The good news is that the 76ers have the first overall pick in Thursday night’s NBA draft. The bad news is that we don’t know if the good news will actually produce a good player.
This should be a slam dunk, but it’s not. Everyone agrees the Sixers will take either forward Ben Simmons of Louisiana State or guard Brandon Ingram of Duke and almost everyone (including me) agrees the Sixers will take Simmons – although there are plenty of people who disagree with that decision (not including me).
The problem with both of those guys, and the problem the Sixers must deal with, is the fact that this will be a franchise-changing draft pick, and that means the Sixers’ future will depend on a teen-aged kid who has played just one year of college basketball.
Both excelled in college, of course, but even that comes with caveats. Some people think Simmons, despite all of his skill and accomplishments, was an underachiever who doesn’t have the fire and/or work ethic to succeed in the unforgiving NBA. They also point out that the supposed best player in the country couldn’t even carry his team into the 64-team NCAA Tournament. Plus, he’s not a very good shooter and that’s already a weakness for the Sixers.
Ingram has his detractors, too. Like Simmons, nobody questions his talent, but they also point out that he played at Duke and therefore didn’t have nearly as much pressure on him as did Simmons, who had to be a one-man team on a mediocre LSU squad. And some people look at Ingram’s frail-looking physique (he’s 6-foot-9, but just 195 pounds) and wonder if he can add the necessary weight and muscle that he’ll need to survive in the rough-and-tumble NBA. Right now, he’s a boy going against men.
So, the Sixers will be gambling no matter which way they go. And they have to be more than a little nervous knowing that they will invest millions of dollars and any hope of winning a championship on somebody who’s only been shaving for a few years.
In the past, when players stayed in college for four years, it was easier to get a handle on their pro potential, although there were plenty of high first-round busts even then and the Sixers certainly had their share (remember Evan Turner, second overall in 2010? How about Keith Van Horne, second overall in 1997? Or Shawn Bradley, second overall in 1993?).
Anyhow, it was never a perfect system, but teams did have a better idea of what they were getting for their money. Now it’s just a crap shoot and teams have to do their due diligence in studying not only a young player’s ability, but also his physical and emotional maturity. Can he handle playing 82 games plus playoffs, which is more than double what he played in his one year of college and four times what he played in high school? Will he be able to deal with the constant traveling, the late flights followed by the early-morning shoot-a-rounds? Will he be able to handle the fame and fortune that come with being a high first-round pick? And, finally, will he care more about team success than individual achievement and glory?
If the Sixers pick correctly they could be on their way to becoming a consistent contender and their long, often painful rebuilding process will be a success. If they pick incorrectly they could be doomed to being a second-level team for the next decade. That’s how important this draft pick could be.
Of course, there’s a good chance both players will be very good and there’s also a chance that both of them will have just ordinary careers. And that’s really the point – nobody knows what to expect.
But, if nothing else, it’ll be fun comparing and contrasting the NBA careers of the first two players picked in Thursday’s draft, although it could turn very, very nasty around here if Simmons is a flop and Ingram is the second coming of Kevin Durant. For better or worse, Ben Simmons and Brandon Ingram will be forever linked in the minds of Sixers’ fans.