10 NBA draft questions: The 76ers, sleepers, and angst rankings
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The NBA Draft is a month away, the Sixers are officially picking first, and it's time to get serious. Simmons or Ingram? Who should be traded? Who are the sleepers? To celebrate the season, SI.com's Andrew Sharp and Jeremy Woo traded e-mails to discuss everything.
1. OK, so the Lottery has come and gone, and everything went according to plan. The Sixers have the No. 1 pick, the Lakers are at No. 2, and the Celtics have three. Let's start with the obvious question: Where do you stand on Ingram vs. Simmons in general, and for the Sixers specifically?
Jeremy Woo: I’ve spent an unhealthy time thinking about this over the past couple of months, and I guess it’s time to publicly announce that I’ve changed my mind and signed up for Team Ingram. I’ve come to agree with many of the fundamental points that Luke Winn offered in his case for Ingram at no. 1.
His pass/shoot/dribble skillset almost sounds too basic and un-sexy, but he’s so wildly ahead of his age curve right now that it’s swaying me as a long-term investment worth making. Ingram is younger than some of the guys in next year‘s draft — which is far deeper in terms of high-lottery type talent. The way I see it, if he went back to Duke and improved on his considerable output this season, he’d almost be a no-brainer at No. 1 in 2017. He’s more than a whole year younger than Simmons, and I think there’s safety in the selection. Guys almost always add weight, and Ingram’s strengths are 100 percent guaranteed to play in the modern game. Ingram is where the NBA is headed. You just might have to give him a year or two.
As for Simmons ... I’ve been pro-Simmons for two years — the first thing I ever wrote for SI profiled Ben as a high school senior. However, I think there are several factors that have to give you some degree of pause. To properly utilize his mismatch and passing ability, you absolutely have to play him on the ball as a point forward. Right now, he’s a non-shooter, and I don’t think he’ll ever be a great off-the-catch guy. He’s a good athlete but not a banger inside. I think you have to commit to him as a 6'10 guard.
So, that raises two questions. Can you put the right team around him to make it work? To deploy a ballhandler that’s not a long-range threat, you have to surround him with shooters. If defenses can sag off him in pick-and-rolls, that’s an issue. It’ll take some intelligent, careful decision-making to build an engine Ben Simmons can drive to maximum efficiency. Second question: how do you cover for him defensively? He’ll have to guard forwards, so you need to find not only shooters to put around him, but guys who play off the ball and space the floor while also effectively matching up with point guards.
For the Sixers, either player can make sense, and they’re uniquely flexible with assets to the point where they can actually go all in on empowering Simmons right away. There were legitimate questions in NBA front offices about Simmons’s competitiveness, but now all that matters is what the Sixers think about that. If my last name were suddenly Colangelo, I’d be in on Ingram, who I think comes with far less risk and is a better fit for the modern game — and thus, the better prospect. There’s clamor for the Sixers to be good right away, but come on guys...that’s not happening this year. They don’t need Ben Simmons chasing triple doubles and mucking up the spacing to justify anything about what they’re building. A couple years from now, when everyone’s grown up, Ingram will make much more sense.
2. While we’re discussing the Sixers, signs are pointing to Philly making a deal or two in the next couple months. It may not be the No. 1 pick, but there’s Nerlens Noel, Jahlil Okafor, Dario Saric...there are a lot of options on the table for the Colangelos. Joel Embiid is probably the only non-tradable entity they have due to injury, but now he's apparently getting healthy. If you’re the Sixers and you’re set on making a trade, what’s your first move here?
Andrew Sharp: Okafor has to go first, but I'd maybe look to move Nerlens, too. Let's take it one-by-one.
Okafor: If the plan is to actually use the number one pick, then Simmons would definitely replace Okafor at four. Ingram might, too, especially if he can add weight over the next few years. I'm not as down on Okafor as a lot of people, but I'm down on him in Philly. He's been awful on defense, he's had a couple bad incidents off the court, fans don't like him, he doesn't appear to be happy... A fresh start somewhere else make sense. Surrounded by the right pieces on a winning team that's not about to draft his replacement, he still has a ton of offensive talent.
