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Is Baylor’s Kendall Brown the explosive wing these Sixers have been missing?

Joel Embiid, James Harden, and Tyrese Maxey are in desperate need of a complementary wing who can flat out fly.

Baylor v Texas Tech Photo by John E. Moore III/Getty Images

The 2022 NBA Draft will be held on Thursday, June 23. Since the Nets decided to defer the pick owed to them as part of the James Harden trade, the Sixers will select 23rd overall. Ahead of the draft, we’ll look at several prospects that could fit the Sixers and be realistic possibilities at No. 23.

Kendall Brown, SG-SF, wing, Baylor

One of the most athletic prospects in the entire 2022 NBA Draft, if not the most, is Baylor’s Kendall Brown. There is no doubt that the Sixers could use a seismic boost of athleticism on the perimeter. That’s something that stood out, watching Philadelphia wear out down the stretch vs. a battalion of switchable wings Toronto and Miami deployed.

Watching the rest of these playoffs shake out, it’s become increasingly clear Joel Embiid, and co. need some two-way turbo power on the perimeter. Georges Niang lacked stickiness on D, while Matisse Thybulle provided little offensively. But what if Daryl Morey and Elton Brand could find someone in this draft to reliably help on both ends of the floor?

If the Sixers wanted to truly swing for the fences with pick 23, and were willing to take on a fair amount of risk, they might consider Kendall Brown on draft night.

His highlight reel includes some dunk-contest worthy stuff:

Height: 6-8, wingspan 6-11, 201 lbs, freshman, turned 19 years-old this past May.

Last season: 34 games, 27 mpg, 9.7 points, 58.4 FG %, 34.1% from 3P, 1.2 3PA, 68.9 FT%, 2.2 FTA, 4.9 reb, 1.9 ast, 1 stl, 0.4 blk

ESPN overall prospect rank: 33

The Ringer overall rank: 25

The physical tools are all there. He’s got a lengthy wingspan and standing reach to provide the template so many teams are looking for.

Strengths

2022 NBA Draft Combine Photo by Jeff Haynes/NBAE via Getty Images

As noted, Brown is not lacking in terms of explosion.

And while neither agility nor verticality are end all be all metrics, they’re not traits you want to completely overlook either; especially if you “mostly look for upside,” as Sixers President Daryl Morey hinted he does when making late picks in the 20’s:

At times, Brown struck fear into opponents as a cutter, lob finisher, screener and slasher. When he drove (or on dives to the rim without the ball) defenses would often retract into the paint to account for his ability to rise up and finish. There aren’t many players on the Sixers with vertical gravity. And James Harden can always use a lob threat. The Beard deserves credit for helping former teammate Bruce Brown develop as an undersized short-roll play finisher.

Could Kendall Brown bring some similar bounce to Philly?

Brown is not necessarily going to gain the advantage in a half court setting himself, but he is a willing “connector,” or “glue guy” making the extra pass when it’s there, and finishing plays with ferocity.

He’s a menace in transition and quick to turn deflections, boards, and steals into high-efficiency looks for himself and others. He loves to snag an offensive rebound and kick it back out to a teammate, possessing some key traits which figure to endear him to future teammates.

As a shooter, his three point and free throw percentages suggest there’s potential and touch for him to one day become a reasonable, open-shot shooter at the pro level.

Defense

Defensively, Brown has flashed point of attack prowess dropping into a stance, warding off quick first steps, and putting on film fluid hips to keep up with an array of deft-counters and third-moves.

He’s exhibited hints of tantalizing upside as a weak side rim protector/shot blocker, offering optimists the chance to dream of Brown one day growing into a player who might give you a few minutes at small-ball big under a daring, modern head coach:

The Stepien has Brown listed as one of the 19 best prospects in this draft and their Matt Powers acknowledges there’s an outside chance at Cottage Grove, MN native becoming a “unicorn rim protector:”

“He’s very good on ball, able to contain drivers on an island for long periods, and it does seem he would have more of a specialty as shutdown artist. But I’m not taking a Unicorn rim protector role off the table, especially if he starts to become more locked in to off-ball movement. Brown is one of the easiest leapers among recent prospects, and uses his strength very well. The capability is there for him to eventually make some weak side blocks from several passes away and be a general menace all over the court on D.”

Weaknesses

Shooting?

His release isn’t nearly as low, or lacking extension, as Shawn Marion’s wonky shot put once was. Still, there’s similarities from afar.

Matrix made it to number 206 on the all time made triples list, and reminds us that a player who rarely shot threes in college, one possessing quirky form, can suffice if he or she has the proper touch and makes that uncommon leap:

You might see shades of this guy’s unique release in Brown’s form as well:

Bottomline line though, Brown’s jumper isn’t quite ready yet. He’ll need to continue to address his mechanics. His shooting elbow flares out, his off hand thumb flicks the ball, his follow through is inconsistent.

Apparently he’s already made some enhancements to his release since his freshman season ended back in Mar. and knocked down a solid 18 of 25 open looks from NBA range at his pro day by late May.

