There will be some drama on Thursday night when the 76ers go into the NBA draft with the third overall selection, but there are some absolutes, as well. A quick look at various NBA mock drafts shows a clear consensus that the Sixers will use that No. 3 pick on D’Angelo Russell, a 6-5 guard from Ohio State – and how could they possibly go wrong with the Sixers using a Top 3 pick on a big guard from Ohio State?
But that consensus was drawn because the mock drafters had to go with the assumption that the Sixers won’t need a big man, even though they received disturbing news recently when it was revealed that the broken foot of center Joel Embiid wasn’t healing like they thought/hoped it would. And just in case you stopped paying attention to the Sixers recently: Embiid was last year’s first-round selection who sat out his entire rookie season because of the foot he injured while preparing for the draft (and this after he missed the NCAA Tournament his final year at Kansas because of a back injury). So, for the second straight year, Embiid’s foot becomes a huge issue for the 76ers right before the draft.
And that could change what appeared to be a 1-2-3 slam dunk in the draft – Minnesota taking Karl-Anthony Townes of Kentucky with the first pick, the Los Angeles Lakers taking Duke’s Jahlil Okafor with the second pick and the 76ers taking Russell with the third pick. If the Sixers are truly concerned about Embiid’s future, they may decide to go with Kristaps Porzingis, a 7-footer from Latvia who has been shooting up the draft charts recently. And you have to be concerned anytime a man of Embiid’s size has foot problems – the human foot has 26 bones, 33 joints and more than a hundred muscles, tendons and ligaments, so a lot can go wrong.
Plus there’s always a chance that ants-in-his-pants general manager Sam Hinkie will trade the pick and continue his wheeling, dealing ways. And that is really the bigger question here. It’s not: Who will the Sixers pick? It’s: Where do they go from here?
Will the Sixers keep tanking games and seasons in an effort to continue stock-piling those all-important assets that so far have paid no dividends? If Embiid is chronically injured they might not have a choice. But if he is healthy, would the Sixers send out a lineup that could consist of a front line of Nerlens Noel, Embiid and Robert Covington and a backcourt of Russell and, say, Tony Wroten, and try and compete and (shhhh!) win.
We don’t expect the Sixers to compete for a championship any time soon, but it’s about time to show some progress and consistency, as opposed to running players through the revolving door that leads into the Sixers locker room like they did last season. It’s amazing that second-year coach Brett Brown managed to remember everybody’s name, much less draw up plays for them. Actually, it’s amazing that Brown was able to keep his sanity, considering the terrible team he had to send out onto the floor every night.
Now it’s time for this team to identify a core around which it can lay a foundation and build from there.
That doesn’t mean Hinkie has to stop horse-trading. He’s got a fistful of second-round picks that he will probably try to turn into a mid-range first-rounder, which he could use on a good, young point guard. And he could manage to get Dario Saric, the young Croatian star he drafted last year, to finally pack his bags and head to Philly.
Whatever Hinkie does, after three years of this Grand Experiment it would be nice to finally see some results.