Mikal, Miles, Zhaire, Kevin; you know their names and know their games by now, but there’s always an opportunity to zero in on the Philadelphia 76ers’ possibilities with their No. 10 overall pick and gather insight from a knowledgeable source. First, let’s assess the notables amongst Philadelphia’s pre-draft workouts in chronological order. Philadelphia hosted Michigan State forward Miles Bridges on June 11, while his familiarity and fit within the organization stood out. Also surveying the elite two-guards in the class, Philadelphia doubled down on possible wing options last Monday at 10 by working out athletic guard Lonnie Walker IV.
Mikal Bridges and Zhaire Smith worked out in a team setting last Tuesday, with Smith excelling on the offensive and defensive ends, then Kevin Knox arrived last Friday and looked scintillating offensively when running three-on-three. Both Smith and Knox earned a second workout with the team Tuesday, with Smith competing in a team drill and Knox participating in an individual workout. Duplicating his previous success on the defensive end, Smith apparently looked hyper-athletic in scrimmage situations while Knox made an impression on the team’s staff.
Jake Hyman “the conspiracy theorist” will tell you that returning Smith and Knox for workouts constitutes as a storyline to monitor heading into Thursday’s draft. Brett Brown went on record saying he’s scanning prospects and looking for “somebody who can play in June.” That statement could mean a variety of different sentiments. Does he prefer the two-way guys after the wings were cooked in last year’s series against the Celtics or is he vying for an established, older player like Mikal who’s a seamless fit and immediate contributor type player?
With a litany of possibilities available to Brett Brown and co., my final Q&A with The Stepien’s Jackson Hoy will try to cover every available angle and decipher who’s the ideal player at pick No. 10 for the Sixers’ franchise. In case you missed our previous exchanges on the team’s second-round picks and pick No. 26, check the second-round out here and pick No. 26 here.
Liberty Ballers: Hi Jackson. What’s new since last week?
Jackson Hoy: I finally finished ranking the prospects in this class! My final big board went up at The Stepien Tuesday evening. I’m amped for Thursday night to arrive.
LB: There’s been a lot of scuttle this week regarding the Sixers and potentially trading for Kawhi Leonard. You’d have to assume they’re using the 10th pick as a trading chip, right?
JH: I think it would be possible to cobble together a package built around Markelle Fultz, Dario Saric, and maybe some other picks, but in all likelihood the 10th pick would need to be part of the deal. It all depends on what offers they’re competing with.
LB: If Kawhi is the first domino to fall, LeBron likely wants to play on Broad Street. What’s your take on growing the team organically or through a pieced together superteam?
JH: I’d support whatever moves the front office thinks can make the team better. Most teams have to build through the draft because they don’t have the allure to draw in free-agent superstars, or run the risk of trading for soon-to-be-free-agent stars, but more power to the teams that do. One of the central motivations of an asset-collection period like the Process is to have the pieces to make a big deal when a superstar becomes available. There are good ways and bad ways to build a team, but there’s no universal rule.
LB: The team acquired this pick through a three-team deal involving Michael Carter-Williams. We haven’t seen teams leverage an overachieving young talent into a potential lottery pick that often. What was your original view of that deal and did it follow most of our sentiments that the team needed to sell high on MCW?
JH: I thought it was a huge steal for Philadelphia, both at the time and now looking back on it. Carter-Williams obviously didn’t fit the direction of the team or the league, especially with Ben Simmons now in the fold. There was no way to know just how high the pick would be, but the Sixers look primed to snag at least a rotation player at number 10. That’s a whole lot better than MCW.
LB: While we’re still on the topic of trading picks, how viable would it be to land a Luka Doncic or Jaren Jackson Jr. if it meant taking on Chandler Parsons’ salary and dealing the 10th pick plus an established player (or possibly more)?
JH: It would depend on the team’s strategy for this summer and whether the front office thinks it can sign LeBron James and/or Paul George. If signs point to neither player wanting to sign with Philadelphia, I’d take on Parsons’ money for a shot at Doncic or even Jackson Jr. despite some of the fit questions. No move is made in a vacuum though, and the year-over-year calculus has to be taken into account especially with a move like that. That said, I’d be willing to give up any non-Simmons or Embiid asset to move up and get Doncic, even if it meant taking on bad money (in which case the asset likely wouldn’t have to be uber-valuable).
