In a little bit over 24 hours, the day we have all been waiting for will be here. Since the moment Sam Hinkie traded Jrue Holiday, it's been the lottery, perhaps even more-so than the draft, that has been circled on most Sixers fans calendar. It's the first real date of relevance in the last year.
It's the type of day that can change a franchise. It can be the difference between jubilation and misery. Between Tim Duncan and Keith Van Horn. It can vault a franchise to relevance or doom it to further insignificance.
But not this year.
This year is unique not only because of the top end talent available in the draft, but because of the depth of that talent. This year is unique not just because of Andrew Wiggins, but because of the quality of the secondary options. Because Jabari Parker, Joel Embiid, and Dante Exum are there as well.
It seems that there are only extremes in the Wiggins debate. Either people who think he was a terrible disappointment or those who react to the criticism that Wiggins has received and say it was the expectations, not the player, who are at fault.
There's probably a little bit of a middle ground there. I tend to find myself more towards the latter group. I'm enthralled by his athletic gifts, intrigued by his better than expected perimeter shot, and I see Wiggins incredible potential on both sides of the court. It would be almost impossible for me to ignore those qualities.
But those were attributes readily known about Wiggins heading into the year. He also displayed some signs of the incredible work still needed in order to really take advantage of those gifts and fulfill that promise, most notably a very serious need to increase his ability to handle the ball in traffic and some questions about his touch around the rim that we didn't really expect to be asking.
2014 NBA Draft
I think these are deficiencies that can be improved upon, and I think that in the NBA, with stricter enforcement of hand checking rules and better floor spacing, he will excel. That's why Wiggins has remained at the top of my board for the entire year. Still, he would not be the first uber-athletic prospect who never reached the apex of his potential because of an unrefined handle. As much confidence as I have in his ability, he's not a lock to reach it. This isn't Tim Duncan coming out of Wake.
But my stance is not so much based on my evaluation of Wiggins as it is based around my evaluation of others. I might have slightly more questions about Wiggins' game than I had 12 months ago, but he's still an incredible prospect. What I have become more confident in are the prospects around him.
It's been no secret that I am not exactly Jabari Parker's biggest fan, having him rated 4th among the top tier of prospects. But not only is he quite the consolation prize, I also think it's a fairly safe bet that will go in the top 3, pushing down either Joel Embiid or Dante Exum. And those are the guys who really make me comfortable that falling down in the lottery, even to the 4th pick in the draft, is not the end of the world.
Obviously, Joel Embiid's back has the chance to throw all of this into chaos. And there are questions galore about their fit with Nerlens Noel and Michael Carter-Williams, respectively. But the talent in both of them is undeniable.
If they are not at Wiggins' level of upside, they are barely a step below, and both tantalizing in their own way. The thought of a dominant two-way post player, something that this team really hasn't had in the lifetime of virtually anybody commenting on this blog, is incredibly exciting. The possibilities that come from having a great slashing guard limitless. In other years, both of them would viewed as legitimate options for that #1 pick.
If you have been reading and/or listening to me -- here, in the comments, on our podcast, on twitter -- you know that I am a fan of Dante Exum. I have opined that, of the top prospects, he may be the one most likely to reach his potential. That in 5 years he may end up being the best scorer in the draft. These are all statements I still believe in. Where Wiggins struggles to take advantage of his incredible first step, Exum excels. Where Wiggins is not yet ready to really use his athletic gifts to generate opportunities for his teammates, Exum is comfortable, willing, and able. Point guard, ball handling 2 guard, slasher? I'm not too hung up on any of those terms. I've settled on playmaker, and I'm fairly confident in him becoming that.
This may sound a little bit surprising, as I have spent the past year pushing the crusade for the most ping pong balls. I still believe that to have been important. While all of these guys have incredible levels of talent, it's inevitable that not all of them will work out. Having given Sam Hinkie the chance to fully vet these prospects, I want him to have the ability to dodge what he sees as a potential bullet or to select the guy who he thinks has the best chance of reaching their potential. In a perfect world, I want to remove chance from the equation on draft night and to give Hinkie his pick of the litter. That means the #1 pick.
Still, the more I look at this class, the more I think there will be an incredible talent available at #4. The loss of the #1 pick may be disappointing, but it may not be the end of the world, either.
Sit back. Relax, Have fun at the lottery party, if you're going (and you should be). The odds are in the Sixers favor that they will have the chance to draft an incredibly talented player come June 26th.
*NOTE* This does not account for the 12% chance that the Sixers fall to the 5th pick. If that happens, then I'm back on team panic.