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2020 NBA Draft Roundtable: What does this class present the Sixers?

Tennessee v Kentucky Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images

he Philadelphia 76ers enter Wednesday’s 2020 NBA Draft with an assortment of picks: 21st, 34th, 36th, 49th and 58th overall. While it’s unlikely they select someone with each of these picks, this draft represents a chance for the capped-out Sixers to land viable rotation players on team-friendly deals.

To learn more about this class and the opportunities ahead for the Sixers, I enlisted the services of some shrewd draft minds for a series of questions deemed relevant for the franchise and its fans.

PD Web (@abovethebreak3 on Twitter) is a draft writer who authors distinct and insightful breakdowns on his Patreon page. Francis Adu (@beenthrifty on Twitter) provides some of the most productive draft conversations you’ll find across the internet, offering a unique angle about prospects and philosophies. Henry Ward (@henrywward on Twitter) writes highly informative prospect breakdowns on his site, The Kick Ahead. Robel Tussin (@robeltussin on Twitter) produces draft breakdowns on his YouTube page and has been churning out marvelous content like few others in recent weeks. Ross Homan (@Ross_homan1 on Twitter) is a writer for The Stepien and is who I trust most for pre-college scouting, while also valuing his eye for prospects at any stage.

Given who is projected to be available when the Sixers pick at 21 overall, who do you think is the best fit for them there?

PD: This is a funky draft. Every team is going to have a wildly different big board based on need, as talent is quite homogenous. There are chances that creators like Tyrese Maxey or Cole Anthony could fall down draft boards to the Sixers’ benefit. This draft doesn’t really have wings that will be available in the 20s, as scarcity has pushed flawed/single-skilled wings 5-10 spots higher than they would have been selected in other drafts. That leaves the glut of secondary creators, a desperate Philly need, likely to slide down to 21.

Francis: Of course, what projections are true or not is hard to tell right even this close to the draft, but Philly should be pretty darn giddy if any of the options of Tyrese Maxey, Theo Maledon, and Cole Anthony is available at 21. While it is true that the Sixers always have to be mindful of shooting gravity around the low-post-centric Embiid and non-shooting Simmons, arguably the more urgent need for Philly is a ball-handler capable of scoring off the dribble, while also not requiring the ball all the time to be useful next to the other Philly cornerstones.

Maxey should fit the bill cleanly as a scorer who can both reach the rim and also finish there to pair with what should be an improved jumper from his Kentucky showings. Maxey also has the benefit of not being overly pick-and-roll reliant to help an offense, which is good for the case where Embiid never shows great aptitude as a roller/popper. Paired with Maxey’s very solid and somewhat scalable defense, Maxey is probably the Philly dream here.

Maledon also fits the bill of a ball-handler with very promising jumper versatility, especially off the dribble, who will not need an offense tailored to him at all to find some use. Maledon’s strengths do rely more on advanced pick-and-roll nuance than Maxey, so his ceiling in a PnR bereft scheme may be lower than hoped in Philly. But his game should adjust well still and would allow Philly to maintain a size advantage at every position with Theo’s 6’5” frame.

Cole Anthony may falter if his pre-UNC explosion and handle never return to full glory but one thing that should be confidently betted on is Cole making open jumpers, whether off the dribble or off ball. Cole also has very good awareness to potentially mine as a passer and help defender to not limit him as “scoring only”. Not a guaranteed success but there’s a very plausible version of Cole that lives up to his former top prospect status and is well worth picking at 21.

Henry: I personally find the Sixers an especially interesting team to think about, because, as anyone who’s read my philosophy pieces before knows (check them out if you haven’t!), my idea of team construction and offensive philosophy is pretty antithetical to the pieces the Sixers have in place. That being said, given what they do have and the direction they seem set on taking, the best possible fit has to be Grant Riller. I feel like a bit of a broken record saying it, but ultimately he does make the most sense — a guard who can generate advantages on his own and manipulate the space he creates to get points for himself and others is really what they should be after. Additionally, if they were to move in a direction more suited to my beliefs, that also seems incredibly plausible, where Embiid has been traded and Simmons is operating more as a five, Riller would still be excellent. I picture a role in which he’s catching the ball in motion and cooking from there — something similar to how the Heat use someone like Tyler Herro in actions with Bam Adebayo. I’d also note that I wouldn’t take issue with someone prioritizing Malachi Flynn here, either.