LB: You’re obviously well-versed on both prospects. Is Luka the primary option and where does he stand among this year’s class and year’s prior?
JH: Luka Doncic is the primary option not just in general between those two players but specifically for the Sixers’ needs. His ability to play on or off the ball is perfect for Philadelphia, and his smarts and size will only bolster the defense. I think he’s the best prospect of the last two classes by a decent margin. Removing the hindsight bias that radically changes views of Markelle Fultz, Jayson Tatum, Donovan Mitchell, and others, Doncic is head-and-shoulders above anyone from the 2017 class and in my mind is a full tier above anyone from 2018. I think he’s a can’t-miss prospect. He literally accomplished everything there was for him to accomplish over the past year. Philadelphia would be lucky to have him.
LB: A Jaren Jackson Jr.-Joel Embiid big man tandem could recreate the Spurs’ twin towers. How appealing does that look if the team strikes out in a Kawhi deal or has intel that LeBron might not be signing with the team?
JH: Pairing those two is an interesting proposition, but it may lead to some fit issues when accounting for Ben Simmons, Robert Covington, and Dario Saric, all of whom deserve real minutes at the 4. JJJ and Embiid would completely shut down the paint and can both stretch it out on offense, but if Jackson Jr. has to play the 4 on offense, it would really limit his effectiveness, as would pulling him away from the rim on defense. I think both players are talented enough to find a way to make it work, especially if Brett Brown can find a way to get creative with his rotations, but it’s not the easiest fit in the world.
LB: The team has worked out both Bridges, Zhaire Smith, Kevin Knox and Jacob Evans, among others. If I’m an evaluator who stans for great on-ball defenders, a facet lacking in the team’s series with Boston last month, who among the workout prospects fits that bill the best?
JH: Among those prospects, I’d probably take Miles Bridges if I’m looking for a guy to lock down Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum, and next year, Gordon Hayward. He’s got excellent feet, an NBA-ready frame, and enough length to bother the shots of bigger players. Some players may be able to shoot over the top of him, but his lower-body strength will be a nice counter to help knock them off their balance. I don’t know that Mikal Bridges is quick or strong enough to be considered a lockdown on-ball guy at the next level, Zhaire Smith may be too small, Kevin Knox isn’t physical enough, and Jacob Evans lacks the same tools as Miles Bridges. I’ll go with the former Spartan in this mold, though he’s going to bring the lion’s share of his value on offense.
LB: You wrote a breakdown of whether Mikal is a top-10 player in this class for The Stepien. What was the premise you wanted to convey and do you still believe it?
JH: I wanted to challenge some of the narratives about Bridges being the “perfect 3 and D prospect” as if he was a guarantee to follow in the footsteps of Otto Porter and Robert Covington. I showed some of his flaws compared to those two players and how his limitations will likely prevent him from being as impactful as either. I still buy that he isn’t going to be as valuable as either guy, but I do like him as a prospect and think he’s a great fit in Philadelphia. I think he could be similar to Covington on offense while being similar to Porter on defense, but those are the worse ends for both of those players.
LB: Mikal’s strengths on the defensive almost mirror Robert Covington’s. Could they provide enough as POA defenders to be a stout defensive wing tandem?
JH: Covington has a considerably stronger frame which allows him to handle contact from bigger players, and he’s probably quicker than Bridges as well. I’d rather have Covington defending the other team’s best player while allowing Bridges to play free safety and use his length and instincts to create havoc all over the floor. I don’t see him as a guy who makes his impact on the ball, but Bridges has a knack for making plays as a help defender.
LB: Who is Mikal comparable to offensively if he can create off the dribble and make ~37 percent or higher on his threes?
JH: I think he ends up looking pretty similar to Covington, maybe with a little bit more off-dribble shot-making. He’s not the passer of a Khris Middleton type and becoming a shooter at the level of Otto Porter is at the upper bound of his outcome range. That said, I think he can hit at a respectable rate, like 37 percent, on high volume from 3, even on a diverse appetite of shot attempts. Covington is one of the most prominent guys in that mold right now.
