It’s well documented that this is a weaker draft class that’s low on star talent. However, it is not low on ball-dominant guards that have the potential to serve as creators in the NBA.
The Philadelphia 76ers need someone who can create a shot for himself, whether it’s in isolation or in pick-and-rolls. In order to complete our search for this creator, we’re disregarding all the other aspects of the way these prospects play so we are narrowing in on who has the best chance to serve that role for the Sixers in the near future.
And before anybody comes at me in the comments, yes, I realize that Shake Milton could very well fill this role for the Sixers. I love Shake too, but the sample size of him succeeding in that role is very small, and considering how much of a glaring need this is for the team, it’s worth trying to secure another bite at the apple through the draft.
So here it is, a three-part series in which I’ll take you through nine different prospects that could potentially solve the Sixers’ woes, and ultimately, determine which one is the very best option, with the caveat that they could reasonably be available at the 22nd pick in the draft. This knocks out Kira Lewis Jr. (my favorite player in this class), who has shot up the boards everywhere and is now a projected lottery pick. Sigh... such is life.
Let’s get started.
Tre Jones, Duke
I had a lot of concern about Jones after he mainly held back the other talented Blue Devils during his freshman year at Duke. He looked like nothing more than a scrappy defender with some functional quickness and decent passing instincts. The very last word I would have used to describe him would have been shot creator.
Yet, that’s exactly what he turned into as a sophomore. He bumped up his scoring from 9.4 points per contest to 16.2, and more importantly, became the fulcrum of the Duke offense, constantly bailing them out when their plays failed to generate quality looks.
Jones not only shot a below-average yet respectable 38.3 percent on his two-point jump shots, but an astonishing 96.2 percent of those were unassisted, according to Hoop-Math. He wasn’t shooting ill-advised spot-ups from in front of that special line, or running off pin-downs and off screens for 15-footers. Rather, Jones was asked to create something out of nothing, to maneuver his way inside the key and find a quality pull-up jumper.
Jones doesn’t have the largest toolbox of dribble moves, and he’s not an elite athlete that can either move around or through his defenders, yet somehow he has a way of slowly finding his way into his preferred spot for the shot he wants. He was so effective that in Duke’s comeback win over North Carolina, their offense quite literally dissolved into just isolating Jones against Cole Anthony with the floor spread, and slowly but surely Jones was able to drag them back into the game.
Jones know he has a strength advantage and uses it to burrow into Anthony’s chest before rising up over him for the shots, and he has the skill level necessary to make these in tough situations.
As you may have noticed, Jones gets a great deal of elevation and hang time on these makes. It’s a good strategy as the more arc he puts on the ball and the higher he gets it in the air, the softer it comes down, giving him a greater margin of error. However, due to his lack of vertical burst, he often fails to get this proper elevation in traffic, causing him to miss short at the rim.
Despite his ability to consistently generate off-ball shots from the mid-range, he’s not a very accurate shooter at the moment, only making 38.3 percent of these attempts. And as for potential three-point shot creation, that’s a long ways away. Even though he upped his three-point percentage to 36.1 percent this season, it’s hard to truly believe that number will translate, as it was bolstered by a torrid 14-of-30 finish in his last eight games, and his tendency to flare his off arm can lead to haywire misses.
Beyond his jump-shooting, Jones took 29.5 percent of his shots at the rim and made a more than acceptable 54 percent of them. Again, he relied on guile over style, putting his head down and finishing at the bucket in spite of the tough angles he would create for himself.
But again, this number might take a severe drop in the Pro’s, as Jones struggled to finish over more athletic rim protectors. Particularly when forced to take long strides in his forays through the lane, he would take long, slow steps that killed his momentum, and relegated him to flipping up these layups with hardly any elevation.
Ultimately, Tre is probably going to end up a lot like his brother Tyus Jones, who is a perfectly fine backup point guard, but not the creative engine of an offense. In the 2019-20 season, only 47 percent of Tyus’s made shots were assisted, per Cleaning the Glass, ranking at only the 28th percentile in the league. Tre Jones isn’t going to flame out in the NBA, and his ability to get off decent mid-range shots is enticing, but his potential to fulfil the role the Sixers need is limited.
Cassius Winston, Michigan St.
Winston has plenty of flaws as a prospect, but bucket-getting is not one of them. He shot 43.2 percent on threes, and 43.8 percent of those threes were unassisted makes that he created for himself off the dribble, per Hoop-Math. He combines a herky-jerky style with good control over his dribble and can use these skills to score in isolation — a must-have for the Sixers in tight games down the stretch.
While Brett Brown (should he keep his job) is known for not employing many pick-and-rolls in his offense, he might want to consider changing that should Winston fall to Philadelphia. NBA defenses love going under ball screens against the Sixers, but they’ll have to change that when going up against Winston, or else he’ll make them pay.
