With at least ten players expected on the books next season age 26 and under—and that’s not even including Shawn Long and Alex Poythress —a draft-and-stash move was to be expected from the Sixers tonight. With Markelle Fultz joining the fold, the team was both unlikely to stack the deck for next season with even more rookie contracts, and also likely interested in staying active in free agency in order to take another step forward.
That’s why 7-foot-1 Gran Canaria center Anzejs Pasecniks makes sense. He’s an auto-eligible prospect going on 22 in December, but make no mistake, this is a raw, immature player thoroughly unprepared to physically compete at the NBA level in 2017. His profile reads more like a second-round prospect in a typically layered class, but with what’s, at least to me, a weak post-lottery crop leading into the second round, spending a late first-rounder on him is defensible.
So what does he bring to the table? Most notably he’s a killer finisher around the rim and a real downhill weapon in pick-and-rolls with outstanding touch and legit bounce. With a major rotation spot in the ACB for the first time in his career, he shot 66 percent (!) from the field on the year despite being easily displaced on the block. And with his ability to run the floor like a freight train (breakdown coming soon enough - he’s seriously a freight train) and his willingness to defend, it’s not hard to see what intrigued teams like Philly in the first round. It’s just mostly potential at this stage.
Defensively, he’s yet to produce at a high level in the ACB, but he’s super mobile for his size and has shown a genuine interest in getting down in a defensive stance and sliding his feet guarding on the perimeter and in pick-and-roll situations. Discipline is the asterisk here, as he picked up about five fouls per 36 and often fouled just out of frustration when ball-handlers hit him with simple change of direction moves. But with physical tools and a buy-in mentality, there’s at least something to work with.
And there’s some reason for optimism he can expand his offensive game, too: he shot 8-of-18 from long range with a shooting stroke that’s still not totally natural but has grown increasingly fluid with time. Obviously at 21 going on 22, the ACB pivot is unlikely to do more than flirt with his theoretical ceiling even in the best of scenarios, especially shooting wise, but it’s definitely possible a semi-reliable mid-range game is within reach.
All in all, not the sexiest pick, but one that makes a ton of sense on paper. The roster should be more balanced by the time Pasecniks is (hopefully) ready to come stateside, and there’s reasonable upside to untap over the next year or two as well. He might just be a late bloomer, as this age 21 season indicates, in which case there’s reason to believe he can still grow his game as he continues to grow into his body. In any case, given the way the depth of the class played out, he was a perfectly acceptable pick at No. 25. And who knows, with some targeted progress in some of these departments on both ends, maybe he can be an intriguing change-of-pace role player.