Welcome back to the 19th edition of the LibertyBallers Sixers Mailbag. You can check out the previous installments at our story stream.
Q: There's been a lot of talk about the Sixers and D'Angelo Russell. Being an Ohio State fan, I watched a fair amount of him this season. My big question to you - do his performances against Louisville, UNC, Arizona, Wisconsin, and to a lesser extent Iowa/MSU concern you? He was really limited in many of those games (particularly Arizona), which were against the toughest competition he faced and had the best athletes he saw all season. Do you think this is a warning sign of things to come at the NBA level, or do you think it was just a result of him being *the* offensive gameplan for Ohio State and opposing teams focusing in on him?
I'm surprised it's not talked about more, to be honest. There was this narrative after the Arizona game that it was an isolated incident and that you shouldn't read too much into one game, but it wasn't an isolated incident.
Ohio State had a comically weak out of conference schedule, ranked 328th in the nation according to Ken Pomeroy, featuring games against powerhouses such as University of Massachusetts Lowell, Sacred Heart, Campbell, James Madison, Miami of Ohio, Wright State, Colgate, and North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University. When the "strong" games of your non-conference schedule include Morehead State, you coasted a bit.
And Russell absolutely feasted on that weaker competition. In 18 games against defenses ranked outside of the top-100, Ohio State went 16-2, with Russell averaging 20.8 points per game, shooting an incredible 52.2% from the field, including 47.4% from 3, while having a 2-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio (5.6 assists to 2.8 turnovers).
Those numbers plummeted against top-100 defenses, where Ohio State went just 8-9 on the season. Russell averaged 17.7 points per game in those games, but shot just 38% from the field, including 34.7% from three. He averaged 3 turnovers to only 4.4 assists in those games.
Part of it, as you said, is team construct, as really good defenses can zero in on a great player if he doesn't have any help around him. Still, that drop is at least a little bit alarming, especially the staggering drop in 2 point field goal percentage, which fell from 56.4% against defenses outside of the top-100 all the way down to 40.4% against top-100 defenses. Having gone back and watched many of these games a second time, I thought he really struggled to generate high quality looks inside the arc against better competition, and Russell becoming one-dimensional on offense isn't the outcome you want.
That's not to say Russell isn't an incredible prospect, and a great fit for the Sixers. I still have him at #3 on my Big Board. But he's frequently been characterized as a low-risk prospect, and often compared to James Harden. I don't like that comparison at all (it's hard to compare a guy with a 30% free throw rate to one who had a 60% free throw rate his freshman season), and I think Russell is a little bit more risky than many do. Those performances don't condemn him in my eyes, but I also don't overlook them, either.
Worth the risk, but I do think there's some risk there.
Q: Have you seen Ben Simmons? The type of player that makes you want to agree with Hinkie's asset acquisition model. I wouldn't mind going super tank mode for him. Agree? Disagree? Your evaluation of Simmons?
I don't generally scout the high school game extensively. I'll watch the televised games and go to a few tournaments per year, but between college scouting and my Sixers coverage, high school is the part that suffers the most. So I don't want to present myself as an expert in this field.
I have seen Simmons a couple of times. I think Hinkie and Brown would love to build this team around 5 guys capable of making quick, decisive, and smart decisions with the ball. If you really want to play an up-tempo game and an offense based around ball movement, that's a must, and Simmons is a potentially great fit in that equation.
Problem is, I don't see the Sixers being that bad next year. I think Hinkie might be more interested in making major moves this offseason than others assume, but I think there's a very real chance he might not have the opportunity to.
Even if they don't make any substantial moves, though, I think this team wins between 25 and 30 games next year, just based off of the addition of Embiid, the 2015 pick, and the continued development of Noel and the other young guys. I would be surprised if they're in position to pick top-3 again next year.
Now, perhaps Hinkie is able to package something with his pick or the Lakers pick to move up, and that's certainly in play. But I don't think super tank mode is really in play, at least if the Sixers are remotely healthy.
Q: Do you think there is any way the Sixers could package any of the picks they are owed next year (OKC, Miami, and LA) and be able to move up high enough to draft both Mudiay and Russell using their own pick and the one they just acquired?
It's hard to say. I'm not sure how much teams will value the Lakers and Miami picks, and the uncertainty that comes along with that. And the OKC pick, sadly, doesn't hold a whole lot of value around the league, at least not in terms of its ability to impact the Sixers getting a top-10 pick.
Could the Lakers and Heat pick be combined into a top-7 pick? Possibly. I'm not sure I'd target both Russell and Mudiay, though. Whichever one of those two the Sixers select, I want the ball in their hands. If the Sixers drafted Mudiay or Russell with their pick, I'd then target one of Hezonja, Winslow, Porzingis, or Johnson with the second pick. And I don't think Miami + Lakers gets you into top-5 anyway, which is where you'd need to be to get both Russell and Mudiay.
Q: I've never heard of neurological testing, i.e. reaction times, eye-hand coordination, peripheral vision, depth perception, etc. being done at the combine or as part of team workouts. Do they in fact test that sort of thing in any direct/objective fashion? If not, any idea why not, and have you ever heard of plans to do so?
This is a great question, and one that I'm not sure the answer to. It's not done at the combine that I'm aware of, and I haven't heard of it being done in team workouts, either. I'll look into it.
Q: Who in this draft do you think will be a superstar? Not superstar potential, but who do you personally think will end up one?
Karl-Anthony Towns is the safest, and most likely, to be a superstar, in my opinion.
I also think Mario Hezonja has a pretty safe chance, which might be at odds with people who look at his playing time. His physical tools and skill set scream NBA potential, and I think he can step in right away and contribute, especially in a situation like the Sixers where they'd let him grow.
I also still think Jahlil Okafor has a ton of potential. Sixers-land is very down on him, due to his defense and fit with Embiid, but even with his horrid defensive numbers he projects well in most analytical models, because his offensive metrics are as good as any post player we've ever seen. He has good enough (not great) physical tools to be more of a contributor on defense if somebody can get him into career-best fitness, and I think he becomes a very good player, albeit one who would drive me insane with his lack of defensive awareness.
Q: On your Sixers-centric mock, you have Porzingis very high. Don't you think going big on him means giving up on Noel?"
Not at all. As I've said many times, there's 96 minutes between power forward and center. There's plenty of time for all 3 to play starters minutes.
Also, three other things as it relates specifically to Porzingis:
First, we frequently talk about how Porzingis fits with Noel and Embiid, and about how he's the right fit, stylistically, with them. But I think we also have to take into account the right fit for Porzingis' development. The Sixers have shown, time and time again, that they're willing to do what's best for the future of a prospect, whether that is allowing Porzingis to play another season in Europe to get playing time, or whether that's giving him time over here rather than letting him rot on the bench, even if it sacrifices short-term wins.
Second, Porzingis playing alongside Embiid and Noel will limit the amount of time he'd have to defend a post-up player, which is the biggest impediment to him seeing time early on in his career. Porzingis would get eaten alive trying to defend the more physically imposing post players in the NBA, and having a guy like Embiid who can take on that burden would help Kristaps early on in his career.
Finally, Porzingis' elite potential as a perimeter player fits in so perfectly with Embiid or Noel that you really don't have to worry which one he's paired with. Being a great fit with either of the two franchise cornerstones makes it really easy to find minutes for all 3.
That will wrap it up. Thanks to everybody who submitted questions, and my apologies if I didn't answer yours. If you want to submit a question for next week, either hit me up on twitter (include #sixersmailbag in the tweet) or send me an email.