LB: Between both Bridges, who would have the likelier ability to reach their median or ceiling outcome on this team?
JH: I’d lean Miles, just because I think he’s a better prospect in general and that he’s going to find a way to fit in wherever he ends up. He made massive strides as an off-ball player this past season, shooting a lot more off movement and converting at a respectable clip given the difficulty of his attempts. He’s also going to contribute more in the off-dribble playmaking and shot creation department, which should help take pressure off Ben Simmons as an offensive fulcrum. I could see him finding a way to clean up a lot of his defensive focus issues under a coach like Brett Brown, and his switchability would be a major plus. Overall, I think Miles is slightly more versatile due to having greater range on defense, and that makes him a better fit alongside star players.
LB: Would Miles Bridges start in place of Dario Saric, or do you see him as a super sixth man off the bench?
JH: I’m not really sure, but I do know that it would be a fun training camp battle to see who comes on top. He’d probably come off the bench right away, but he’d be able to spell Covington when he’s having his off nights and I’m not convinced that a Simmons-Bridges-Covington-Saric-Embiid lineup wouldn’t work. Bridges at the 2 may not be sustainable for entire games, but he’s quick enough to make it work when it matters.
LB: His measurables aren’t as ideal as Mikal’s and while he has a great first step he might struggle with length on both ends. Is that a minimal tradeoff for his high skill level and athleticism?
JH: The length definitely isn’t ideal, but nobody is a perfect prospect. He was a really good finisher at the rim last season and has the athleticism to rise up for dunks, which should help him convert around the basket in the NBA. His lack of length is also less of a worry on a team like Philadelphia where opposing defenses will have to use their biggest defenders on guys like Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid, so Bridges won’t have to shoot over super huge dudes most of the time. As mentioned earlier, it may be an issue on defense, but his lower body strength helps him compensate plenty.
LB: I’m a Zhaire Smith fan and we’ve discoursed plenty about the Texas Tech guard. Can you put into words how athletic he is?
JH: Zhaire Smith is 6-foot-4 and can jump so high that a lot of the time he dunks on the way down. I’m not sure there’s a better way to describe it.
LB: You mentioned he played up two positions to guard bigs and has some point guard equity if a team opts to utilize his playmaking. Is he more than just an undersized two-guard with exceptional length and athleticism?
JH: I’m not sure he could turn into a point guard in the traditional sense of the term, but I don’t think it’s out of the question that he becomes an on-ball combo guard in the mold of a Victor Oladipo or Donovan Mitchell (no, I am not saying he’s the Donovan Mitchell of this draft). It would obviously be down the line if he turns into such a player, but he showed handling and passing flashes over the course of the season that make it possible. Thanks to his athletic tools, he’d have a greater margin for error in terms of dribbling and passing ability, as he can blow by a lot of guys with tools alone.
LB: Can Zhaire adequately hold his own against 3s, knowing he’ll lock down opposing 1s and 2s?
JH: Many people worry about him due to his combine measurements, but it’s not like he lost an inch between the college season and the combine. He guarded plenty of bigger guys over the course of the season and did just fine. Obviously he’s going to have to get stronger and his contests may not be super impactful at his size, but he’s competitive and strong enough to make an impact now. Luckily for Smith, he’d probably almost exclusively guard 1s and 2s on Philadelphia, but he should be able to hold his own within a switch-heavy scheme.
LB: I like his form but he can modify his handle so he can create off the dribble against better competition. How long will it take for him to be a confident self creator and will he get to that level within the next 2-3 years?
JH: It’s hard to know if or how quickly he’ll improve his handle, as it’s a skill that sometimes randomly develops instantly and other times never comes along at all. That said, with his athletic profile, youth, and plus IQ, there are a lot of positive indicators that he’s going to develop at a quick rate. I wouldn’t be shocked if 3 years from now his handle is lightyears ahead of where it is today.
LB: Can he play next to both Fultz and Simmons or does that compromise your floor spacing?
JH: It all depends on the progression of his and Fultz’s jumpers. I’m bullish on both, but wouldn’t be surprised if the two never get to being league average 3-point shooters. I wouldn’t let it stop me from drafting him if that was the hang-up, though. The odds of him and/or Fultz becoming at least competent threats from 3 are pretty high, and I think they’d find a way to make it work.