If the Sixers can trade Okafor before the draft, they could potentially pick up an extra first round pick later in the lottery or into the teens -- maybe Boston at number 16? Chicago at 14? If they could turn Okafor into a rookie point guard from this draft, it would go a long way toward helping this roster make sense again.
• MORE NBA: The Case for Brandon Ingram at No. 1
Nerlens: This is trickier, because it depends on how real the Embiid progress is. If it looks like Embiid is actually healthy enough to be the starting center this year, the Sixers should at least think about moving Nerlens. He's about to be due a massive contract extension (after next year), he's had some character issues of his own in Philly, and he's not quite good enough to justify spending 100 million as a centerpiece of the future. If they could trade him to someone like the Hawks in exchange for Jeff Teague, it's less of an obvious yes than Okafor would be, but it's something to consider. Or, if they're not sure on Embiid, they can always wait on Nerlens and see what makes sense in February.
3. Give us a Cliffs Notes breakdown of the Chicago combine. You were there. Who impressed you most? What topic had scouts gossiping the most? What was the weirdest drill you saw? What's your wingspan? How many times can you bench press Tyler Ulis?
Woo: The combine is one of those places that always seems way more important from a distance than it does up close. No elite prospects actually play in the games. The media was kept away from the testing area this year, which is smart, because three years ago I awkwardly photobombed Trey Burke’s 40-yard dash on NBATV. There’s a lot of misinformation that goes around, and much of it, we’ll never hear about anyway. But, here were my main takeaways.
• Cheick Diallo was the biggest-name guy in the scrimmages, and he really popped athletically as a high-energy big. I’d take him 20–30. Same with DeAndre Bembry, who’s kind of Denzel Valentine, just 10-ish picks later (and has a sweet afro/beard combination). The best guys do come to the forefront. A lot of the guys who looked lost are guys who can and should go back to school.
• This draft is not deep in terms of lottery talent, but it looks pretty enticing from picks 20–40, maybe even 45–50.
Scouts seem to be coming around on Thon Maker a little bit, now that he’s a real person and less of an idea. He’s a pretty impressive kid, and though it’s still kind of a toss-up long-term and he’s not going to be a star, someone’s going to draft him.
• The combine is less of a stock-raising event as it is a place that can get you more invitations to team workouts, which matter a lot more in all aspects. Teams trust their own testing and data. And, that said, there are multiple teams that didn’t even bother to conduct them before the combine, because the pool was so huge (something that was largely kept quiet). So, the guys who played well generally still have work to do.
• I’ve been told my wingspan is a little too short, relative to my height.
• I cannot bench press Tyler Ulis. My stock is definitely way down. I regret hiring an agent last month.
4. There are nine teams without a first-round pick: the Knicks, Nets, Wizards, Cavs, Thunder, Heat, Blazers, Rockets and Mavericks. Rank these teams in order of existential draft angst. (Sorry about the Wizards.)
Sharp: ANGST RANKINGS. In ascending order.
• Cavs. No angst when LeBron and Delly are turning the entire Eastern Conference into the D-League.
• Heat. Zero angst. Pat Riley hasn't cared about the draft in at least a decade and may not even know they still do this every June.
• Thunder. 2% angst. Sam Presti generally works well with the draft, and the supporting cast could use an extra wing. On the other hand, 98% of their angst this year has been dedicated to Durant's free agency, so they don't have much left to spare.
• Rockets. In another year they might be higher, but like the Thunder, there are more pressing offseason questions to worry about than whether they can draft Domatas Sabonis.
• Mavericks. Low-ish angst. If they had to give a pick to Boston as they rebuild (long live the Rondo era), this was the draft to do it.
• Wizards. Medium angst. On the one hand, a motivated version of Markieff Morris is better and more useful than anyone they could have drafted. On the other... Adding Denzel Valentine to help the team now would have been great. Adding Deyonta Davis as a long-term Gortat replacement would have been even better. There's a good chance one or both will be available at 13, so that hurts.
