One of the hardest things about closely following the NBA Draft is the immediate aftermath of it. Sure, you've got the rest of the offseason, and Summer League, but for months before the draft, you've got a wealth of knowledge. You've watched the games, you've run the numbers, you've absorbed every little bit of draft information you can. Then, in one night, it's all gone. You watch sixty new cars drive off the lot, most of whom you'll never see again. (With the exception of a select few, who will get traded in in a few years as "reclamation projects.")
As a result of Sam Hinkie picking two players unlikely to play in 2014-15, the focus for the Sixers and their fanbase almost immediately shifted to the 2015 draft class, a class that, while heralded, doesn't have the same "THERE COULD BE FIFTY ALL-STARS IN THIS CLASS" hype that this previous draft had this time last year.
Already, the discussion has begun bubbling with the new names. Okafor. Alexander. Towns. Mudiay. After a year arguing the merits of Andrew Wiggins vs Jabari Parker, breaking up is hard to do, and it's especially hard to start a new relationship so soon after a recent breakup. That said, the NBA is a year-round sport now, and if you're not looking ahead, you're already behind.
Looking ahead, there's one issue that Sixers fans are going to have to consider -- the top of this draft is loaded with big men. On my unofficial Gary Harris Memorial Big Board, half the lottery is made up of big man prospects. While that's great in theory, since good big men are hard to find, the bottom line is we already found two of them. In a theoretical world where the Sixers win the lottery after the NBA changes the rules to prevent that from happening (which, for the record, would be a glorious moment in time), it would be the biggest test of the Sixers asset collection philosophy. Hypothetically, if Jahlil Okafor is the top prospect on your board, do you pick yet another center? I don't have an answer now, but that's probably going to be a topic we're all sick of debating by next June.
Obviously the board is going to change quite a bit as the season progresses (remember this time last year when we were talking about Julius Randle as a potential top overall pick?) but as of today, three of my top five prospects are incoming freshman centers, in Okafor (Duke), Cliff Alexander (Kansas), and Karl Towns (Kentucky).
The jewel of the wings is probably Kansas forward Kelly Oubre, who checks off all the boxes the Sixers seem to look for, an ultra-long, athletic small forward who needs some work on his jump shot. The wings also include athletic freaks like Arizona's Stanley Johnson and Duke's Justise Winslow, who don't have the length of Oubre, but make up for it with pure athleticism.
Guards are not in high stock in this draft. The headliner is Emmanuel Mudiay, who will spend this season playing for a professional team in China and getting paid $1.2 million to play instead of playing for room and board and pretending to care about Econ 101 at SMU. The hot take industrial complex probably won't be a big fan of the move, but I'm really excited by it, since it's very rare that a top prospect takes this route.
The international prospects are names that many will already be familiar with, as both Kristaps Porzingis and Mario Hezonja were entered in the 2014 draft before withdrawing their names late in the process. Porzingis is an athletic big man and Hezonja is a very interesting prospect for Sixers fans because he's a tall shooting guard that can both get to the basket and shoot.
For me, this draft is the bonus round. The big difference this year is the Sixers don't need a top pick this time around. Last year, not getting a top pick would've been catastrophic That's why the news about the NBA's proposed draft lottery changes upset me more on a moral level than a practical one. This team theoretically has its franchise cornerstone in Joel Embiid's Twitter account (and he's a decent basketball player too!) They don't need to win every lottery for multiple years in a row to be successful. Planning around winning multiple lotteries would be a pretty stupid way to build, and since Lebron wasn't born in Phoenixville, that's not a plan that would work for the Sixers.
What the Sixers need in the 2015 draft is another piece. Not the big piece, but somebody to contribute. An asset, if you will. A big piece would be nice, sure, but if the Sixers pick 7th this year, the plan is not a failure. This isn't a season where we have to root for losses again. The 2013-14 Sixers were built around losing, and unpleasant as it was, it was a necessary evil. The 2014-15 Sixers are built on the idea of progress. Incremental progress is still progress, and this team is starting to play with long-term pieces instead of a fly-by-night ten-day parade. The draft is still a big day for the Sixers, but it shouldn't be seen as the holy grail it was last year.
That said, this kicks off Prospect Week here on Liberty Ballers, because it's August, and one Brandon Davies puff piece is just right. (Some would argue it's one too many.) Over the course of the week, we'll take a closer look at some of the top prospects in the draft to get the ball rolling on this season. Spoiler alert: we're going to have to watch a lot of Kansas games.