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2019 NBA Draft Primer: Experts give their takes on what the Sixers should do on Thursday night

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DRAFT SEASON!!!

NBA: Philadelphia 76ers-Press Conference Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

With the NBA Draft coming up this week, the Q&A series typically reserved for regular season games has returned. With help from some of the internet’s best draft analysts, I took the temperature of what the general sentiments are in regards to how the Sixers should approach their selections this year.

Before we get into the questions and answers, here is our panel of experts:

  • Max Carlin is a writer for CelticsBlog.
  • Cole Zwicker is the founder of and a writer for The Stepien.
  • Jackson Frank is a Sixers writer here at Liberty Ballers as well as The Athletic Philadelphia. He also writes about the NBA for The Step Back.
  • Tyler Monahan is a fellow Liberty Ballers writer.
  • Ben Pfeifer is a writer for RookieWire, the new draft-centric blog from USA TODAY, as well as a Pacers writer for 8 Points, 9 Seconds and an NBA writer for ClutchPoints. As he did last time he appeared on this site, Ben only agreed to take part if he could take a shot at Ben Simmons in the middle of his analysis.
  • Ross Homan is a writer at The Stepien, and hosts The Stepien Podcast.
  • Ricky Scricca is a writer at The Stepien with a focus on international prospects.

Now, let’s get into this!

Question #1: In years past, the Sixers have been primarily focused on high-upside picks, typically opting to select what are thought to be riskier prospects with wider ranges of potential outcomes. But now that they’ve reached contender status, how much should star upside matter to the Sixers versus simply grabbing a player with the best chance of becoming a reliable rotation player?

Max Carlin: In general, I’m not a huge believer in taking wild swings at really fringe star outcomes. Where the Sixers have picked in the past, those outcomes have been realistic and compelling enough to gamble on. Joel Embiid was a worthwhile “upside” risk. Zhaire Smith, to a lesser extent but still the case, was a worthwhile shot at his slot in a draft as talented as 2018’s. At #24 in a draft as low on high-end talent as 2019’s, I’d be much more inclined to pick for fit and safety.

Where the Sixers currently sit, rich in star talent and lacking everywhere else, the team has moved out of the glorious indiscriminate talent-amassing stage that was The Process. Now, the team is in the enviable position of finding the pieces that fit around established stars. Because of the youth of its core, Philly has the added luxury of fit-drafting now offering utility in the future — the strengths and weaknesses of an Embiid, Simmons, Butler core isn’t changing.

Given the flatness of this draft, the Sixers should have the opportunity at #24 to draft a prospect of comparable quality to every player selected between #10 and #45 in Thursday’s draft. If I were Elton Brand, I’d prioritize an immediate contributor with clear and projectable skills that complement Embiid, Simmons, and Butler.

Question #2: Shot creation has long been an issue for the Sixers. This has been to some extent mitigated by the acquisitions of Jimmy Butler and Tobias Harris, but many still hope the Sixers will aim to draft a playmaker. Should the Sixers target an on-ball threat with one of their earlier picks? If so, which player(s) should they target?

Cole Zwicker: Usually in the draft the higher end outcome ball-handlers/initiators get scooped up early unless it’s an uncommonly deep class in this positional area like 2009 or what 2020 could be. Thus, the realistic creation candidates list is more limited at 24. Carsen Edwards is probably the obvious answer here from this class given his 30 foot pull-up range and the gravity threat that could pose on early drag screens pulling two to the ball and opening up advantage situations for the rest of the team. Edwards also adds the ability to shoot off movement in Philly’s floppy actions, and probably does his best work in the NBA as an off-ball guard in the half court while serving as a situational handler. Despite being built like a running back his size will be a liability on defense, and given the Sixers’ affinity for size I’m not sure he’s a fit. He’s not the most adept playmaker for others reading the floor as well, but he’s arguably an ideal offensive fit next to Simmons.

Two other potential wing creators in that range are Talen Horton-Tucker and fast rising Terence Davis. Horton-Tucker is a few years away from refining his shot, but if he hits he has the length, frame, and ball-handling coordination at his size to be a potential situational ball-handler down the road with some feel as a passer and touch as a finisher. Davis lacks a high-level handle but has the burst, pull-up flashes and simple playmaking to run some situational offense. But mostly he’s an electric transition player with the ball who can really change ends and has underrated functional strength defensively.

