For the second straight year, the 76ers pulled off a big deal on NBA draft night that brought them a potential All-Star center and, once again, that center has a recent history of knee problems. But, fortunately for the Sixers, the similarities stop there.
New general manager Sam Hinkie rolled the dice when he traded guard Jrue Holiday to the New Orleans Pelicans for the rights to Kentucky center Nerlens Noel, the sixth overall selection in Thursday night’s lottery. Then Hinkie found somebody to replace Holiday when he drafted Syracuse guard Michael Carter-Williams with the Sixers’ own No. 11 pick.
A lot of people don’t like this deal because the Sixers lost Holiday, but from our perspective that was one of the best parts of the deal. Holiday isn’t a star, even though he made the All-Star team last year. Holiday had a nice season, but he’s not big enough to be a shooting guard or basketball-smart enough to be a point guard and Jrue Holiday is not the kind of player around whom you build. We’re glad to see him go.
As for Noel and Carter-Williams, well, nobody really knows. The 76ers are saying wonderful things about them, of course, and all the analysts are projecting what role they’ll play and what kind of impact they’ll have. But recent history suggests they won’t have a big impact, at least not right away.
Last year, the Sixers drafted St. John’s forward Maurice Harkless with the 15th overall pick and Harkless had a nice rookie year, playing 26 minutes per game and averaging 8.2 points and 4.4 rebounds. Unfortunately for the Sixers, he did it for Orlando, which acquired him on draft day in the mega-deal that brought center Andrew Bynum to Philadelphia. And we all know how that worked out for the 76ers.
As for the rookie the Sixers did keep, forward Arnett Moultrie – acquired in a draft-day trade with Miami – this is what then-general manager Rod Thorn said about him on draft day:
“He’s athletic, he’s a good rebounder, he’s got a good jump shot,’’ Thorn said. “He should be very good for us and we’re very happy to have him. We needed a ‘big’ and I think we got an outstanding player.’’
Well, Moultrie spent a good chunk of his rookie season in the NBA’s D-League and played just 11.5 minutes a game for the Sixers, averaging 3.7 points and 3.1 rebounds. He might still prove to be a good player, but 3.7 ppg is hardly “outstanding.”
That means the odds are pretty good that Noel and Carter-Williams won’t be outstanding, either. There are always exceptions, of course, but rarely with this team, which hasn’t drafted a difference-maker since they took Allen Iverson No. 1 overall in 1996, which was a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away.
So, history – for the NBA in general and the Sixers in particular – says that Noel and Carter-Williams will prove to be decent players at best and four years from now there’s a good chance they’ll be playing in Europe somewhere.
You don’t believe us? Well, here’s a quick review of the 76ers’ recent draft history:
In 2009, the Sixers drafted Jrue Holiday, which proved to be a good pick considering what was available at the time. But Hinkie apparently saw what a lot of other people saw, that Holiday isn’t a true point guard or a true shooting guard and he might be good guy to have on your bench, but he’s not a franchise player.
In 2010, they drafted Evan Turner with the No. 2 overall pick and Turner has been more bust than boom. He was misplaced as a shooting guard simply because he can’t shoot and his overall game is maddeningly inconsistent. This coming season, his first under a new, unknown coach, could be his last with the Sixers.
In 2011, they had two first-round picks and took two big men. One is still on the team (Lavoy Allen) and the other (Nik Vucevic) isn’t. And it shouldn’t be a surprise to long-time Sixers watchers that the one who isn’t appears headed for a long and rewarding NBA career with the Orlando Magic (Vucevic, also part of the Bynum trade, averaged 13.1 points and 11.9 rebounds last season) while the other could end up playing for the Delaware 87ers next season (Allen was buried on the bench by the end of 2012-13 and averaged 5.8 points and 5.0 rebounds per game).
And let’s not forget their first-rounder in 2008, Marresse Speights, or the trifecta of 2007 when the Sixers had three first-round selections and took Thaddeus Young (who has become a valuable player), Daequan Cook (who averaged 2.9 points per game for Houston and Chicago the last two seasons) and Petteri Koponen (who never played in the NBA and is currently playing for some team in Russia).
The pattern is obvious and it’s not a good one for Sixers fans. They keep getting first-round picks in the teens and they have a lot more misses that hits with those picks, and the one time they did have a premier selection they used it on Turner, and right now that has to be ruled as a bad decision.
Now the Sixers have a new regime running the show and two new first-round draft picks. Nobody expects them to be stars, at least not right away, but the way they play as rookies will have a lot to say about what we can expect from this franchise in the coming years.
Contact Kevin Noonan at firstname.lastname@example.org.