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Sixers’ 2017 Draft: How acquiring a pair of big men could turn into a big problem

Following the correct decision to select Markelle Fultz, Philadelphia missed out on a surplus of promising young talent.

NBA: Summer League-Philadelphia 76ers at Boston Celtics Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports

Most of us can easily recall the Sixers’ biggest draft-day blunder during The Process’ heyday. The Philadelphia 76ers tripled down on their third center in three years, Jahlil Okafor, and expected to craft some sort of big man rotation that would amplify their strengths. Three years later, Okafor is teetering on the fringes of making an NBA roster while Kristaps Porzingis represents the New York Knicks’ best talent since Patrick Ewing.

The Sixers have recovered from their blunder and boast the league’s most exciting trio of young talent in Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons and Markelle Fultz. Opting to extend the rebuilding timeline and forego haphazardly competing during the 2015-16 and 2016-17 seasons is a game-changing play that rectifies the botched 2015 draft. However, Philadelphia needs to rectify another set of moves which have become alarming in retrospect. While the jury is still out on both Jonah Bolden and Anzejs Pasecniks, early returns present serious concern.

Bolden, after a productive overseas stint with Macabbi Fox Tel Aviv in ‘17-’18, returned to the Summer Sixers and expectations heightened. His 2017 Summer League run stood out (albeit, among a roster whose only other meaningful talent was Markelle Fultz), but Bolden’s second run isn’t promoting any optimism.

In 22.7 MPG, Bolden is just 6-for-18 (33.3 percent) and 1-for-6 (16.7 percent) from deep while only averaging 0.6 BPG during that time frame. With Norvel Pelle as the only rotational center, Pelle’s outplayed Bolden through three games and has outworked Bolden. Bolden’s drop in energy from last July and hunger from his peer to earn minutes moving forward is definitely not the storyline at center most expected to play out.

Bolden isn’t finishing around the basket and generally lacks effort that’s vital in the Summer Sixers’ frontcourt. Bolden should be standing out with his talent, but he looks like he’s on par with the nine players on the floor with him. As second-year players illustrate why they don’t need Summer League to strengthen their games because they exceed the talent level, Bolden is lagging behind his peers.

Also behind the proverbial eight ball, Anzejs Pasecniks’ first year overseas as a Sixers draft-and-stash didn’t inspire confidence. Typically, NBA teams rely on their backups centers for floor spacing and/or rim protection. Pasecniks provided neither of those tools at 22 years of age, playing for the Spanish ACB’s Herbalife Gran Canaria.

Per RealGM, Pasecniks’ shot 2-of-13 (15.4 percent) from deep and averaged a paltry 0.41 BPG. While his exciting blend of height (7’2”) and athleticism prevents his prospects from falling apart, the 22-year-old big man doesn’t separate himself from any vet minimum center Philadelphia could acquire next offseason.

The narrative here doesn’t revolve around Philadelphia feeling desperate if Bolden and/or Pasecniks fail to evolve as players. Rather, it’s a combination of bungling two selections where a surplus of talent still resided on the draft board and Philadelphia’s second round, in general, was a disaster. It was disaster when news surfaced that Jawun Evans and Sterling Brown were dealt for the baseless garbage known as “cash considerations” and now Brett Brown has to fill in Philadelphia’s margins probably through free agency while banking on Landry Shamet and future late first-round picks producing.

I outlined all of Philadelphia’s missed opportunities and, arguably, the nightmare begins at pick No. 23.

Pick No. 23, OG Anunoby - Toronto Raptors: OG Anunoby’s slide in the 2017 NBA Draft presented a perfect window of opportunity to consolidate multiple, more than four honestly, picks and leverage Brooklyn’s lack of assets. Armed with a 2020 protected first, their own firsts, four picks within the 30-40 range, and young talent, it’s indefensible to not overpay for an arguable top-10 talent who’d slot immediately into a backup 3-4 position.

Why not capitalize on repleting Brooklyn’s barren asset cache and acquire the high-upside rookie by acquiring the No. 22 pick? Sam Hinkie allotted an abundance of second-round picks to get creative. Now, trading up to 25 feels like a misfire and Anunoby is primed for a breakout second year. Per 36 minutes, Anunoby averaged 10.6 points, 4.5 rebounds, and 1.3 steals with a 47.1%/37.1% clips from field-goal and three-point range. With similar ferocity of telepathically trying to reach Philadelphia’s staff to trade up for Zhaire Smith, Anunoby was another steal everyone knew would outplay his draft slot.

