Breaking down the 76ers' dilemma in the draft
"Should they draft for talent or fit?"
It's the age-old question, asked time and time again come every NBA Draft. No team wants to pass on the best talent available, but sometimes that talent just doesn't fit with a particular roster. This year, the "talent or fit" question is especially pertinent for the Philadelphia 76ers.
The first and second picks in the Draft are fairly straightforward this year (assuming no trades occur); the Celtics will select Markelle Fultz, who's clearly the best prospect. The Lakers will then take Lonzo Ball, despite the fact that the universally abhorred LaVar Ball comes with him.
After these two picks, the draft gets foggier. The 76ers will be on the board third and will have their pick of any other prospect in this year's stacked draft. They'll have to decide between drafting the best available talent or the best fit for their roster.
The Best Talent
Assuming Fultz and Ball are off the board, the best prospect from a talent standpoint is Josh Jackson. The 6-foot-8 wing from Kansas projects to be a terrific defender at the next level. Offensively, his elite speed and athleticism allow him to get to the rim, where he's a strong finisher. Jackson thrives in transition, but he's also effective in half-court settings; he has a high basketball IQ and sees the floor well.
Jackson's biggest weakness is why the Sixers may pass on him – his lack of a jump shot. That's where fit becomes important. Jackson could develop a reliable outside shot at some point in his NBA career, and that's what whichever team drafts him will be hoping for – that he'll develop similarly to a Jimmy Butler or Kawhi Leonard. Both of those guys had limited offensive games in college and were drafted based on their defensive upside. Now, both are two-way stars. That's the hope for Jackson too, but it's not something that you can rely on to happen.
History would suggest that the Sixers will draft based on talent. Their propensity to draft the player that they felt was the biggest talent has led to an amassment of a bevy of frontcourt players on the roster, with few (if any) guards who will be part of the future. You can only start at most three of Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons, Jahlil Okafor and Dario Saric. And this is after they traded away Nerlens Noel.
Josh Jackson wouldn't overlap with the current roster as much as another center would, but his skillset is a bit redundant with that of Ben Simmons, and – should they draft Jackson – the 76ers will eventually run into a wall that can only be surmounted by elite three-point shooting. They could work to fix their shooting issue by drafting for fit rather than talent.
The Best Fit
The 76ers need shooting, and Malik Monk would give it to them. Monk shot 6.9 three-pointers per game for Kentucky in his lone season as a Wildcat, converting on those shots at a 39.7 percent clip. Monk has a gorgeous shooting stroke and can score in catch-and-shoot situations or create his own shot. At 6-foot-3, Monk is a tad undersized for an NBA shooting guard, but could be the team's nominal point guard while Ben Simmons serves as the functional one. If Monk's scoring ability translates to the next level (it should) he would be a flawless fit next to Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid (if both of those players can stay healthy, which feels like a fairly big "if" at this point).
The only problem with drafting Monk is that he isn't the third-best prospect in this class from a talent standpoint. If every team drafted based solely on talent and upside, Monk would probably be selected somewhere around the 6-8 range. If Philly is enamored with Monk, then screw the draft big boards, they should take him.
If I'm Bryan Colangelo, though, I'm making some phone calls first. Josh Jackson is an awesome talent that a good number of teams will be intrigued by. If the Sixers can trade down a few spots, why not do so, or at least make inquiries? Trading down a few spots in the lottery is uncommon in the NBA, but not unheard of. The Kings (at pick no. 5) or maybe even the Timberwolves (at pick no. 7) could jump at the chance to trade up a couple spots to snag Jackson. That way, the 76ers can get the guy they really want in Monk, and also get something else from a team like Sacramento or Minnesota.
The 76ers' morass in this draft is complicated, and I lean towards drafting for the best fit (ideally trading down a few spots in the process). There is such a thing as too much redundant talent, which the Sixers know very well; they had more trouble than they had likely imagined last season trying to trade Nerlens Noel and Jahlil Okafor.
Monk is the perfect fit for Philadelphia, and if they want to turn their current assortment of young talent into a cohesive team capable of competing, fit is crucial. They might be able to make things work with Jackson, but it's complicated, especially if he and Simmons both struggle to develop reliable jump shots. Drafting Monk is easy, and a more sure thing in terms of fit; he's the perfectly-sized piece of the puzzle that is the 76ers' roster. Drafting Jackson is forcing a square peg into a round hole.
The Sixers are far enough into their rebuild that they can afford to worry about fit. In the initial stages, it makes sense to take the best talent and hope that you find a franchise player or two (which they've hopefully done in getting Embiid and Simmons). Now, they need to figure out how best to add to and build around their core. Whether they feel that the best way to do that is by drafting Monk, Jackson or some other player (Jayson Tatum, perhaps) remains to be seen.