LB: On the Sixers, could he parlay his athleticism into becoming a two-way force?
JH: Absolutely. He himself has talked about how the Sixers’ uptempo style is a great fit for him, and I have to agree. He’d also have a great infrastructure to develop the refined parts of his game, as he wouldn’t be asked to do much early on and would be surrounded by players who could guide him towards improvement. I believe in his jump shot, and if that translates well he’s an excellent fit.
LB: Kevin Knox also could be an option at 10, how valuable offensively can he be if he can create off the dribble, present mismatches and threaten with the catch-and-shoot?
JH: I’m not all that confident in Knox’s handle, but he is a guy who can shoot off movement and hit over the top of contests. I just don’t know how he works in Philadelphia as I see him as a primary 4 in the NBA, and as I mentioned earlier the Sixers are already basically booked with minutes at that position. If he’s gotten quicker and tightened his handle since his time at Kentucky this is a different discussion, but I remain skeptical.
LB: He’s really young for his class, how do you judge the growth curve for him compared to his freshman and sophomore peers?
JH: His youth is important to note, as is the context of his role at Kentucky that basically relegated him to a floor-spacer. However, he’s not a very dynamic athlete and he doesn’t appear to be all that cerebral on the court, and those two traits in conjunction with youth are the two things I value most when projecting a growth curve. I think he could refine his skill game and become a well-rounded offensive 4 given his youth, but I don’t know that he ever becomes a much better athlete or has the IQ to overcome his physical limitations, at least for playing the 3.
LB: Is his offensive upside a reasonable tradeoff if he struggles on D throughout his career?
JH: Not on a team like Philadelphia, because the Sixers already have enough valuable offensive options that don’t incur the same defensive tradeoff that Knox would, especially when playing the 3. For the role they’d place Knox in, Mikal Bridges is a much better fit as he’s much more proven as an off-movement shooter and is better suited for defending the wing at the NBA level. And while he isn’t an amazing passer, he’s a step ahead of Knox, who just doesn’t read the floor very well.
LB: Who amongst the group can legitimately switch on a dime and derail PnR opportunities and who’s the greatest in that particular craft?
JH: In terms of blowing up plays, it’s probably Zhaire Smith or Mikal Bridges. Smith has the quickness/instincts combination to blitz dribble handoffs and high pick-and-rolls, and while Bridges doesn’t have the same quick-twitch explosiveness of Smith, his length plays a huge factor in his ability to get his paws in the middle of plays and create havoc. I’d probably lean with Smith as an overall pick-and-roll defender because I think he’s a better deterrent of roll men with his strength and pop, but Bridges’ height/length advantage is important to consider.
LB: If Trae Young falls to 10 and both Bridges are on the board, what’s their best route?
JH: Draft Trae Young and ask questions later. I’m an advocate for a best player available approach except for in very specific situations, and Young is the top player on the board in the scenario that he’s there at 10 (unless of course Luka Doncic or Jaren Jackson Jr. somehow slip that far). He’d add gravitational shooting and excellent passing on top of serious primary initiator potential. In the event that Markelle Fultz is unable to return to the player he was at Washington, Young can step right in as the point guard of the future (or co-point guard to Ben Simmons) and immediately help take pressure off of Simmons and Embiid. It’s a no-brainer if he’s there, at least to me.
LB: Who’s your ideal pick if both Bridges, Smith and Knox are on the board?
JH: As much as I’d love to see the team make the ultimate upside play and grab Zhaire Smith, I think Miles Bridges has to be the pick. When Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons are on your roster, you don’t need to find another star; you need to find the guys who complement those stars. Mikal Bridges and Kevin Knox can both do that, but Miles Bridges can do it better. He’s the ultimate gap-plugger thanks to his versatility on both ends and general lack of weaknesses. The secondary creation he’d be able to add is really what puts him over the top for me, as Philadelphia’s struggles with creating offense were painfully evident when Ben Simmons was out of the game or in a funk. Getting a guy who can play on or off the ball and defend multiple positions should be the goal of this pick, and Miles Bridges is the guy who accomplishes that.
LB: Thanks, Jackson. You can follow Jackson’s work here and his draft podcast, Hardwood Homies, here.