Robel: I wouldn’t bet on Kira Lewis, Tyrese Maxey, and Cole Anthony to be available by then, even though it seems to look that way on many mocks. If either one of them fell, though, the Sixers should sprint to the podium. The best and most realistic option would be Malachi Flynn. His PNR wizardry, pull-up shooting, and off-ball scalability allow him to be the perfect complementary guard next to Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid. Simmons could be used more as a cutter and short roller (two things he’s already very good at) and Embiid finally gets consistent post entry passes and spacing, since Flynn shot 40% on catch-and-shoot jumpers. Grant Riller is my honorable mention here, but I don’t believe his playmaking and off-ball ability to be better than Flynn’s, even though he is clearly the ball on-ball scorer. Malachi Flynn is capable of being a valuable rotation player to a playoff team right away, and someone that makes the game easier for both franchise pieces is someone you just cannot pass on.

Ross: For me, the pick is Grant Riller. Yes, there’s a chance he’d slide to them early second but I don’t think it’s worth taking the risk to allow another team to select him between 21st and 34th. The Sixers have championship aspirations and talented players, but they need to swing on a self-creation guard that can be counted on in tough scenarios, when needed. Riller’s ability to get to the rim and finish, as well as create space in off-the-dribble pull-up attempts, is something Philly desperately needs. If Riller is CLEARLY going to be there in the second round, I’d pivot to Desmond Bane in this scenario. Bane could provide some similar things to what Shamet was able to do around Simmons and Embiid, while being the better, more talented basketball player, especially defensively.

Are there any guys you envision could slide to the late lottery/early teens that the Sixers should consider trading up for? If so, who, and why?

PD: *Warning, both prospects listed have some strange shooting concerns. If this is too traumatic or if you have high blood pressure, just skip this section*

If Killian Hayes or Devin Vassell slide into double digits, the 76ers should really think about swinging a trade. Hayes, who may slide as teams mistakenly think he is a limited creator based on an outdated reputation, would be a great fit as an big and strong PNR operator with off-the-dribble shooting bona fides and great understanding of passing manipulations. Vassell, who had an unfortunate shooting video leak, suffers from an image problem. He is a wing without a sexy pitch, a 40-plus 3-point percentage shooter with good, not great volume. The best rotational defender for a wing I’ve ever seen, but lacks the wingspan or heft to bang point-of-attack with the mega-sized wings. There is real upside that Vassell adds true off-the-dribble shooting versatility layered with playmaking chops, but he’s pitched as the safe guy whose defensive ability is a floor, not ceiling raiser.

Francis: The nature of the 2020 NBA Draft makes trading up for any prospect a highly dubious strategy. The best prospects are not surefire enough and the distribution of talent is not likely going to be bunched in the lottery anyway. A player like Tyrese Maxey is very plausibly falling to 21 when he could easily be seen as the best prospect in the class in a few years so what’s the point in trading up for, at best, similar bets? That said, while the addition of Daryl Morey makes the Sixers seem more likely to trade out of the draft altogether than trade up, the Sixers do have several picks to deal with in this draft and there’s a slim chance of having all those picks fill roster spots justifiably. A draft day trade or 3 is good to bet on for Philly, even if trading for vets is a much better idea for them than trading up for a more regarded prospect.

Henry: Definitely. In fact, this would be something worth prioritizing, as one guy I see as fitting that same kind of mold I just discussed at a higher level would be Tyrese Maxey. His range seems to be all over the place, and it’s conceivable that he could even be there at 21 anyway without a trade, given where he’s been mocked at times. This would be an absolute heist. Maxey is built like a Jeep with adept touch and a complex finishing package, making him the perfect candidate to come off pistol and knicks actions with Simmons or Embiid for downhill scoring opportunities. Sixers fans reading this may be particularly dissuaded by his lackluster shooting numbers from Kentucky, but fear not, you’d still be adding a floor spacer — Maxey’s touch, workable form and larger shooting sample from high school and EYBL indicate he’ll be a quality shooter in due time.

