Ideally, the Sixers will take a 3-and-D wing at No. 23 overall Thursday that they can insert into their rotation immediately. Unfortunately, that scenario is unlikely.
In our SB Nation NBA community mock draft, all of the top-tier wings that might’ve fallen the Sixers way came off the board. Jalen Williams, Tari Eason, E.J. Liddell, Ochai Agbaji, and Dalen Terry were all selected ahead of the Sixers’ pick.
The player I’ve targeted for the Sixers is Terry, the 6-foot-7 guard with a 7-1 wingspan from Arizona that can already defend at a high level. Terry was my pick assuming all of the aforementioned wings were gone. Terry was selected one pick before the Sixers by the Memphis Grizzlies (thanks a lot, Grizzly Bear Blues!).
So, what’s left that wouldn’t be a reach in this range? A slew of scoring guards and a couple solid bigs. It’s fair at this point to assume the Sixers wouldn’t be interested in drafting another big, but guards that can create offense at the NBA level are like gold.
That’s why, with the 23rd overall pick, Liberty Ballers selects Jaden Hardy, guard, G League Ignite.
You’re going to look at his age, you’re going to look at his G League numbers and after that you might think I’m crazy. But I assure you, I am of sound mind (mostly).
Hardy was considered the No. 2 recruit in the country, according to ESPN. He could’ve gone to powerhouses like Kentucky or UCLA, but instead chose to join the professional ranks of the G League as a 19-year-old. With that came struggles. Hardy showed flashes of his scoring prowess, but struggled with efficiency and shot selection. While he put up 17.6 points a game, he shot 35.1 percent from the field and 26.9 percent from three.
Still with me? Cool. Let’s talk about why he’s actually good.
If Hardy had gone to Kentucky and played with a shorter three-point line and players more his age, those numbers might look much better — and we might not be talking about him being available at pick 23. The proof that Hardy can shoot the basketball: his form, his 88.2 free throw percentage and 36.6 percent mark on catch-and-shoot three from NBA distance.
Hardy has drawn comparisons to long-time Sixers target Bradley Beal. Hardy is similar in size (6-foot-4) and play style. While Hardy does have the handles to break people down off the dribble, he’s also very good at running off screens and finding open looks that way. Beal was almost exclusively the latter when he got into the league, but has since expanded his game exponentially.
The other skill that is probably overlooked with Hardy is the ability to simply get shots up. Hoisting over 17 field goals in 32.2 minutes a game isn’t an easy thing to do as a young professional. It’s part of what made Allen Iverson so great — he had the stamina and audacity to take as many shots as he needed to. The Sixers could use a little of that audacity.
Not to make excuses for Hardy (there’s a reason he’s fallen to this range), but the Ignite wasn’t exactly built around his strengths. The Ignite squad is more about attracting the most talented amateurs, not building the best team possible. Hardy was often the only legitimate scoring threat on the floor — and the other teams knew that. When surrounded by better and better-fitting talent, there are reasons to believe Hardy could thrive.
He’s not likely to crack the rotation as a rookie. He still needs to put on weight, his defensive focus was lacking in the G League, and he’ll be 20 when the season starts. It’s fair to be pessimistic that Doc Rivers will give him much run.
But he can fill a need. The Sixers need scoring and shooting off their bench. Check and check. The opportunity to learn from James Harden seems good. Tyrese Maxey seemed to take off under The Beard’s tutelage. Perhaps Hardy can fill a role early on as a microwave scorer before eventually taking the reins from Harden. While a lot of people loved the pick of Maxey in 2020, I doubt many expected him to flourish so quickly and so spectacularly.
The Sixers have been hush-hush with their pre-draft workouts, but there was a report that the team hosted Hardy for a workout with a few other prospects. Under Daryl Morey, the Sixers have selected a 19-year-old Maxey and 18-year-old Jaden Springer. This is a front office that is not afraid to take young players and that seemingly likes to hop on players that have experienced slides in the draft.
Hardy might not help the Sixers win a title in 2022-23, but he might be their best option at pick 23.