Internal Growth, Development Remains Top Priority for Sixers
The Philadelphia 76ers enter Thursday night's NBA Draft with five selections. Two of the picks are in the first round (10, 26) while three are in the second (38, 56, 60). They had a fourth second-round pick, but sent it to the Lakers on Wednesday in exchange for a 2019 second-rounder which makes sense considering the Sixers will not have roster space for four players. While the draft and free agency are very important at this stage for the Sixers, if they plan to get back to the playoffs and further, internal growth remains a priority.
This past season, we saw a glimpse of what could be in store for this team in the coming years and it's exciting. It has been a while since the Sixers organization has entered such a defining offseason, and there are three players currently on the roster that will need to develop and grow over the summer to help the team produce consistent success in 2018-19.
Ben Simmons: After missing his first-year due to a broken bone in his foot, Ben Simmons came in and didn't seem to skip a beat in adjusting to the pace of the NBA. The former LSU-product put up countless double-doubles and impressive triple-doubles, showing off phenomenal court vision and progressive leadership throughout the 52-win campaign. Although Simmons had an extremely impressive rookie season, the Boston Celtics series in the playoffs exposed Ben's weakness in his inability to shoot outside of the paint.
So far this offseason, we've seen Markelle Fultz, Joel Embiid and even Justin Anderson working with well-known NBA shooting coach Drew Hanlen. One of the pieces missing from Simmons' game that has to be added is a jump shot. This isn't to say that his jump shot needs to define his game or his career, but after one year in the league, opponents will adjust and defend differently based on what they have seen. If Simmons sticks to what he did in his rookie year, he'll still find some success, but a jump shot would make his arsenal even more deadly than it already is.
Because of the Sixers' lack of perimeter shooting, fans have been harder on Simmons and his shooting. Frankly, shooting isn't his game and it wasn't at LSU. Many times, Ben said that getting the ball to his open teammates is his biggest asset but if he wants to remain a cornerstone of this franchise moving forward, he'll need to develop his game and get outside of his comfort zone to keep defenders guessing. Driving to the rim and scoring is one thing, driving and kicking it out to a teammate is another, so if you add in driving to the basket and popping up for a jumper...how will teams no what to defend?
Robert Covington: Perhaps one of the most conflicted players viewed by fans this past season was/still is Robert Covington. The former G-League standout turned NBA All-Defense talent is relied on heavily for his three-point shooting, which is streaky, and his defense. Covington's defense is still overlooked by many but the league recognized his talents on that side of the ball with All-NBA honors. Covington had a rough playoffs, especially against Boston, but to say he isn't valuable to this team is a silly conclusion to come to despite his streaky shooting. It was/is his defense that keeps him in the rotation and he will continue to be in the rotation as long as that kind of play continues.
One of Covington's biggest problems isn't necessarily his streaky three-point shooting, but rather his inability to finish at the rim. Numerous times throughout the season and playoffs, Covington was painful to watch driving to the basket, constantly missing layups and easy short-range shots. It looked like something you see at a local gym. Someone, like myself, who doesn't play basketball too often will go in for the layup and let the momentum of the drive affect the look and release of the shot, which normally results in over-shooting. Instead, Covington (and myself) would benefit from adjusting to a softer touch around the rim. Adding a drive to the basket skill to Covington's game will expand what he can do and what other defenses have to cover.
If RoCo doesn't improve in this aspect of the game and a Mikal Bridges is drafted and shows more consistency with that aspect of the game, Covington could find himself in jeopardy of losing his spot in the starting five.
Markelle Fultz: This goes without saying. Markelle Fultz's development and play in year two after the frustrating season in 2017-18 is crucial to the Sixers organization in terms of how they draft moving forward. Many fans have given up on the 19-year-old after a mysterious shoulder injury sidelined him for all but 17 games, but Fultz has been working under shooting coach Drew Hanlen and looks to be 100 percent healthy this offseason. We may never know whether his injury was actually more physical or mental, but what we do know is that his skillset is what the Sixers desperately need. It seems like decades ago when the Sixers had a player who could create off the dribble and if Fultz regains what he was known for in college, the team has unlimited potential.
Beyond the obvious shot correction for Fultz, defense and physicality should be his main focuses heading into his first full season. He did get some time against the Heat in the playoffs, but was unable to match the physical-style of play and didn't see the court at all against the Celtics. Fultz's biggest strengths are his ball-handling and agility. In college, he spotted up for mid-range shots and three's and we didn't get to see that in limited action last year, but after a full offseason of work, it's difficult to imagine his shot getting back to a normal, fluid motion.
It's unfair to count this kid out after what we've witnessed with Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons. Those two both missed their first seasons and Joel is just entering his first healthy offseason and they turned out pretty well. If Fultz is unable to recreate at least some of the talent that made him the No. 1 pick, the Sixers will have to think long and hard about how they plan to address that position on the court moving forward.
Brandon Apter is a contributor to 97.3 ESPN and managing editor at SportsTalkPhilly.com. Follow him on Twitter @bapter23