Robel: The Sixers are in a great spot at 21, but there is a lottery-worthy prospect that is likely to fall close to 21, and that’s Cole Anthony. Combining his high school, EYBL, and freshman season 3-point numbers, you actually realize that he’s a 37% 3 point shooter on 517 attempts. He also took extremely difficult shots, and I believe the movement shooting will be added to his game, so the versatility is there. His decision-making issues on the ball won’t be much of a problem, since he’s playing next to a bigger initiator in Ben Simmons. I’d look to trade 21 and Shake Milton for him to move up a few spots, because I think Cole Anthony could fit well in his role and be just simply better at it, on both ends of the ball. Cole Anthony’s shooting and on-ball creation would be a great fit in Philadelphia.

Ross: The two answers for me would be Killian Hayes and Cole Anthony. Hayes seems to be a bit of an unknown in terms of where he’ll go, so maybe it’s a longshot to say he’ll be available in that range, but if he is, Philly needs to at least explore the opportunity of trading up for him. His size allows the Sixers to continue to be creative with who Simmons is defending and gives them somebody who can run and create offense. Similar reasoning for Anthony, though I do believe Hayes is the better option of the two.

The Sixers have 4 second-round picks. Who are some guys you think they should target there?

PD: I think some sort of consolidation trade makes sense. Due to the season alignment between Euroleague and NBA, and probably more importantly, lack of promises (this draft is gonna be strange, and teams don’t wanna renege on promises because a better guy fell unexpectedly), all the late stash guys went back home. The good news is that 25-45ish is the strongest area of this draft relative to previous years with a ton of interesting options. Guys like Cassius Winston, Jalen Harris and Killian Tillie could address needs at various points in this Sixers roster.

Francis: The early second-round picks would be good homes for prospects such as Isaiah Joe, Zeke Nnaji, Tre Jones, Devon Dotson, or Nico Mannion.

Joe is the 3&D wing prospect often fawned over but actually really good at the 3 and D parts. Joe won’t provide much else than that but, if Philly fans are happy with Thybulle, there is a good chance they would be happy with Joe.

Nnaji likely would not be a high priority on next year’s team due to Embiid’s (and probably Horford’s) minutes but Nnaji would offer a potential new wrinkle for Philly to present teams off the bench in the future as a stretch 5 who can also defend in above-the-screen pick and roll coverages that Philly (rightfully) mostly refrains from due to Embiid’s great ability in drop PnR coverages.

Jones, Dotson, and Mannion will all offer more possible ball-handling competence to prevent a repeat of the Celtics series, where entry post passes became a struggle for Philly without Simmons. Jones would offer the most tenacious defense and smoothest offense organizing of the 3, Dotson would offer the best threat to the rim, and Nico would offer the most appealing shooting potential.

Henry: I’d be willing to bet my nonexistent salary that the Sixers don’t leave the draft with all four of these selections, but it would be worthwhile to keep a couple. This should be an obvious draft and stash scenario, but the pool of candidates for that situation had been decimated with guys like Rokas Jokubaitis and Arturs Kurucs withdrawing just ahead of last week’s deadline. One guy I do think is intriguing here is Abdoulaye N’Doye, a 6’7 wing with a 7’2 wingspan who’s already a pretty impressive passer and could, in a perfect scenario, given his measurements, theoretically turn into someone with the defensive versatility of Jerami Grant or Robert Covington. Some non-stash names I like are Cassius Winston and Sam Merrill. These are two guys who are certainly docked points for their age (22 and 24, respectively), but who can really play out of the pick-and-roll with a mix of manipulation and shooting versatility. In this way, they could still fill that role of a PnR creator off the bench, which the Sixers would welcome. Of course, this is operating under the pretense that names like Flynn, Riller, Bane and Bolmaro don’t slip out of the first, in which case I’d pounce on any of them and fist-pump celebrate.