Pick No. 25 Options

Kyle Kuzma: The NBA All-Rookie 1st Team forward developed into one of the league’s top bench options, despite advanced stats indicating he wasn’t that valuable of a player. Kuzma’s immediate impact signals a possible Rashard Lewis type player who’s a floor spacing, board-grabbing 4. Philadelphia cycled through backup power forwards last season and Kuzma’s presence definitely would’ve benefited Dario Saric.

Kuzma’s name will be immersed in trade discussions throughout the summer, but he’s one of the more quality offensive options from last year’s draft and oozes versatility. Kuzma would’ve been a premium big man paired with T.J. McConnell and Zhaire Smith but he’ll carve out a role as a valuable stretch four, whether it’s in Los Angeles or elsewhere.

Derrick White: Derrick White would’ve been a value grab at 25 whose combo guard abilities would’ve meshed well with Ben Simmons and T.J. McConnell off the bench. White spent more time for the Austin Spurs than San Antonio Spurs last season, migrating between the team’s affiliates seemingly almost every other day, but he’s a more capable offensive threat in his second year. At 6’5”, White regularly has the height advantage over most point guards and he’d be a dynamic offensive presence in the second unit.

The 24-year-old guard looks to be a terrific tandem pairing with Spurs point guard Dejounte Murray, who was available at picks 24 and 26 in the 2016 NBA Draft, and could receive additional playing time with Tony Parker now playing for Charlotte.

Josh Hart: There had to be a subset of local Sixers fans who were ultimately dismayed with Philadelphia passing on Villanova’s Josh Hart. Hart excelled over his final four regular season games, averaging 23.7 points, 6.7 rebounds and 1.2 steals. Philadelphia attempted to rectify their void at shooting guard by drafting Zhaire Smith, Landry Shamet and Shake Milton while re-signing JJ Redick.

Maybe drafting Hart shifts how Philadelphia addressed their final two selections in 2018 and he’d be a valuable two-way guard off the bench. Hart’s addition to Los Angeles’ bench went noticed in his first year and he can build on a strong 2017-18 finish.

Pick No. 36 Options

Semi Ojeleye: Another wing who caused problems for the 2018 Summer Sixers’ defense, Semi Ojeleye went for 16 points in 29 minutes this past Friday and looks the part of a 3-and-D wing. He’s built like semi truck, with a sculpted feature and great mobility at 6’7” and 236 pounds.

Justin Anderson and Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot make up the Sixers’ backup 3s. Yeah, competition from Ojeleye would be appreciated for Brett Brown to spell Robert Covington (or The Claw).

Jordan Bell: This missed opportunity hurts. Whether you adored Jordan Bell during the predraft process or you liked his fit as an undersized lengthy center, his talent and skill set warranted a selection at pick No. 36. This is a guy who could’ve went in the teens and no one would’ve argued his range. Compounding matter is that he’s a textbook plug-and-play next to all of the Warriors’ shooters.

Bell can finish alley-oops, he sets jarring screens and his rim-protecting is phenomenal. Now, the Sixers have to compete against him instead of utilizing him as their long-term backup 5. He could’ve been mentioned in regards to pick No. 25.

The Jawun Evans and Sterling Brown Debacle

Jawun Evans: Selling picks is an affront to scouting and replenishing your roster when the players selected have a legitimate chance of making year 1 contributions. Jawun Evans was a talented creator at Oklahoma State and easily could’ve been a candidate for a two-way contract if depth became a priority. Getting nothing in return grinds my gears to no end.

Dillon Brooks: We’re not finished outlining potential Sixers here. Dillon Brooks, like Ojeleye, could’ve filled a major backup small forward hole that still needs long-term addressing. Brooks’ advanced numbers don’t do him any favors, but his surrounding teammates were among the league’s worst collection of players once Conley and Gasol went down with injuries. Brooks is a three-level scorer and will make serious dough on his second contract.

Shooting 35.6 percent from deep on 3.2 attempts, he’s a capable floor-spacing wing who projects as a long-term bench piece in the league and can also play either SG or PF when needed. The 22-year-old forward is a potential breakout wing just scraping the surface.

Sterling Brown: Brown went for 27/7/3 in a Bucks win Tuesday night. The Sixers’ former general manager sold his draft rights for unusable cash.

*I’m not omitting Matthias Lessort’s selection but the probability of him coming over and making an impact is less likely than Pasecniks. I’m still holding out hope that Bolden can break out over his last couple Summer League games for a smoother transition into training camp. However, outside of Ben Simmons and Markelle Fultz, the 2016 and 2017 draft classes were a disaster. Luckily, the outcome won’t set Philadelphia back as their core talent still has tremendous upside.

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