that I have a hard time believing he won’t be able to find a spot in the league where he can maximize his potential. The same can be said for his defense, where his strength and high-IQ allows him to be a plus team-defender who is tough enough to bang in the post at an NBA level.
The same intangibles that allowed him to be a two-time SEC player of the year will be what allows him to stick as a pro. If he can develop a jump shot and prove that he can slide his feet on the perimeter then his ceiling is that of an All-Star and he’d be a steal at 24. It’s hard to know exactly how his game will look at the next level, but I think fair player comparisons for him are somewhere between Tobias Harris to Boris Diaw.
4. Nickeil Alexander-Walker
G, Virginia Tech
Alexander-Walker has risen up most Draft Boards since this way originally written. Rather than looking for a ‘3-and-D’ floor spacer, he fits more of the combo-guard mold that the Sixers would be wise to pair with Ben Simmons in the backcourt. While he knocks down the three at a high-rate—38.3% in his two seasons at VT (43% on spot-up looks)—he’s a capable ball-handler who can set the table and create for an offense (though likely in a supplemental role in the NBA).
He’s a two-year player, so he’s still on the younger side (21 next season), but after appearing in 67 total games (67 starts) and logging over 2,000 minutes, he’s far more pro-ready than most. He doesn’t have high-end athleticism, but his good instincts and long wingspan (6’9”) will be enough to harass ball handlers at the next level (he averaged 1.9 steals in college). He’ll never be a lockdown-guy on the perimeter, but he could be a plus-defender sooner than later.
He’s not the sexiest pick, but I like Alexander-Walker for his ability to handle the ball, knock down spot-up looks, and defend (at least at league average). He doesn’t have as high of a ceiling, but he would cover a lot of bases off the bench for the Sixers.
5. Chuma Okeke
Okeke profiles as a modern NBA wing who can guard both forward spots at a high-level, switch onto quicker guards, and be a plus-defender off the ball. For a Sixers team that desperately needs wing defense, that’s a lot to like.
The obvious concern is his knee-injury. Okeke suffered a torn ACL in the NCAA Tournament that halted what felt like a possible Championship run. Had he stayed healthy Auburn’s season could have ended differently, and his value would have him closer to a projected lottery-pick than late-first round.
Along with his defense, Okeke is a solid three-point shooter, connecting on 39% of his threes at Auburn on 3.2 attempts per game. His clear profile as a three-and-D wing gives him a high floor assuming he can return from injury without any complications.
Okeke’s stock had been on the rise throughout his sophomore season as he flashed an ability to contribute in more areas than just a 3-and-D wing. He attacked closeouts and created for his teammates in a way that suggests he could develop that into his game more at the next level, which would suggest his ceiling could be higher than anticipated. Beyond that, when you watch him play he just looks like a really smart, tough basketball player—something that shouldn’t be overlooked.
Like I mentioned before, the injury has pushed him down draft boards to the point that he’ll likely be around for the Sixers at 24, and if you’ve been paying attention, you know that injuries have never been a deal-breaker for this team.
6. Dylan Windler
More of a big two-guard (6’8”) than a forward, Windler is another deadeye three-point shooter who can dial it up from deep at a high volume, shooting 42.8% from three on 6 attempts per game over the past two seasons, with a true shooting percentage of 67.5%. Windler also provides some playmaking off the bounce and around the rim—as a senior he averaged over 21 points per game on just 13 shots, staggering.
Beyond an impressive offensive package, Windler is an exceptional rebounder for his size—as a senior he had a rebounding percentage of 17.7% (for comparison, Ben Simmons had an 18.2% rebounding percentage in his lone season at LSU).
Defensively, he’ll likely be more of a liability than most other prospects because of his limited athleticism—quicker guards will burn him for sure—but his high IQ and good length/size means he can become an average defender with time.
He’ll be able to contribute on offense from day one, and immediately provide spacing for the Sixers off the bench. Whether or not he can crack the starting lineup and 30+ minutes a night will depend on his defense. Because of his age (he’ll be 23 next season) and limited athleticism I think he’s likely to be around at the 24th pick, and if that’s the case the Sixers would be getting a really polished basketball player who does a lot of things really well to complement his elite shooting stroke.
