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Points by Ben Simmons during Game 3 victory over Nets

Too early to judge Sixers’ draft

Posted by Eric Fisher On June 22

It usually takes several seasons before a final grade can definitively be bestowed upon a draft. But that doesn’t stop practically everyone from rushing to grade each team’s draft.

For the 76ers, however, we should at least wait a few weeks.

The reason for withholding judgment is that the Sixers’ draft was clearly intended to set up a bigger move this summer. With free agency set to begin on July 1, we should wait to see what the Sixers do before passing judgment.

The Sixers emerged from Thursday’s draft consists of three players who might not crack their rotation as rookies. Considering the Sixers entered the draft with six picks, that’s not an impressive haul.

Mikal Bridges, the hometown player they selected with the 10th overall pick, appears more NBA-ready than Zhaire Smith, Landry Shamet or Shake Milton. Khyri Thomas, the shooting guard from Creighton whom the Sixers drafted 38th overall and then traded to the Detroit Pistons, might turn out to be more NBA-ready as a rookie than the three players they still had at the end of the draft.

But the Sixers’ draft wasn’t as much about acquiring players as acquiring assets. By trading Bridges to the Phoenix Suns for Smith, the Sixers acquired an unprotected 2021 first-round draft pick that originally belonged to the Miami Heat. By trading Thomas, the Sixers picked up two future second-round picks from the Pistons. By trading the 39th overall pick (forward Isaac Bonga) to the Lakers, the Sixers acquired a 2019 second-round pick that originally belonged to the Bulls.

Another benefit of only drafting three players is that the Sixers keep more space available under the salary cap. By trading Bridges, the 10th pick, for Smith, the 16th pick, the Sixers are expected to save more than $1 million in salary cap space.

All of these moves seem to set up the Sixers’ pursuit of a star player. Head coach and interim general manager Brett Brown spoke openly on draft night about the importance of the 2021 first-round pick as an asset and that the Sixers are “star hunting.” With that additional first-round pick and the three second-round picks they acquired in the trades with the Pistons and Lakers, the Sixers could be exploring a trade for disgruntled Spur Kawhi Leonard. Rumors are that Leonard would like to end up in Los Angeles, where he is from, but the Sixers might be banking on Brown’s relationship with Leonard when he was an assistant with the Spurs and the prospect of playing with young stars Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons as enticements for Leonard to stick around beyond the end of his contract.

By making more room available under the salary cap, the Sixers are also creating the possibility of landing the biggest fish of all, LeBron James, through free agency. Although there are rumors of James trying to create another super team, most likely with the Lakers, the Sixers should have the salary cap space available to sign James. A second-place prize would be Paul George.

If the Sixers acquire James, George or Leonard, nobody will be complaining about trading away Bridges or Thomas. In fact, if the other three draft picks could turn out to be busts, there would be barely a whisper of complaint if this draft enabled the Sixers to acquire one of the big three.

The Sixers entered this offseason not content to hit doubles. They wanted to swing for a home run.

We’ll know in a few weeks if the Sixers reach their goal. And then it will be time to provide an initial grade on the Sixers’ draft-day maneuvers.

*****

FULTZ’S FUTURE: The three players who joined the Sixers during the NBA Draft are all guards, which should make fans wonder about the future of guard Markelle Fultz. Landry Shamet is a 6-foot-5 combo guard who is a good 3-point shooter. Zhaire Smith is an athletic 6-3 guard who, with a limited sample size, appeared to be a good shooter while playing primarily forward at Texas Tech. Shake Milton is a 6-6 guard who, like Smith and Shamet, shoots better than 40 percent from 3-point range and has a good wingspan. (Wingspan is the buzzword of the 2018 NBA Draft.)

It should be noted that head coach Brett Brown, who also is serving as interim general manager, visited Fultz in California prior to the draft. He wasn’t there just to say hello. Brown has said that he would prefer that Fultz participate in the summer leagues, which is something that Fultz seems reluctant to do. There were rumors before the draft that the Sixers were willing to include Fultz in a package to move up into the top five selections. At the very least, the selection of three guards seems to be a message to Fultz that he needs to join the Sixers’ summer league teams.

