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Around College Basketball: Edition 6

The new year leads to potentially new prospects

NCAA Basketball: Arizona State at Stanford Robert Edwards-USA TODAY Sports

Around College Basketball is back with its sixth edition! With conference play in full swing, some prospects are starting to stand out. Whatever the Sixers do in the draft may affect how they look at free agency, so this is a very important draft class to hit on.

Pick Projection: 25th overall

Kings Watch: With a record of 24-22, the Sacramento Kings are currently projected to have the 13th pick. Remember, the Sixers get whichever pick is worse between their own and that of the Kings, with the better going to Boston unless its #1 overall. As of now, the Sixers would keep their pick at 25th overall.

Prospects to Watch:

KZ Okpala, Stanford (SF): One of the Sixers’ biggest weaknesses is the lack of switchable wings when going up against the stronger teams in the league. Right now, the team has to rely on a handful of effective players, but when they need rest, the play on the court is heavily affected. If the Sixers were able to draft KZ Okpala out of Stanford, they would be one step closer to solving that problem.

As a sophomore, Okpala has steadily improved his statistics, becoming Stanford’s most reliable player on both offense and defense. A more consistent shooter, Okpala is converting on 50% of his field goals this year, a big uptick from the 39% clip he put up as a freshman. These numbers aren’t just improved on the same number of shots, though, as he is shooting the ball 12.6 times per game, quite an increase from the 8.3 shots he launched last year.

Okpala has the prototypical frame for an athletic wing, standing at 6-foot-8 and 195 pounds. He could stand to put on some extra weight, but his ability to stick on defenders and create transition opportunities out of strong defensive stances is something that separates him from other draft prospects, something that will only get better with a growing body. In order to compete in the Eastern Conference, the Sixers need to be able to defend and get to the net against other wings. Okpala could be just the guy to give Philadelphia an edge.

Luguentz Dort, Arizona State (SG): One of my personal favorite prospects, Luguentz Dort has the look of a prolific scorer at the next level. His name is picking up steam when it comes to draft stock and he may rise as high as a possible lottery pick if he continues to show flashes of his mouth-watering potential. As a freshman, Dort has taken over as Arizona State’s lifeline on offense, averaging 16.6 points per game in only 17 career collegiate games. His shooting percentage isn’t overwhelming at only 39%, but Dort has shown the ability to hit shots from the outside and drive inside on a consistent basis.

Dort isn’t the most polished prospect, but he brings extremely high energy and a spark to the Sun Devils, something the Sixers need. The shot isn’t a finished product, but if he is placed next to floor spacers like JJ Redick and Landry Shamet, then Dort can focus on driving the lane and creating shots for himself in the middle of the defense. Only a freshman, Dort has exceeded expectations. With how athletically inclined he is, it would be surprising to see Dort last until the end of the first round where the Sixers are projected to draft. One lucky team will be able to mold Luguentz Dort into a high energy role player from day one, with the possibility of making him into a key piece to a winning team later down the road in his career.

Shamorie Ponds, St. John’s (PG): St. John’s has had a terrific season so far, and much of that is because of their leading scorer. Shamorie Ponds has been on a tear in the first half of the year, becoming known around the country as one of, if not the best scorer in college basketball. The average of 20.6 points per game isn’t too gaudy, and yet he makes every point feel truly impactful.

Now in his junior year, Ponds has scaled back his shooting to a bit more modest 13.6 shots per game, compared to the career-high 17.9 he took last year. Because he isn’t taking as many shots, his scoring has decreased a tad, but Ponds is making the most of his attempts, increasing his shooting percentage to a career-best 50%. The offensive end is where Ponds is a difference maker, but he’ll also hold his own on defense. His defensive win shares have never dipped below 1.0, so while he probably won’t win a team a game on that end, he won’t hurt you. The Sixers’ backup point guard spot is up in the air once the offseason rolls around, as T.J McConnell could leave in free agency and the Markelle Fultz saga seems to be never-ending. Shamorie Ponds could fit that role.

Ponds would bring extra athleticism to the bench that the Sixers haven’t had this year. Pairing two shooters in the backcourt hasn’t been a possibility for much of the last two years. With Ponds in the fold, it would give Philadelphia greater options when in need of shooting late in games. The Sixers are projected to pick late in the first round and haven’t had the greatest success drafting in this area in recent years. Getting a player who looks like a solid contributor from the beginning of his career would be a nice coup for a team known to have depth problems.