The Philadelphia Inquirer’s Gina Mizell caught up with Brown, after the Sixers interviewed him. (Emoji eyes). Per Mizell, Brown provided an update on his shot:

“Predraft improvement: “Being a knock-down shooter. Working on my perimeter shot. It’s gotten a lot better since I was at Baylor. It was really just some mechanic stuff that I fixed. Over the past six weeks, I shot close to 30,000 threes. It’s a lot of work, but I feel a lot better about it.”

A look at what he claims is a now much cleaner stroke:

If the Sixers feel they can work with this shot, then Brown would be a steal, even taken a few spots higher than projection at no. 23. But they haven’t exactly been a team whose molded shooters over the years.

As we know well, athleticism isn’t the end all be all in an increasingly skilled NBA:

Now these names above are mostly stars you’ll note, and cherrypicked to prove a point. To be fair, if we’re merely looking for skilled role players, it does help for a player to possess physical gifts. Still, the point remains, athleticism only gets you so far.

While his shooting percentages are solid, the volume suggests that floor-spacing is not a trait we can pencil him in for anytime soon.

ESPN’s Jonathan Givony wrote about Brown’s forgettable final tournament game:

“Brown’s offensive weaknesses were put on full display by North Carolina’s game plan, which was to ignore him on the perimeter and dare him to take open jump shots.... Brown’s shaky ball-handling ability and feel for the game were also put to the test, as well as his lack of awareness and physicality defensively....leading Brown to finish minus-23.”

The Ringer’s Kevin O’ Connor echoes these concerns:

“On multiple occasions, defenses have put their center on him because of his reluctance to shoot. NBA teams will do the same. Disappears at times because of his unproven jump shot and lack of skills as a lead playmaker.”

Powers, via The Stepien:

“KB is docked to the ‘unlikely to thrive, but still a chance to contribute’ section mostly due to his seemingly poor awareness on the defensive end.”

The “Tag the Roll” pod’s Mark Schindler had an intriguing back and forth with Jake Rosen about Brown that could also go in our “weaknesses” section:

“Rosen: Kendall’s tools on paper are great. Like he is a springy athlete, get’s off the ground quickly, but [those tools are] just not super functional based on his slashing prowess.”

Schindler added: “He’s definitely someone who I think would need G League time to figure things out.”

So there’s enough red flags where the Sixers may well look another direction for a more pro-ready bundle of skills with their precious no. 23 pick.

He sometimes over gambles or catches a few winks and gets beat backdoor. On occasion he appears to lack urgency, watching as teammate gets beat.

Fit with Sixers

A player who was recently an offensive liability in a huge college setting because of his lack of comfort taking and making open threes would need to be a rock-solid defender in order to crack the Sixers rotation. And fresh off a disappointing playoffs, Matisse Thybulle provides an almost “too soon” cautionary tale here.

It’s not difficult to imagine visible frustration on Harden or Embiid’s part by Thanksgiving should the Sixers introduce yet another player who defenses can sag off of comfortably, making their jobs harder.

Thybulle once profiled as a star help defender and still, his offensive limitations made it exceedingly difficult for him to make an impact in the playoffs.

Jaden Springer was arguably a more reliable on-ball defender at Tennessee than Brown was at Baylor, and Springer spent most of his rookie year with the Blue Coats. You get the point. Philly needs some snipers who aren’t absolute meat on defense. Brown won’t be a sniper any time soon.

As tantalizing as his physical gifts are, he’s not checking all of our boxes defensively. And if that type of profile didn’t even guarantee Thybulle or Springer minutes, then what exactly can Brown do for you in the next two NBA seasons? And if it’s unlikely he’d be an impact playoff rotation player on a contender before his third season, is that the bet they want to make entering Embiid’s age 28-29 season?

Brown’s limitations on offense paint a rather clear picture for us, a picture that is not something a win-now, fringe contender has the luxury to take on: a project.

My guess is that if the Sixers were to select Kendall Brown, market value was a key factor in the decision.

Is there a team (or twelve) out there who’d love the tantalizing upside of a young player with “all the tools?” Is there a team who feels confident enough in their shooting coach, and their development staff to help KB blossom, a group who won’t mind waiting? Unlike some other player profiles, the most athletic wing in the draft doesn’t figure to be a hard to sell come Dec. or Jan. either. If he were merely a respectable G League shooter, he might see a mini-surge in value.

(Does he become more appealing of a prospect if they plan to trade Thybulle?)

Put it all together, and it’s not terribly difficult to imagine Brown becoming a three-and-D wing who can drain corner threes at a decent clip, offer switch-ability, a dash of rim protection, some short-role game, plus transition finishing, all while remaining a willing passer.

Bruce Brown recently modeled a blue print for athletic swiss-army knives who guard... as long as they can shoot.

Teams in the final four like Dallas, Miami, Boston, Golden State, they don’t really play wings who can’t space the floor. Rim-running, rim protecting bigs is another story.

So Morey, Brand and co. would need to be confident in that Matrixesque jump shot coming along sooner rather than later, otherwise Brown might make more sense as a trade piece than a rotation piece. But if they do call his name, and a few minutes go by without a deal being announced, you can begin to dream about that freak athleticism taking Summer League by storm. Then the phone might start ringing.