Robel: With the 34th pick, I’d look to see if any of the Tre Jones, Nico Mannion, Cassius Winston or Devon Dotson (not in order) are available. This roster is starved for guards, so drafting two of them early is what my plan would be.

With the 36th pick, I’d want to add to the wing depth, and Robert Woodard II is a prospect that has gone very under the radar. Understandably so, since he does nothing quite outstanding, but is still someone that at 6’7 can space the floor, and matches up well 3s and 4s. Not a home run pick, but it would allow Matisse Thybulle to be more optimized as a roam defender while Woodard takes the tougher assignments.

If Mason Jones is still available at 49, then I’d take the swing on him. There are concerns about how his scoring ability will translate to the league, but his pull-up shooting and extremely high level of overall craft should be a worthwhile bet. I think he could provide a scoring punch coming off the bench, and help out with the stale moments of the Sixers’ offense.

At 58, I’d look at Kaleb Wesson here. One of the more underrated pick-and-pop bigs in the draft, Wesson doesn’t really provide much else, but would add a different element to the big man rotation.

Ross: The obvious one is Riller, if he is available early second, but I spoke on him earlier, so I’ll discuss my other favorites. Isaiah Joe would be an important addition to a team that needs spacing, without giving up much on the defensive side of the ball. The same goes for Sam Merrill with the later picks, though he’s worse defensively than Joe. Tre Jones and Devon Dotson are also two point guards that they should keep an eye on, even with their questionable shooting projections. Immanuel Quickley would be an addition that I’d like to see, and I think his name has flown under the radar a bit in terms of good second-round values. The last name that should be mentioned is Killian Tillie. His ability to play with numerous combos on the Sixers because of his shooting and defensive versatility should be enticing. On talent alone, he’s a first-round player.

Grant Riller, Desmond Bane and Malachi Flynn are three guys Sixers fans seem to gravitate toward. If all are available at 21, who do you like most among them for Philly and why?

PD: It comes down to how much you believe in the second-round value. If you believe you can get another absolute flamethrower later, take Riller. He addresses directly the most dire roster need (creation) and he is on a timetable to contribute now. Yes, the defense isn’t average or even regular bad, it’s kinda awful, but 1) smaller usage means more energy for defense 2) what’s the point of having all these great defenders but to provide cover for a space-creating superweapon like Riller?

Francis: While I imagine none of the three would be my preferred option at 21 for Philly, Grant Riller would appeal to me the most. An under-discussed part of Riller’s game is he is actually a player who often was used in a more NBA off-guard style of not bringing the ball up and running off-ball actions to get the ball on the move before using his explosion and scoring craft to beat defenses. Having Simmons and Embiid with the ball often and screening often for Riller could work similarly well for Philly. The idea of Riller as on-ball pounding isolation machine to bail Philly out in offensive crunches probably is too optimistic but Riller can still be a dangerous scorer in other ways.

Desmond Bane would definitely provide terrific shooting/gravity for Philly and his high motor would be a good jolt for the team but Bane’s athletic concerns with his short wingspan and lack of explosion & quickness are enough for pause when paired with Philly probably needing a ball-handler more anyway.

Malachi Flynn could be the Goldilocks prospect where he does every skill just well enough for a well-rounded guard Philly can rely on. But Malachi’s size and lack of burst and explosion makes a “Jack of All Trades, Master of None (besides maybe dribbling and midrange)” profile scary to commit to at 21.

Henry: I’ve probably covered this enough in previous answers, but Riller would be my choice. I also noted how I’d be fine with Flynn, and I should probably say you can’t really go wrong with any of the three. However, given Riller’s space creation and finishing advantage over the other two, I think he should slot in as choice No. 1 here, with Flynn coming next and then Bane.

Robel: Flynn, Riller, and Bane in that order. I’ve already made my Flynn over Riller argument, and even though I love Bane, I just don’t see him being able to use that passing ability to its fullest extent due to his poor handle. The Sixers need a creator, not just a shooter. There is also a chance that Isaiah Joe will be available at 34, and he provides similar shooting ability, with much more volume, but with less consistency. So there is a chance that they could get the best of both worlds here.