Winston also kills drop pick-and-roll coverage where the on-ball defender goes over the screen, as he’s comfortable running into shots either from three or from the mid-range. This is especially enticing considering that the biggest road block for the Sixers in the East, the Bucks, plays this type of defense religiously.
Teams in the NBA will be forced to switch against Winston, which is a huge advantage for the Sixers with the size advantage they possess at a multitude of positions. We don’t often think of 6’1”, guards as efficient scoring threats, but that’s exactly what Winston is, averaging 18.8 points per game on 46-43-85 shooting splits.
However, with all the good comes the eventual bad. Winston may be a savant at scoring from the perimeter, but creating offense at the rim is a struggle for him, both in terms of getting there and finishing. He shot 51.9% on at-rim attempts and averaged only 4.5 free throw attempts per game in 32.7 minutes of play. He lacks the speed to get around backpedaling bigs, and is incapable of elevating over them for finishes, which usually leads to him passing out of deep paint opportunities.
Going back to his jumper-game, Winston is good at creating space for his shots, but when he’s unable to do so, he just can’t convert. His hunched-over shot form is just not conducive to high pressure defense.
Against great teams in playoff games, it’s rare for a player to generate an off the dribble shot that isn’t heavily contested. Winston can’t hit the toughest of tough shots like that, but he’s still an elite on-ball shooter in every other sense of the word, and the game-to-game value he can provide with that would be a welcome addition to this troubled 76ers roster.
Statistically, his last college season was comparable to those of Aaron Holiday and Ben Gordon according to @Wizzy’s NBA Draft Comp App, which isn’t the most promising sign. Yet, when I look at him on film, I see a little Kyle Lowry-ness to his offense. Lowry doesn’t rise up over lanky defenders for jaw dropping fade-aways, but he kills inattentive defense and can take a guard of similar stature one-on-one for a score.
Winston isn’t the perfect fix, but he’ll be available at 22, and he solves a number of problems for the Sixers.
Jahmi’us Ramsey, Texas Tech
Of all the players I plan to look at over this series, Ramsey is the one that has appeared the highest on most mock drafts. Not the big boards, but the mock drafts. That’s an important distinction. A mock draft is where NBA Draft experts think players will go in the draft based on the intel they’re receiving from front offices. A big board is their own personal rankings of players in the class. All this to say, most NBA Draft scouts think Ramsey isn’t as good as NBA general managers do.
On the surface, it’s not hard to understand why the professionals are so enamored with him. He’s a 6’4”, maybe 6’5” wing that shot 42.3 percent from three and has showed some dynamic feats of athleticism. While his hand placement isn’t ideal, he gets good lift and tucks his right elbow in nicely on his follow through.
However, there are two concerns with Ramsey’s shot going forward. First, he shot an unappealing 64.5 percent on his free throws, raising some questions on his overall shooting touch, and the second being that only 26.7 percent of his threes were unassisted, making him more of a catch-and-shoot marksman than a shot creator.
But while off the dribble threes aren’t a strength of Ramsey’s game, he’s certainly capable of doing so if needed. That 26.7 percent ratio means that of the 60 total threes he made, 16 were unassisted. He uses his length and smooth movement patterns to glide into attempts out of isolations.
Ramsey doesn’t venture into the mid-range too often, as he only shot 28.4 percent of his total shots from that area, and hit them at a poor 37.9 percent mark. Yet, of his two-point jumper makes, 36.1 percent of them were unassisted, as Ramsey possesses a crafty floater game that he uses to get his shot off over taller opponents inside 15-feet.
Perhaps Ramsey employs this floater because of how his normal form fails him while pulling up from two. In this next clip, he’s too slow getting off the ground and takes too long with his release, allowing Tyrese Maxey to block it quite easily.
Ramsey struggles to regain his balance once moving full speed. As you can see in this screenshot down below, his feet are too far forward, and his back is awkwardly lurched back, and the result is this quickly deterred jump shot.
In terms of creating at-rim opportunities, Ramsey can translate that craft he uses in getting off floaters to his drives, as he compensates for lack of lateral burst with good timing and hesitation moves.
But yet again, the numbers just don’t back up Ramsey’s game. He shot 52.5 percent at the basket, and while he often flashes vertical pop in the open floor and transition opportunities, his athleticism isn’t very functional in half court settings. He doesn’t have a particularly quick jump, and he doesn’t lift toward the room with much devastating power, despite having a solid 195-lb frame, as he gives Nick Richards very little trouble below in this challenge above the hoop.
I was already doubtful of Ramey being a highly touted prospect, as it seems the only true net positive of his lone college season was his three-point shooting. The flashes he shows indicate that he could one day improve to become an off the dribble threat that creates something out of nothing in the NBA, but for a team in win-now mode like the Sixers, a long-term project is probably not an ideal pick.