Since its inception in 2013, WigginsWatch has been designed as a beacon of hope, the light at the end of the tunnel, a message to Sixers fans that the dawn was in fact coming despite the darkness that has befallen them to date.
The journey WigginsWatch goes on is, of course, to the NBA Draft, a mythical place where young collegiate stars and Europeans who emerge from thin air like cars at the end of a Grand Theft Auto map gather to have a sorting hat placed on top of their head that cries out "CURRENT SIXER" or "FUTURE SIXER."
In recent years, even ostensibly weak drafts were held up as paragons of a brighter future, with interesting players up and down the board. There were lots of reasons to be optimistic no matter where the team would be drafting. As one of Liberty Ballers's most prominent optimists, it was very easy to talk myself into pretty much any draft lottery scenario being either a success or resounding success. Failure was not an option not because of willpower, but because even failure would be considered a success. After all, you have to trust the process.
You're probably here for more of that. If you're reading this, you're probably a Sixers fan, so I know it's not the first time you're going to hear this, but I'm sorry, you're about to be disappointed. Shit's about to get dark.
This year, more so than ever before, is the year the Sixers need a lottery win. Desperately, like the way Leonardo DiCaprio needs an Academy Award, or how Nerlens Noel needs Ish Smith to be a functional offensive player. In this draft, given both the talent level and the Sixers current situation, the difference between a top 2 pick and the 4th pick is the difference between a medium rare filet mignon and a cold taquito from 7-Eleven when you're sober.
First, let's get the standards out of the way. Barring something like injury, Ben Simmons deciding that he's going to pursue a wakeboarding career, or Brandon Ingram showing up to the NBA Draft Combine wearing a "Make America Great Again" hat, those two will be the first two players off the board in whatever order you would prefer. (For the record, I'm still Team Simmons. No one denies this.)
Three gets a little more interesting depending on who's sitting in the three spot and what literal and figurative hoops need to be jumped through to bring Dragan Bender to the United States before the Jaden Smith presidency. With the way Kristaps-mania has swept the nation, I can't imagine even the risk-averse GM's will pass on the chance to add their own lanky European super-athlete.
Great, that's out of the way, now let's talk about the next tier and OH GOD WATCH YOUR STEP
Once we get past the vaunted lottery slots, this draft takes a turn for the worse. A hard turn. Like a right angle. The middle of this lottery is a combination of nice but not spectacular players, players with a potentially fatal flaw, and more big men to add to an already over-crowded rotation.
The Sixers are in a unique position this year in that they have two shots to find themselves in this morass of talent. The first shot is their own. Currently, the Sixers have the top spot in the lottery, despite Byron Scott's best efforts, which gives them a 64.2% chance of landing a top 3 pick. They also own the lottery balls of the Sacramento Kings, who have a 6.1% chance at a top 3 pick as of today, although they are also a half-game outside the playoffs, so that situation remains fluid.
The Sixers also have the Lakers pick, which currently has a 44.2% of falling outside it's top-3 protection and into the lap of Sam Hinkie, which is, depending on which sources you believe, seated in front of a Skype chat waiting for instructions from the Wizard of Oz. (Oz, in this case, is Phoenix.)
The good news is that if the Sixers do find themselves here, they'll likely have their pick of the litter. Barring a drastic change in the league pecking order or the Sixers truly being way, way TOO GOOD, it's unlikely that either of those picks would be below the top five or six, at worst. That said, if the Sixers find themselves with two picks in this district, the lottery party is going to resemble a funeral parlor, and not the fun kind where Paul Bearer is taunting Hulk Hogan.
Now, the candidates:
I really like Kris Dunn. I do. I think he'll be a very good NBA point guard. However, the NBA is a league that is full of very good point guards. The position, in my opinion, has never been deeper, which is why the Sixers not having a competent one for two months made them stand out like a thumb that had been bludgeoned with a hammer. At #11, I would be doing backflips about Kris Dunn. At #4, I'm not nearly as excited. He may be the best option if they find themselves there, and as a Lakers pick, you can certainly do worse, but saying he's the best option here is really damming with faint praise.
You may recall a recent incarnation of WigginsWatch where I fawned over Jamal Murray in a manner usually reserved for Michigan State swingmen or Louisville rebounding machines. I stand by it. But there are concerns with Murray, the biggest of which for me is consistency. Murray has a decent amount of red flags as it is. He's not overly athletic. He's not a special passer. His defense is unimpressive. The intriguing thing about Murray is that he is a scorer, plain and simple. The problem with that is while Murray has shown a propensity to light up the scoreboard at times, he's also shown an equal propensity to disappear, even against competition he should be annihilating. This is one of those times where it's important to remember "he is 18 years old," but the red flags are starting to add up when you're talking about a top 5 pick.
Finally, a real, honest-to-god wing player. A great athlete! Great size! Wingspan, wingspan, wingspan! What could possibly be the problem? If you grumbled to yourself "he can't shoot" through gritted teeth, you nailed it. He's shooting 27% from three-point range on three attempts a game, and he's a 65% foul shooter, albeit one who gets to the line at a very good rate. He's the classic case of a guy who you'll talk yourself into by saying "man, if he ever learns to shoot, he'll be incredible," and you'd be right, but it's a massive, massive if.
Pretty Much Anyone Else Over 6-10 (Skal Labissiere, Jakob Poeltl, Henry Ellenson)
All of these guys have their own different strengths and weaknesses. Skal is boom or bust with a mountain of potential. Poeltl is an excellent rim protector. Ellenson is an incredibly interesting stretch four. The problem lies with the Sixers as currently constructed. It's possible that the team will look radically different on draft night and there will be openings, but on a team with Jahlil Okafor, Nerlens Noel, Joel Embiid, Richaun Holmes, Jerami Grant, and potentially Dario Saric, it's a virtual impossibility to find minutes that would allow those players to develop. I'm as much of a "draft the best player regardless and figure it out later" hawk as anyone, but the Sixers have reached big man critical mass.
To clarify, I think all of these guys have the potential to be very good NBA players. Some even may become elite NBA players. Scouting players is an inexact science when you have all the tools, let alone when you're just watching games and making blanket observations based on 25 minutes against Kansas State. But based on what I've thought about the 4-10 range in past drafts, and what I think about this one, this is not one that excites me.
The next tier normalizes a bit, and I'm actually excited about a number of mid-to-late first round players as targets to be quality role players going forward. However, based on my expectations on what a mid-lottery pick should mean to the team going forward, avoiding this tier could be a major plus for the Sixers long-term, even if that means rolling the Lakers pick over to next year.