Question #3: Every team covets versatile and reliable perimeter defenders, particularly wings. Wing defense has been a major need for the Sixers over the last few seasons. Should the Sixers target a defensive-oriented wing with one of their earlier picks? If they do, which player(s) should they target?

Jackson Frank: I really think the smartest course of action for the Sixers is taking the best player available with their picks. They’re not drafting any 2019-20 starters this year and their entire bench has holes. Backup point guard and center, wing defense, shooting, playmaking. Take the best player available and if it happens to be a defensive-oriented wing, awesome. In that case, the best defensive wings who could/should be available at #24, #33 or #34 would be Chuma Okeke and Matisse Thybulle. Both are off-ball specialists defensively. I value Okeke’s shooting and passing more than the advantage Thybulle holds with defensive instincts and the way he applies his physical tools. Both would be good value at 24, though. Other defensive wings who the Sixers could look at are Terence Davis and DaQuan Jeffries. Both have early second-round grades from me and should be able to hit spot-up three-pointers. I’d also look at Charles Matthews at #54 or as an undrafted free agent. He’s the best perimeter defender in the class, despite significant offensive woes.

Question #4: In today’s NBA, three-point shooting is at a premium. However, the Sixers have struggled to acquire consistent, knock-down shooters in recent years. Should the Sixers target the highest-caliber shooter they can find? If so, which player(s) should they target?

Tyler Monahan: While three-point shooting has become such an important aspect of any team, I don’t think the Sixers have to necessarily go out and key in on shooters in the draft. With so many questions surrounding free agency, I think the best idea would be for the team to go out and draft the best players available, because even if they are confident in re-signing their stars having depth is always a good problem to have. I’m a big believer that Shake Milton is going to play a role for the Sixers this year and if he can become a rotational shooter like we saw glimpses of last year, it gives the Sixers even less reason to focus on outside threats. Going best player available and gaining a top outside shooting option aren’t mutually exclusive though — if a player like Cam Johnson or Tyler Herro were to be available, the team should jump at the opportunity to draft them. They each bring a lot to the table besides just an outside touch and would give the Sixers some punch off of the bench that was missing for most of the year.

Question #5: Many are of the opinion that the Sixers would have won the Eastern Conference had they found a reliable backup center — a position that they are expected to pursue an upgrade at this summer. Should they prioritize taking a big-man with one of their three earlier picks? If they do covet a rookie backup for Embiid, which member of this class should they target?

Ben Pfeifer: I am philosophically against investing high draft capital into backup-type bigs without any real chance of being special. The bigs typically mocked in Philadelphia’s range, including Bruno Fernando, Daniel Gafford and Mfiondu Kabengele, are all guys I would pass on and instead, get a big like Alen Smailagic late. Due to the replicability of the position, investing a late-first or early-second round pick in a big that is not going to be special is a waste. If they had to draft a center in the first round, Jontay Porter would be my selection. Despite his injuries, he’s a basketball savant and immensely talented and worth the risk at the end of the first.

Question #6: The Sixers are in a position to bring in multiple rotation players, as they are armed with a first-round pick as well as two of the first four picks of the second round. However, they also own the 42nd and 56th picks. Who is a prospect slated to go towards the end of the Draft who you would like to see the Sixers select and take a stab at trying to develop?

Ross Homan: The three guys that come to mind are Yovel Zoosman, Jontay Porter and Ignas Brazdeikis. Zoosman is a potential stash, but I think he could contribute from day one, considering he already plays minutes for Maccabi Tel Aviv in the EuroLeague. He’s a great off-ball defender and can guard both wing positions, along with some fours and ones. The shot will need to continue to improve, and I’d like to see some more assertiveness, but he’s a wing who can dribble, pass and shoot while bringing most of his value on the defensive end. Jontay Porter will be coming into the NBA off of two ACL surgeries, so he’s a risk with his questionable knee, but he’s easily worth the risk this late in the draft. A top 10 talent, Porter is one of the better shooting bigs in the class and arguably the best passing big. Athletic limitations might come in to play, but he’s a very skilled and high IQ player who could be very good for Philly if he stays healthy. The Sixers are also no stranger to injured rookies, so it won’t be a situation they’re unsure how to handle. Last, Ignas Brazdeikis is a tweener who has slid down the draft because he doesn’t fit a traditional archetype and isn’t the best athlete. However, he’s really good at basketball, which sometimes doesn’t matter enough to teams. On a team like Philly, he’ll be able to play next to a defensive center and a team with a good all-around structure, so he’ll know his role, which will be scoring. His passing needs to improve and he’ll struggle defensively at times, but he’s very strong, physical and plays hard, so he does have some defensive ability. Offensively, he’s always in attack mode making quick scoring decisions. Sometimes it can be to a fault, as he’ll miss open teammates or force shots over the defense, but he’s an efficient scorer who can provide mismatches. A good shooter with movement shooting upside who knows when to attack, he should be able to overpower smaller players, or shoot over the top, while having enough handle and quickness to get by bigger players guarding him. Those are three guys I can without a doubt see carving out a role in Philly while being available for their later picks.

