The Philadelphia 76ers could go a number of different directions with the third overall draft pick. They could trade for an established all-star level player, but that seems unlikely. They could trade down to pick up another asset and then draft a guard. But the most likely scenario percentage-wise calls for the 76ers to stand pat at three and pick the best player in their opinion.
Over the four weeks or so fans will watch prospect highlights tapes on YouTube. They’ll debate at bars over who fits best with an already enthralling duo of Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons.
The 76ers will invite dozens of prospects into the beautiful training facility in Camden, N.J. Markelle Fultz and Lonzo Ball should be gone before NBA commissioner Adam Silver announces the next 76er, which leaves a half dozen intriguing prospects: Josh Jackson, Jayson Tatum, De’Aaron Fox, Malik Monk, Jonathan Isaac and Dennis Smith Jr. Here’s a case for and against each potential Sixers seclection
Jackson has offensive versatility. The idea of Jackson and Simmons in transition will make head coach Brett Brown smile. Jackson had some rim-rattling dunks in his lone season at Kansas. He averaged three assists per game, showcasing his feel for the game.
Philly played with great pace for much of last season. It even led the league in assist percentage in January. Jackson appears to fit in terms of playing team-oriented basketball. He’s drawn some comparisons to a former 76er: And Andre Iguodala had wonderful moments in Philadelphia but was underappreciated because he lacked superstar potential.
Jackson doesn’t have to be the best player on the 76ers. He could very well end up being the best player. But with other young talent surrounding him, Jackson could be the third scoring option.
Jackson has an awful hitch in his shot. He might have made 25 of his last 52 attempts from three in the Big 12 and NCAA tournament, but he only made 56.6 percent of his free throw attempts, and that’s usually a better indicator of future NBA three-point success.
It’s going to take time for Jackson to figure out his jumper, and there’s no certainty he’ll ever be at least a 37 percent three-point shooter. He’s also not particularly long with a nearly 6-10 wingspan, which could hurt his defensively versatility in the long run. The idea of picking third comes with the notion of drafting a player with an absurdly high floor, and it’s unsure if Jackson could get there for the 76ers. If Jackson had a consistent jumper, he’d challenge Fultz for top pick. But the reality is different.
He could be a star scorer in this league. With Simmons playing point guard, the 76ers need a go-to wing scorer, and Tatum could be exactly that. His ability to score from the mid-range, and his high free throw percentage, make many believe he’ll be able to shoot consistently from three. He’s drawn some Danny Granger comparisons. He’s a silky smooth offensive player, which is something Philly hasn’t had in a very long time.
Defense could be an issue at the next level. He had some good moments in his lone season at Duke on the defensive end, but will he be able to consistently defend NBA forwards? The 76ers lack a consistent wing scorer, but Robert Covington ranks near the top of NBA swingman in terms of defensive ability. How would Tatum fit alongside Covington? Can Tatum defend fours? Tatum’s defense in the NBA is a serious question mark. Tatum could also be one-dimensional on offense. He’s not much of a creator. What happens when he can’t find his scoring touch?
He’s a special talent, especially in terms of competitiveness. His NCAA tournament was wonderful. He’s a killer athlete. It’s probably Fox or Smith as the best athlete in the draft class. Fox will make a difference at the next level, regardless of his jumper. He’s drawn some Mike Conley comparisons. It took Conley some time to develop a consistent jumper, but Conley had all the intangibles and skills on the defensive end to eventually be a star.
It’s easy to look at Fox’s postseason success and workout tapes from this spring and assume he’s the third best player in this draft. Recency bias plays a factor sometimes. His jumper is brutal. Fox’s misses end up all over the place. He can very well develop into a plus shooter, but it might take some time. Can Fox do enough on offense with limited spacing? That’s a crucial question for Bryan Colangelo and company to ask.
He’s the perfect fit next to Simmons, especially on offense. He didn’t have to handle the ball at Kentucky since Fox manned point. Monk nearly made 40 percent of his threes on 6.9 attempts per game. He’s not afraid to take any shot, and he has big game potential as evident with his 47-point explosion against the eventual NCAA champions in North Carolina. Monk proved himself as a freshman, which isn’t always the case for one-and-done players. Monk put up the numbers, and he was efficient in the process. He makes so much sense on offense for the league's worst.
Can he create his shot? Or better yet, can he create for others? During stretches of the season Monk was Kentucky’s offense because he had the hot hand. It won’t be as easy in the NBA, though. Monk will be a perfect spot-up shooter for the 76ers, but can he do more than just catch and shoot. The 76ers need shooting badly, but couldn’t they just overpay JJ Redick in free agency? Or maybe even Patty Mills? The third pick has to be the best player available, and it’s hard to see a scenario where Monk is the third best player in this draft class, so unless the 76ers trade back, Monk shouldn’t be the pick.
His defensive and offensive versatility fit perfectly for today’s NBA. He’ll be able to guard multiple positions. He can shoot a bit, too. Isaac played at Florida State, and the Seminoles used many players. Isaac only averaged 12 points, but his per 40 numbers were 18.3 points, 12 rebounds, 1.8 steals and 2.3 blocks. He could be a special defender with his ability to challenge shots at the rim as well as on the perimeter. Isaac made 78 percent of his free throws, so he should eventually be a really solid shooter.
Isaac didn’t have many assists. His feel for the game isn’t as fluid as his defensive tendency. It’s easy to see his role in Philly because he won’t have to be the first or second option, but what would drafting Isaac mean for Dario Saric? Isaac probably projects best as a small-ball power forward. Isaac’s floor might be higher than some of his counterparts, but what’s his ceiling? How good could Isaac eventually be?
Dennis Smith Jr.
Smith could be the best athlete in this class. It doesn’t take long to see why many expect Smith to go high in the draft. He’s explosive. He would fit wonderfully with Simmons in the backcourt. Maybe not as perfect as Monk, but he’s definitely a better fit than Fox. Smith has some nice defensive potential, too. He was able to steal passes at an effective rate in his lone season at NC State. He made nearly 36 percent of his threes, and he doesn’t have an issue with his mechanics. He’ll project into a solid three-point shooter at the NBA level.
Does he care enough? His attitude was poor at NC State, but it was college, and he’ll go to a perfect situation in Philadelphia with two studs in Embiid and Simmons. He’ll be well-grounded in Philadelphia, so his attitude shouldn’t be that big of an issue, but it’s obviously something that’ll be discussed in Philly’s draft room. Smith tore his ACL in high school. Will his athleticism hold up? It’s a fair question. He’s medical testing will be crucial. The 76ers have a long history of injured players. Smith should be fine, but it’s a reason for pessimism.