• Blazers. Rising angst! The Blazers are in great shape after this playoff run, but they are still two or three pieces away from entering the contender conversation in any meaningful way. This draft would have at least given them a swing at another star with upside, or possibly a player with the chance to grow into a useful rotation piece. Damian Jones, Ante Zizic, Taurean Prince, DeAndre Bembry... I don't blame them for the Afflalo trade last year, but it stings a little more now.
• Nets. The only reason they're not number one is because I'm not sure people still care enough to feel angst.
• Knicks. Always on top of the angst rankings. Hiring Hornacek helps ease their burden some, but by the time the Raptors are on the clock, Knicks fans will be pissed off at the Bargnani trade all over again. Everyone else should still love it, though.
5. One of the things that's interesting about this draft is that Ingram and Simmons isn't the only debate that's close. Who do you like between Kris Dunn and Jamal Murray? What about Skal Labissiere and Marquese Chriss?
Woo: Where they go really depends on team fit, but give me Murray over Dunn, because he’s almost three entire years younger, and we’re sure he can shoot. That said, I also don’t think Jamal Murray is a point guard, even as the nature of that position changes, although he can take care of the ball for stretches. Dunn is ready for NBA minutes and should be serviceable as a two-way player. It’s all about what you’re looking for. But in a vaccum, Murray.
As for the second debate, I’m all in on Chriss and am not enticed by Skal. Way too much was made over Labissiere hitting jumpers in an empty gym the night before the draft. That isn’t moving the needle for smart executives and talent evaluators. I think Chriss is the better athlete and a better long-term hedge, because I think he can face up and score and attack the basket, and I don’t know how long it takes Skal to get up to snuff in terms of basketball comprehension. The biggest red flag to me with Chriss is that at the combine, he said Rudy Gay was his favorite player. Proceed with caution, Raptors.
6. Once we get past the top 20 projected picks or so, there are a smattering of cool, weird international players. There’s a Zubac, a Zizic, a Hernangomez and a Zhou. What do you make of these guys? Who are you rolling with? Is there anyone either of us will possibly end up loving more than Mario Hezonja?
Sharp: First of all, let's not be unfair to this draft class. Nobody can measure up to Hezonja. Read about his friendship with Elfrid Payton, and then get to the part where Payton's injured and Hezonja says he's got "99 problems but a hamstring ain't one."
As for the Europeans in this draft ... I need a few more weeks of YouTube reasearch. Juan "Juancho" Hernangomez seems fun on name alone, and every Timothe Luwawu highlight mix makes me love him a little more. Dragan Bender is well-regarded but everyone I've talked to about the draft, but I'm still not sure if we should be excited about him as the third best player on the board. Zizic and Zubac are a pair I need to learn more about before I comment. Zhou Qi is another one, but he's 7'2 and not considered a first rounder, so it has to be assumed that his motor skills are a work in progress.
7. There’s some type of lottery conspiracy every year. This time, we got clairvoyant Mutombo and the first-ever chalk-odds draft. Adam Silver’s gist after the event was that the Sixers had the best odds and so they were obviously preparing to win, and apparently they asked Dikembe to tweet if they won, and his waggling finger got antsy on the touch screen. Connect these dots. What do you make of this? Is the independent accounting firm of Ernst and Young a front for something darker?
Sharp: So... my Mutombo experience was a little different. I was driving to the Sixers lottery party as that tweet happened, and my phone was dead, so I missed the story entirely. Then I showed up at the party in Philly, and everyone kept mentioning Mutombo, saying stuff like "Mutombo knows", and it was very, very confusing. I didn't even ask about it, because the party was too hectic. I didn't find out what actually happened until late Tuesday night.
This is all a good example of why we are all addicted to our phones. You never know when you're going to miss out on the next nationwide Dikembe Mutombo conspiracy theory.
As for general rigging theories: I believed every NBA conspiracy theory when Stern was in charge, and I kind of miss that era of the NBA, so I won't criticize anyone who buys in now. But there's no way the lottery was rigged. As shadowy and powerful as Jerry Colangelo is, Adam Silver is too concerned with his own image -- and distancing himself from the Stern era -- to ever rig anything and risk the appearance of impropriety.
8. Who are your favorite players in the second half of the draft?
Woo: Four names for you.