Question #7: Armed with four second-round picks but dealing with little roster flexibility, the Sixers will likely use a pick on an international player who they can stash for at least a year or two in order to save a roster spot. If so, which players should they be looking at, and who do you view as the best option?

Ricky Scricca: This doesn’t exactly answer the question, but among foreign prospects, my top target for the 76ers in their draft range would be Alen Smailagic as a raw but versatile and high-upside big man. Depending on how their lineup looks over the next few seasons, he could work well playing alongside or backing up Joel Embiid. Smailagic currently plays for the Golden State Warriors’s G-League affiliate, the Santa Cruz Warriors, and could potentially become a domestic stash for the 76ers with the Delaware Blue Coats.

A few other names that I think could be interesting fits are Deividas Sirvydis, Luka Samanic, and Didi Louzada. At 6’8 with a quick and high shot release, Sirvydis could offer decisive ancillary playmaking and high-level movement shooting. Samanic’s solid shooting, passing, and space defense for his size make him a strong theoretical fit with the 76ers’s core pieces, Embiid and Simmons, and within Brett Brown’s offense. Louzada is a strong 3-and-D prospect at 6’5 with a solid frame and excellent defensive awareness but a very rudimentary handle.

To follow up all pf this information and insight, I asked each writer the following simple question, seeking a singular name of who the main target should be for the Sixers:

Among the players one would expect have a good chance of being available when the Sixers are on the clock at #24, who should the team’s top target be?

Max Carlin: The on-brand answer here would be Grant Williams. Williams is my fourth-ranked prospect and easily my favorite person and player in the Draft. But I think Liberty Ballers’ Matthew del Rio outlined well why Williams might not be the greatest fit in Philadelphia. His somewhat questionable shooting is not really a viable option for the Sixers, and his interior dominance on both ends would be both redundant and wasted.

Instead, I’m going to go with a guy who didn’t quite make my top 30 (he’d check in at #33), but is an ideal fit for this Sixers team, as Philadelphia is uniquely equipped to insulate his weaknesses and has a major need for and ability to optimize his elite strengths.

With the 24th pick in the 2019 NBA Draft, the Philadelphia 76ers should select Carsen Edwards, guard from Purdue.

Edwards stan and Liberty Ballers writer Jackson Frank wrote an excellent breakdown of Edwards. I’m much lower than Jackson on Edwards in a vacuum, because I don’t believe he’s a good-enough decision-maker to succeed as a primary ball-handler in spite of his diminutive stature. I therefore see Edwards as more of a score-first bench combo guard who only has the size to defend point guards, which is a very replaceable archetype. In the right situation, though, Edwards’ elite, elite shooting could be the perfect complement to an oversized primary ball-handler who can handle bigger defensive assignments for him.

That situation is Philadelphia. On this Sixers team, Edwards would provide much-needed shooting. In the half-court, his self-creation would cover for Ben Simmons’ unique shortcomings. On defense, Simmons would accommodate for Edwards’ size. It’s a perfect fit.

Every team’s big board should be different, and while Edwards is outside the top 30 on my non-team-specific one, he’d be far, far higher on a Sixers-specific board. He’s an ideal fit for this team now and going forward and would be an excellent selection at #24.