7. Jontay Porter
The younger brother of Michael Porter Jr. (Denver), Jontay is a fluid, versatile big who has the sort of inside-out game that would pair well with Joel Embiid. He has above average athleticism, a great feel for the game, and the shooting touch to provide an upgrade in terms of spacing (40/110 3pa – 36.4%).
The knock on Porter is his injury history and relatively small sample size at the college level. Personally, I don’t have any doubts about his ability to contribute in the NBA. As long as he adds some more muscle and proves that he can move laterally on the perimeter, he’ll provide an offensive package ideal for today’s league, and a solid floor on defense as a four or small-five.
He’s a player who could be added at 24 or still be around at 33 & 34 in the second round. I would be okay with the team adding him in the first round if they like him, but I think there’ll be better options available.
8. Matisse Thybulle
Thybulle has recently become a hot name in Sixers-circles where he’s drawing defensive comparisons to Robert Covington. Such a comp is hard to deny given Thybulle’s length (7-foot wingspan), bouncy athleticism, and disruptive instincts on the defensive end—as a senior he averaged 3.5 steals & 2.5 blocks per game.
He played in a zone defense at Washington, which has lead to concerns over his ability as an on-ball defender in the NBA. These concerns are understandable given of the lack of evidence, but his foot speed, hands, and athleticism all appear to be above-average (at the very least) for an NBA-wing, if not well-above average. This leads me to believe he’ll be a plus on-ball defender as a pro, with the ability to wreak havoc as an off-ball “free safety” (similar to Covington). *though it’s worth noting he’s only 6’5”, a solid 4-inches shorter than RoCo.
The other big concern around Thybulle comes on offense and his ability to be a reliable floor spacer, as his numbers suggest this is somewhat of a question mark. He shot 38% on 3.9 attempts per game from three during his freshman through junior season, but as a senior that number dipped to 30%. As a player who pretty clearly profiles as a three-and-D wing, his ability to shoot at least 36% from deep will be the difference between him being Luc Mbah a Moute or a more-exciting Robert Covington.
I like Thybulle a lot from the perspective of being able to provide an immediate defensive boost, but his jump shot is too much of a question mark for a player who is limited in what he can do outside of that, and for a team that desperately needs shooting/immediate contributors. The Sixers should be beyond taking fliers on prospects with great athleticism and questionable *checks stat sheet* everything else.
9. Ty Jerome
I don’t dislike Jerome, I think he’s coming from a program that will continue to breed NBA talent for years to come, but I can’t get past his athletic limitations. I don’t think he’ll ever be more than a passable on-ball defender, and I think NBA-athleticism will severely limit the way his offensive game translates outside of spot-up shooting (39% from three over his career on 424 attempts).
His shot is obviously what would appeal to the Sixers—which is why he’s included in this list—and he’s a really high-IQ, savvy basketball player to boot, so I wouldn’t hate this pick, I just don’t see the requisite value at 24. Whether or not you like Jerome mostly depends on your belief in his ability to be the lead guard in a unit, and I don’t really see it (he’ll be better off-ball).
He’s generally been mocked in the first round, but I think he could slip into the early 30s. For a team that needs shooting a prospect like this would be hard to pass up at 33 or 34. A Landry Shamet comparison is definitely fair.
10. Carsen Edwards
Carsen Edwards is the player that everyone seems to be in love with. Which I can only assume has more to do with his visibility during the NCAA Tournament throughout Purdue’s elite eight run than anything else—which is reason enough to be ‘out’ on the stocky scorer.
I think he’ll be able to come into the league and be capable of hitting pull up threes and tough shots around the rim, which gives him a decent floor as a bench scorer, but I doubt his ability to do that at a consistent enough level to constitute starter-minutes, nor do I think he’s enough of a creator to be a true point guard. For a player who’s only 6 feet tall (not 6’2″, not 6’3″) I’m not sure I see a profile worthy of a first round pick.
The comparison you hear from his proponents are Kyle Lowry—who provides a fresh template for stocky combo guards to contribute at a championship level—but Lowry is his ceiling (maybe); his floor probably has him as a journeyman bench scorer.
His offensive floor and ability to contribute quicker than most prospects makes him intriguing to the Sixers with one of their early second round picks, but I’d be uncomfortable with anything higher.