You're an NBA GM. You've been evaluating these draft prospects for weeks/months/years. Your team's not yet at a place where you're worrying too much about fit. A few picks in, the surefire stars are off the board. You're on the clock. Sometimes it's as simple as picking the best player left. Sometimes it's not.
The Sixers don't currently have a superstar. It's not impossible to win in the NBA without a top 10 player, as the Spurs proved, but having one certainly makes things easier on you. After a 19-63 season, Sam Hinkie is hoping to walk out of the 2014 NBA Draft with a franchise player -- one that can be the focal point of the offense, acting as the sun in the team-building solar system diorama in the years to come, and eventually command a max contract.
But there are no perfect prospects in this draft. For the sake of this conversation, however, I'm not going to get into specifics about this particular draft, as all of our opinions vary too widely to assume anyone thinks X has more superstar potential than Y.
Ma, A Draft!
So the Sixers need a stud. But they have to get the right stud. If it's the wrong guy that's just good enough to score an arbitrary amount of points on inefficient percentages with lackluster defense, that's a tough hole for your team to pull itself out of. Eventually, that guy's gonna want a max contract. And he damn well better deserve it, or the whole team is boned. On top of how difficult it is to find a star in the draft, it's even harder and especially prudent to make sure it's the right one.
An example: Take Rudy Gay. He was on some bad Grizzlies teams, then some pretty good Grizzlies teams, then they made the Conference Finals after trading him. Now with Sacramento, he just opted in to stay with the 28-54 Kings for $19.3M next season. Gay is a better basketball player than our Thaddeus Young. He's more athletic, he's a better shooter, he's got a stronger handle, court vision (in theory), agility, scoring instincts, etc. There are areas of the game Thad gets the edge in, but in a vacuum, Gay is simply more good.
But basketball is not played in a vacuum (imagine if it were though! fans flying everywhere!), and when you put it all together, Thad -- a super role player -- is more useful to a contending team than Rudy -- a flawed star -- would be. Young can be a contributing piece to a better superstar, while Gay has found and will continue to find it difficult to play for a championship caliber team because he's the de facto superstar and go-to player every year. And Rudy Gay -- just like the many other players around the league who fit this description -- is simply not good enough to be the best player on that team, even though he's being paid like he is. Going with Thad over Rudy keeps your options open to later pick up a superstar to seamlessly play Thad alongside. Rudy, because of his contract and his less efficient ball dominance, pretty much locks you into a ceiling.
It's the question: "Which player is going to help this team win games?" versus "Which player is going to help a really good team win games?"
The Sixers, at this point, are not a good team. They are still a long ways away from caring about winning games in the short term. Swap Rudy Gay and Thad Young, and last year's Sixers probably win a few more games. But to what end?
Sam Hinkie will do everything he can to get one of the 2-3-4-10-whatever guys in this draft that he thinks has legitimate superstar potential. But if he can't wriggle his way up to get him, and there are only -- by his assessment -- flawed stars remaining at #3, it would be advisable to take the player who has the best chance at helping a good team win games, even if he's not necessarily the better basketball player on his own.
Be patient, don't gamble on somebody you don't believe is the real thing, and keep accruing useful assets while staying flexible as you try to find the guy who will become your franchise player. It would be tremendous if he came via this draft, but if not, drafting the player that will better serve the best possible version of a future contending Sixers team is the way to go.
So if that ends up meaning, for example and breaking my own rule, Hinkie takes the less upsidey Noah Vonleh over Joel Embiid, then so be it. It doesn't have to be this draft where all the franchise fortunes get turned around. One piece at a time, even if the biggest piece comes later.