Cole Zwicker: Out of the likely options, I’d lean Matisse Thybulle as the top target. If the shot comes along, he provides legitimate two-way impact in the way of a low-usage floor-spacer on offense and a dynamic help defender with excellent range, length and playmaking instincts on defense. His on-ball defensive quickness and ball-skills (mostly handling control and decision-making/unselfishness as a passer) are also underrated. He’s averse to self-creation opportunities at times, which is actually detrimental to his team, but in Philly his creation would be scaled back to essentially catch-and-shoots, moving the ball and occasional closeout attacks. Most of his value will come on defense however, as if everything breaks right he could be a skinnier version of someone like Danny Green. At #24, considering the Sixers already have their primary infrastructure (likely?) in place, the best value is a two-way play, with Thybulle having realizable upside on that roster especially as a dependent player. Grant Williams is much higher on my board but Thybulle is a better fit on the Sixers.

Jackson Frank: I’ll eliminate the obvious candidates (Matisse Thybulle, Ty Jerome, Carsen Edwards and Chuma Okeke), and go with Talen Horton-Tucker, a high-risk play who could be worth the gamble at #24 if the Sixers believe they can land ready-made prospects at #33 and #34. He’s 6-4 with a 7-1 wingspan and weighs 235 pounds. He’s a unique player with impressive finishing skills, functional strength and defensive versatility who flashed tantalizing self-creation ability off the bounce. If things break right, he could end up as one of the top five players in this class. He’s not particularly good at basketball right now, so the floor is quite low but it’s tough to find high-upside guys this late in the first round. I also think the Sixers would be OK reaching for Shamorie Ponds at 24th overall if their primary targets are all off the board. He’s a dynamic pull-up shooter with sharp playmaking ability, incredibly weaponized ball-handling and an outside chance to become a lead guard in the league. Even if he doesn’t, his shooting and self-creation talent would be welcomed additions off the bench.

Tyler Monahan: My favorite prospect in this draft class has been Cameron Johnson from the University of North Carolina. He still needs to work on his body and he may never be a world-class defender, but Johnson will be able to step into a role from day one. Johnson is a smart player on both ends of the court and the Sixers will appreciate his length on defense as well as having a consistent shot like his off of the bench. If he is available at #24 I don’t see many better options that can come in and play a key role over the entirety of an NBA season as a rookie.

Ben Pfeifer: I would love to be creative here, but Grant Williams is too easy of an answer here. A top 10 talent who may not go in the first round, Williams will be my top target for every team in the 20s until he gets picked. A genius on and off of the court, Williams’ high feel for the game helps him on both ends, a passing virtuoso on offense and a smart team defender. I expect him to shoot threes as well, given his elite touch and plus shooting indicators. The fit may not be perfect with the Sixers (he fits the theme of all tall players), but Williams is far too talented to pass on in the latter part of the first round, and less likely to completely flop than Ben Simmons is to make a three-point jumper in his career.

Ross Homan: This is a tough question because I think it would be dependent on their confidence in bringing back Butler and Harris. If one leaves, I’d go with Grant Williams. He’s somebody who can start next to Embiid while also playing stints as the backup center for small-ball. A high IQ team defender, great passer, and somebody who I’m pretty comfortable with projecting him to shoot, Grant would fit great next to Embiid, along with the other stars. Chuma Okeke would be a very close option number two in that scenario. If both Butler and Harris return, I think I’d look to go Matisse Thybulle if he’s there. I’m a tad bit lower on him than consensus, but Philly is in need of defense on the perimeter and he can provide that. I’m a little worried about his passiveness on offense, and the shot will need to be real, but he’d fill a need for the Sixers. Two of my other favorites Philly (Terence Davis and Carsen Edwards) have a decent chance to be there at picks 33 and 34, so I’d roll the dice on Thybulle.

Ricky Scricca: Among players likely to be available at 24 for whom the Sixers probably couldn’t trade down, Carsen Edwards and Cameron Johnson are my favorites. Edwards’s deep-range shotmaking and shot creation would add a new dimension to Sixers bench units, and his screening and dynamic movement shooting would make him a formidable off-ball threat alongside Simmons. Johnson is this draft’s best shooter by far and will be able to step in from almost day one and be a threat in a lot of the same actions JJ Redick runs in. Depending on who returns to the team, Johnson could also unlock high-minute lineups where the shortest player is about 6’7. This should go without saying, but if Grant Williams falls this far, Sixers should pull the trigger.