Now that the draft is over, it’s time to look at how the three rookies drafted by the Sixers will contribute this year. While none look like franchise changing stars, each could have a significant role on the team. Don’t expect any of these guys to waste away on the bench; each player was drafted because he brings a unique skill set to the table that the Sixers brain trust believed could help address weaknesses on the roster. Brett Brown had the final say on who was brought in, meaning he has faith in the abilities of these three rookies and believes they can each play from the start. Now, it’s all about finding the correct roles to get the most out of them.
Many people are still coming to terms with the move the Sixers made on draft night, trading hometown player Mikal Bridges for Zhaire Smith and a 2021 first round pick. Much of Sixers twitter was ready to go to war against the team because of the unpopular move, but the more you look into the situation, the more favorable it becomes for the Sixers.
Zhaire Smith is not a consolation prize. He is going to become a very solid NBA player, and his talents fit the Sixers extremely well. One of the reasons why the Sixers looked so lost against the Celtics in their second round matchup in the playoffs was because they had no idea how to stop Boston’s explosive wing players. Zhaire Smith was drafted for several reasons, but his ability to stop these exact types of players has to be at the very top of the list. Watch him play for even just a few minutes and you’ll see he is the most athletic guy on the court. His quick feet, wingspan, and incredible jumping ability all point to him becoming an elite defender as a professional, just as he was in college.
Smith will come off of the bench this year and provide tough defense as well as the ability to hit open jumpers and play above the rim, something the Sixers sorely missed last year. He may not be a complete player yet, but he also isn’t a project. He’ll be able to play solid minutes and have an effect on the team from the start. Mikal Bridges may have a higher floor and is more NBA ready right now, but Smith has a higher ceiling and can do many of the things the Sixers were desperate for late last season.
Landry Shamet was a bit of a wild card pick at 26th overall. Not a super well known prospect, Shamet made a name for himself at Wichita State by scoring in bunches. The Sixers drafted him to do the same thing in the NBA, shoot from distance and be another creator off the bench. While he played point guard in college he slots in at second unit shooting guard in the NBA. Pairing him with T.J. McConnell gives the Sixers a backcourt that can share ball handling responsibilities while looking for the other to cut and get open.
Because of his lack of athleticism, Shamet doesn’t bring much to the table on defense. He’s going to need to shoot well to stay in the rotation, and if he can gain some muscle, could become at least a mediocre defender. Sixers fans were used to seeing Marco Belinelli look lost on defense this past season, but with Shamet, the Sixers will have a Belinelli replacement who can play more consistent offense, has the upside to grow on defense, and has a smaller contract. Many Sixers shooters had trouble getting open shots for themselves, Shamet can buck that trend and help the Sixers offense flow more naturally with his ball handling and outside stroke.
The Sixers came into the draft with four second round picks, and considering they already had a nearly filled out roster, they did a great job of trading them for future assets. After trading three of these picks away, the Sixers used their only second round selection on Shake Milton, the giant point guard from SMU.
Liberty Ballers’ own Kevin Rice, also known as the leader of the Shake Milton fan club, wrote up a great prospect breakdown of Milton before the draft. Second round selections don’t always make the team, but Milton brings a nice three point shot to the table, as well as the longest wingspan of any guard in the draft. Those features make him a player who could become a two-way contributor if he bulks up a little and becomes more explosive around the net.
It would be in the team’s best interest for them to stash Milton in the G-League and let him work on his body and becoming a more well rounded player. Milton was gaining steam as a possible late first round option for teams, so the Sixers could have done much worse than taking a shot on a player with considerable upside.
It’s nice to have a draft where the Sixers don’t need to draft a franchise cornerstone. The players brought in don’t have to be superstars. If they can focus on filling their roles and doing what they’re best at while still growing, then they will help the Sixers win games.