The college basketball season is in full swing right now, which means the 2015 NBA Draft mocks are as well. ESPN's Chad Ford put together his third mock of the year, which includes both of Philadelphia's first round picks. The picks are just determined by where each teams sits in the lottery (or outside the lottery), so the Sixers selections are 3rd and 16th overall.
At number three, Ford has Philadelphia taking Ohio State guard D'Angelo Russell. Here's what Ford had to say:
The Sixers stink at tanking. For the second straight season, they've fielded the worst roster, on paper, in the NBA. And for a second straight season, they aren't the worst team in the NBA. Once again, teams that went into the season trying to win, like the Knicks and Wolves, have "bested" them. In this case, I don't think it's such a bad outcome for Philadelphia. The Sixers have a wealth of riches on their front line with Nerlens Noel, Joel Embiid and Dario Saric (when he comes over from Europe). What the team needs is someone in the backcourt who can really shoot. Russell is that guy, and he would be a perfect fit next to Michael Carter-Williams in Philly.
Of the guys at the top of the draft, Russell is far and away the best fit for the Sixers. If Embiid can get healthy and live up to his potential, Noel and MCW continue to develop, Saric comes over and continues his strong play from Europe, and Russell comes in as a dominant backcourt scorer in the mold of James Harden, suddenly the Sixers' future starts to look much brighter.
Other than the silly tanking jokes, Russell at three makes a lot of sense. We've gushed over him on this site for months, and probably will continue to do so right up until the draft. For a freshman, Russell's outside shooting abilities, coupled with his rebounding and passing skills, are pretty damn remarkable. He's averaging just over 19 points per game, and shooting a super impressive 43.3% from beyond the arc on more than six attempts a game. The biggest issue with Russell's game is the defensive end of the ball, where he seems to have some serious lapses in concentration. His problems on the flip side of the court should be taken into account as much as Duke's Jahlil Okafor. He'll be a great fit with Carter-Williams on the offensive end, but having two starting guards who struggle to defend could cause some problems.
At pick 16, Ford went off the grid a little bit, choosing San Diego State forward Malik Pope. Ford had this to add:
The Sixers get this pick from the Heat via the Cavs, and I think Philly could end up using it to swing for the fences. I know Pope is averaging just 4.7 points in 13.5 minutes per game for San Diego State this year. He doesn't start. I know he missed his final two years of high school with leg injuries. But the talent? It's oozing from him. He's crazy-long and athletic, and he can do everything -- 3-pointers, ballhandling, shot-blocking. Watch him go coast to coast against Wyoming in the first half of the game last week -- that's Giannis Antetokounmpo stuff. If Bruno Caboclo can be drafted at No. 20, Pope can go 16th. He's a unique talent.
The Sixers have shown zero interest in taking players who are ready to help them now. It's all about what they will be in a few years. Pope may be the ultimate risk, but with their second pick in the first round? Why not try for a home run? There isn't a player left on the board with bigger upside.
There's one major thing I disagree with here. First, the Sixers aren't drafting players who can't help them now just to do it. Over the past two years the team has felt Nerlens Noel and Joel Embiid were the best players available, and they happened to have injuries. Listing "not able to contribute immediately" as a positive feature of a player because the team wants to continue losing is a pretty weird stance to take. If Pope declares and Philadelphia thinks he's the best talent available then they will select him, regardless of whether or not he is NBA ready.
Comparing Caboclo and Pope seems like a stretch because Philadelphia and Toronto are in totally different situations, but I suppose the point of limited play and crazy upside still stands.
Having not watched much of Pope this season, my opinions on him are moot, but guys like Michigan's Caris LeVert, Arkansas's Bobby Portis, Virginia's Justin Anderson, and Arizona's Rondae-Hollis Jefferson are players I would target around pick 16. Draft Express has Pope going 29th in the 2016 NBA Mock Draft.