• Joel Bolomboy, who was awesome at the combine, is crazy athletic, was born in Russia to a Russian mother and Congolese father, moved to the states as a kid, played four strong years at Weber State, home of the fighting Lillards, and though I don’t really know what position he is on offense, I just want to draft him and figure it out later.
• Damian Jones, assuming he slips into the second round, because he seemed genuinely more happy to be at the combine than any other person, and because I think he can play defense and operate in a more simplified role and be just fine. Steven Adams was a hilarious interview at the combine in 2013. Maybe there’s a correlation?
• Pat McCaw, who’s super gangly and can shoot and might take the “guy I haven’t heard of who is randomly good” mantle from Josh Richardson...but also is probably a couple of seasons away.
• Michael Gbinije, who is the old guy everyone forgot about, but killed it at the combine and is 6'7" and can handle the ball and pass and spot-up shoot, and has a really cool tattoo sleeve.
9. Who is the best player in this draft that we aren’t really talking about?
Sharp: Deyonta Davis. We're in the middle of several hype cycles up and down the board. Marqueese Chriss was underrated, now maybe overrated. Jamal Murray was overrated, but now maybe's underrated, or maybe he's been called underrated so often that he's overrated again. Etc. All of this is why the draft is both stupid and great.
But Davis hasn't been in these conversations at all. At 6'10 and 245 pounds as a center, he didn't do much at Michigan State -- 7.5 ppg, 5.5 rebounds, 1.8 blocks, 18 mpg. Most people don't know who he is. Most of those who do know his name have looked at him and wondered how he ever became a likely lottery pick.
However ... I've been watching the Western Conference Finals, and in the middle of Game 2, I realized that I used to feel the exact same way about Steven Adams. He averaged 7.2 ppg, 6 rebounds, and 2 blocks in 24 minutes at Pitt, and when he went late-lottery to OKC, everyone basically just shrugged their shoulders. Now, nobody is shrugging.
That's not to say Deyonta Davis will be Steven Adams -- the combination of crazy strength, mobility, and tribal tattoos is tough to replicate -- but even if he can get close to that level as a rim protector and starter, he's worth a lottery pick. It'll take time and the right team, and there's no guarantee it works, but if I were a team picking outside the top 10, I'd be thrilled with the chance to try.
10. You're a Bulls fan. The rumors surrounding Rose and Butler have made this team so tough to gauge. Where do things stand right now? What's your dream for the next month, including the 14th pick? What's the nightmare?
Woo: Ugh. I saw the words “Peak Rose” on Twitter today and shed a single tear. As for Jimmy, he was chilling at the combine with Fred Hoiberg and the Bulls’ brass and then represented the team at the dais at the lottery, so it seems like the positive, pro-Jimmy PR spin is on. I also kind of feel like he could get traded, but can’t really imagine the Bulls getting equal value back.
I’ll put it this way: he has some shortcomings, but I’ve never heard anyone ever call Derrick Rose a bad teammate. I don’t know if I totally buy the “Jimmy staged a coup of the team and ruined the season” narrative either. Regardless, I don’t think there’s some irreparable problem between them, I just think the entire team, especially the front office, would benefit from a greater culture of accountability.
I hope they keep the pick, let Pau walk, I guess let Joakim walk, keep Jimmy the hell away from Marky Mark and try to pick up the pieces. They should be able to get back in the playoff mix next season with some smart role player acquisitions. I feel like a Deyonta Davis-type guy would be a good fit next to Bobby Portis. Wade Baldwin would help relieve some defensive pressure on Rose and Butler, though 14 to me is a little high for him. Denzel Valentine would fit with their culture, and I love Tyler Ulis (who’s from Chicago), but let’s be real: the Bulls really like established college players with connections to the states of Iowa and New Mexico.
That is my nightmare. It’s like The Conjuring where the ghost of Kirk Hinrich haunts the suburban home of Tony Snell and Cameron Bairstow. I won’t be shocked if Jarrod Uthoff and/or Pascal Siakam is logging minutes in six months. I’m ready for Georges Niang to come up from the D-League mid-season. I’m ready to watch my favorite Derrick Rose mixtape every night, instead of the games. God, I miss Thibs.