Fultz’s situation should serve as a cautionary tale about passing judgment too quickly on a team’s draft. Sixers fans loved the aggressiveness last year of the Sixers trading up to the top overall pick in order to select Fultz. One year later, there should be serious concern about Fultz’s future with the Sixers.

*****

BURNING BRIDGES: If the Sixers were fielding serious offers for Mikal Bridges, couldn’t they have delayed his news conference 10 minutes? Instead, they let Bridges pour his heart out about how happy he and his family, especially his mother, were to playoff for his hometown team. Bridges explained that his mother, a vice president of human resources who works in the Sixers’ Camden complex, which is where the team practices, was thrilled that her son would be “right around the corner.”

Bridges had barely finished answering questions when the news leaked out that the Sixers had traded him to the Suns. If the deal was that close, the Sixers should have delayed the news conference before Bridges bared his soul about how excited he and his family were for him to play for his hometown team.

*****

WIN-WIN SITUATION: The trade between the Mavericks and the Hawks may be a win-win situation. The Mavericks moved up from No. 5 to No. 3 in the draft to get Slovenian guard Luka Doncic, whom many consider to be the most NBA-ready player in the NBA Draft. In the second round, the Mavericks selected Villanova point guard Jalen Brunson with the 33rd overall pick and then picked up two players, Louisville forward Ray Spalding and Dayton forward Kostas Antetokounmpo, the younger brother of the Bucks’ Giannis Antetokounmpo. Both trades may work out for the Mavericks, who came away with as many as four players who might make their team.

The Hawks can also be considered winners. They move down from No. 3 to No. 5 and still get Oklahoma point guard Trae Young, who is reportedly the player they wanted at No. 3. The price the Hawks received for the Mavericks jumping ahead of the Grizzlies to select Doncic was a 2019 first-round pick that is only protected for picks 1-5. The Hawks later selected Maryland shooting guard Kevin Huerter at No. 19 and Villanova forward Omari Spellman at No. 30. Getting Young, Huerter and Spellman, along with what could be a top 10 pick in 2019, is a terrific haul for the first round.

*****

UNDER THE RADAR: A less obvious winner was Detroit. The Pistons didn’t have a first-round pick Thursday, but they may have come away with two pieces of their future backcourt in Creighton shooting guard  Khyri Thomas (6-3, 199), the 38th overall pick, and Miami shooting guard Bruce Bowen (6-5, 194), drafted with the 42nd selection.

*****

HORNETS GET STUNG? The Hornets deserve praise for getting the Clippers to give up two future second-round picks in order to move up one spot, from No. 12 to No. 11, but I don’t understand the Hornets’ overall thought process. They selected Kentucky point guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander for the Clipper at No. 11 and then received Michigan State forward Miles Bridges, the No. 12 pick, in return. Later, the Hornets traded two future second-round picks to the Hawks for the rights to Kansas guard Devonte Graham, the 34th overall pick. With the 5th overall pick, the Hornets selected overseas forward Arnoldas Kulboka.

My problem with the Hornets’ draft is that they had potential difference-making players available at No. 11. Michael Porter Jr., even with his back issues, was too good to pass up at No. 11. They could have traded down a few spots and still picked Zhaire Smith, Villanova’s Donte DiVincenzo, Miami’s Lonnie Walker IV or Maryland’s Kevin Huerter. They could have simply stayed at No. 11 and selected Gilgeous-Alexander. All of the players mentioned in this paragraph have a higher potential upside than Bridges..

*****

NOVA NATION: Thursday was a good night for Villanova. The national champions had four players selected in the top 33. Mikal Bridges, of course, was drafted 10th overall by the Sixers before they traded him to the Suns. Donte DiVincenzo was selected 17th by the Bucks, Omari Spellman was selected 30th by the Hawks, and Jalen Brunson was selected 33rd by the Mavericks. As I suggested might happen, Brunson, the national player of the year, was the last of the Wildcats selected, and was the only one to slip to the second round.

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