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.
Next up in our draft preview series is Ohio State’s E.J. Liddell, a multi-positional forward that checks a lot of boxes for what the Sixers need. Most consider Liddell as a “tweener” or a player that fits between two positions. While some might think of it as a negative, most consider it a positive in today’s NBA. He saw time at three positions during his college tenure: small forward, power forward, and even center.
Unlike most prospects, Liddell spent three years in college. His numbers steadily progressed across the board during his time at Ohio State. He finished his college career with an impressive 19.4 points to go along with 7.9 rebounds per game in his final season.
From a physical standpoint, Liddell is everything you’d want in a modern NBA forward; he’s lengthy (with a seven-foot wingspan to go along with his 6-foot-7 body), athletic, and has plenty of strength. Liddell used his time well throughout his three years at Ohio State, where he improved his perimeter shooting quite a bit — to the point where they actually ran pick-and-pops for him. He went from shooting 19.2 percent in his freshman year to shooting 37.4 percent from three on a very respectable number of attempts.
Liddell has showcased some growth as a scorer as well, though I doubt many teams will ask him to do too much offensively in his first few years. He can attack off the dribble and is a very capable finisher around the rim with his dominant hand. He still has some room to improve finishing with his off-hand. Ohio State often ran him as a center in small ball lineups out of necessity, and it led to solid results. Some mock drafts dock him points for being undersized as a smaller forward/big but I think the whole “tweener” argument is quite outdated.
Offensively, Liddell has room to grow in the form of playmaking. He’s a very capable passer, but there were moments were he would barrel into defenders and miss the easy read. His handle could also use some improvement but there’s plenty of time for him to sharpen this skill; as he just started tapping into his isolation scoring abilities. Overall, Liddell is a pretty complete forward offensively — which is what you’d expect from a three-year player.
Defensively, Liddell is one of the better options at the forward spot for this draft. He’s listed at 243 pounds and is mobile enough to guard most forwards. He even matched up against Paolo Banchero earlier in the season, who most mock as a top-three pick, and managed to hold him to just 14 points on 14 shots.
Liddell is also a tremendous rebounder. He knows how to use his wingspan well in that regard where he averaged an impressive 9.3 rebounds a game. Like other forwards in this draft, he did struggle in moments with getting in foul trouble throughout his three years in college but he did manage to cut that down in his final year. While he has improved athletically, there’s concerns about him guarding quick forwards or guards at the next level.
While I wouldn’t rank him as the best defender in this draft, Liddell is one of the better options around. He’s a smart player, and I’m willing to bank that he can use his wingspan to make up for any athletic shortcomings over time.
Liddell is one of the best fitting players around for the Sixers, and has become a favorite on Twitter for many. The Sixers lack perimeter defense and switchable players, which is the epitome of the player he’s become. His offensive development and upside is also intriguing, and he wouldn’t be asked to do too much offensively alongside Tyrese Maxey, James Harden, or Joel Embiid.
In fact, I’m really intrigued at how he could develop alongside Harden. Harden shined in the pick-and-roll game with Bruce Brown during his time in Brooklyn, and I could see him doing the same thing alongside Liddell — who is capable of rolling or spotting up for three. Liddell’s age might seem like a minus for some, but being older and more refined is arguably a benefit for a contending team.
Most mock drafts have Liddell falling anywhere from the 20th pick to early in the second round. If I had to guess, I’d assume he’ll go somewhere in the twenties. Teams crave multi-positional players, and Liddell’s player comparisons are all intriguing; with solid players such as Paul Millsap, P.J. Washington and Grant Williams being mentioned.
This draft does have a plentiful amount of forwards, though, so it’s anyone’s guess in what order they go in. Teams around the league have put two-way talent at the top of their list though, so don’t be surprised if Liddell goes early in the range mentioned above.