Ross: The answer to this probably depends on how much you believe in the development of Embiid and Simmons as your go-to guys on offense. If you think Embiid can carry a team down the stretch, you can argue the best fit is Desmond Bane, as he excels as a shooter and off-ball player. If you want to continue to take swings on initiator talent, which teams always should do, Grant Riller is worth the risk. Philly desperately needs a player who can get a bucket on their own and Riller will likely be able to do that at the next level, potentially in a very good to elite manner.

Each draft class differs in depth and quality. What should Sixers fans expect in year 1 from some of the prospects you think fit best? How much can they contribute immediately?

PD: Riller is ready right now, Bane is ready right now, Flynn is ready right now. That’s the funny thing about this draft, it’s a bunch of guys that will help good teams and be of little-to-no use to the truly god-awful. Creation when paired with shooting translates pretty directly from college to the pros, and since Philly has zeroed in on older shooting ++ and creation ++ players, there is no reason to think that each of the major 3 wouldn’t be a serious factor on next year’s playoff team. Finding the right puzzle piece for the Doc Rivers era is going to be important, but I don’t think they can go wrong with all the assets and the talent available, considering that they seem to have identified some really great fits.

Francis: If Philly picks Maxey, Philly should expect a reasonable rotation guard who will probably excite sometimes when his jumper starts feeling the vapors.

Maledon and Cole may also reach such contribution levels. But Maledon would require more encouragement of assertion and Cole will need full athletic and handling recovery, as well as excising of some bad habits to offer the same exciting moments he showed pre-college.

If an upperclassman is picked, a rotation-level player really should be the standard since project upperclassmen are almost oxymorons. But the expectations should probably be more muted in overall impact, even compared to the shaky freshman class.

The draft class will definitely produce some gems as every class does. Even the 2000 draft had an All-NBA player (Michael Redd). However, betting on a specific prospect to reach such heights or even guaranteed starter heights in the future will likely be unfruitful.

Thus, for Sixers fans, draft day trades for veterans or future picks might actually be the best case scenario for the outlook of 2021 and beyond.

Henry: The Sixers are in a pretty good spot, considering the grander context. They already have two bonafide stars in place, hold the 21st pick in a draft where lottery talents seem to be consistently overlooked and will likely fall into the late teens, and the back-end draft capital to move up. I think Sixers fans should expect the guys I’ve prioritized — Riller, Maxey, and Flynn primarily — to step in and fill a role right away. They’re probably not going to be stars, but they should be comfortable filling spot minutes right away while earning more controlled role player minutes over time. In the case of Maxey, I don’t think him becoming a starter alongside Simmons and Harris by the time the playoffs roll around is out of the question at all. As for the second rounders, expectations should be tempered, but with their depth of experience and overall approach, it’s conceivable Winston or Merrill find themselves playing solid role minutes themselves. That’s really the name of the game for the Sixers in this draft considering their situation: finding guys who can add to the sum immediately and truly limit the number of excuses this roster has to win sooner rather than later, if they can at all.

Robel: Malachi Flynn is one of the more NBA-ready guys in this draft. He’d be great in a backup point guard role, and could even start in some games. He’s honestly one of the few guys in this draft that I feel super confident about in being a good NBA player. His feel for the game and skill level is way too high for him to fail.

All of the other picks are safe bets to be OK rotation players, but with rookies, you never know. Terence Davis had a great rookie season with the Toronto Raptors and couldn’t even sniff real minutes in the playoffs. Then, you have Luguentz Dort, who was on a major rollercoaster in that Thunder-Rockets series. I do think at least 2 of these guys could crack the rotation and be effective, but that’s mostly because of the lack of depth on the roster.

Ross: Some of the prospects they could get with their first three picks could be contributors right away. There will, of course, be bumps in the road, as there are with any rookies. But a lot of the players in their draft range have a few years of college experience, along with great basketball knowledge, which should smooth their transition to the NBA. Those qualities should be even more helpful this year, considering the scheduling changes and the loss of Summer League, preseason and more practice and preparation time.

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