Sixers Mailbag: D’Angelo Russell, NBA Draft Talk, Tank for Ben Simmons and More
Welcome to Derek Bodner’s Sixers Mailbag. You can check out his previous installments of the mailbag.
Each week Derek will answer reader questions and tweets and will appear on the Sports Bash with Mike Gill to answer your questions.
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In this week’s edition of the Sixers Mailbag, Derek answers your questions about the upcoming 2015 NBA draft, including Karl-Anthony Towns, Mario Hezonja, D'Angelo Russell, Kristaps Porzingis, and more.
Here are this week’s mailbag questions:
Q: There's been a lot of talk about the Sixers and D'Angelo Russell. Being an Ohio State fan, I watched a fair amount of him this season. My big question to you - do his performances against Louisville, UNC, Arizona, Wisconsin, and to a lesser extent Iowa/MSU concern you? He was really limited in many of those games (particularly Arizona), which were against the toughest competition he faced and had the best athletes he saw all season. Do you think this is a warning sign of things to come at the NBA level, or do you think it was just a result of him being *the* offensive gameplan for Ohio State and opposing teams focusing in on him?
I'm surprised it's not talked about more, to be honest. There was this narrative after the Arizona game that it was an isolated incident and that you shouldn't read too much into one game, but it wasn't an isolated incident.
Ohio State had a comically weak out of conference schedule, ranked 328th in the nation according to Ken Pomeroy, featuring games against powerhouses such as University of Massachusetts Lowell, Sacred Heart, Campbell, James Madison, Miami of Ohio, Wright State, Colgate, and North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University. When the "strong" games of your non-conference schedule include Morehead State, you coasted a bit.
And Russell absolutely feasted on that weaker competition. In 18 games against defenses ranked outside of the top-100, Ohio State went 16-2, with Russell averaging 20.8 points per game, shooting an incredible 52.2% from the field, including 47.4% from 3, while having a 2-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio (5.6 assists to 2.8 turnovers).
Those numbers plummeted against top-100 defenses, where Ohio State went just 8-9 on the season. Russell averaged 17.7 points per game in those games, but shot just 38% from the field, including 34.7% from three. He averaged 3 turnovers to only 4.4 assists in those games.
Part of it, as you said, is team construct, as really good defenses can zero in on a great player if he doesn't have any help around him. Still, that drop is at least a little bit alarming, especially the staggering drop in 2 point field goal percentage, which fell from 56.4% against defenses outside of the top-100 all the way down to 40.4% against top-100 defenses. Having gone back and watched many of these games a second time, I thought he really struggled to generate high quality looks inside the arc against better competition, and Russell becoming one-dimensional on offense isn't the outcome you want.
That's not to say Russell isn't an incredible prospect, and a great fit for the Sixers. I still have him at #3 on my Big Board. But he's frequently been characterized as a low-risk prospect, and often compared to James Harden. I don't like that comparison at all (it's hard to compare a guy with a 30% free throw rate to one who had a 60% free throw rate his freshman season), and I think Russell is a little bit more risky than many do. Those performances don't condemn him in my eyes, but I also don't overlook them, either.
Worth the risk, but I do think there's some risk there.
Q: Have you seen Ben Simmons? The type of player that makes you want to agree with Hinkie's asset acquisition model. I wouldn't mind going super tank mode for him. Agree? Disagree? Your evaluation of Simmons?
I don't generally scout the high school game extensively. I'll watch the televised games and go to a few tournaments per year, but between college scouting and my Sixers coverage, high school is the part that suffers the most. So I don't want to present myself as an expert in this field.
I have seen Simmons a couple of times. I think Hinkie and Brown would love to build this team around 5 guys capable of making quick, decisive, and smart decisions with the ball. If you really want to play an up-tempo game and an offense based around ball movement, that's a must, and Simmons is a potentially great fit in that equation.
Problem is, I don't see the Sixers being that bad next year. I think Hinkie might be more interested in making major moves this offseason than others assume, but I think there's a very real chance he might not have the opportunity to.
Even if they don't make any substantial moves, though, I think this team wins between 25 and 30 games next year, just based off of the addition of Embiid, the 2015 pick, and the continued development of Noel and the other young guys. I would be surprised if they're in position to pick top-3 again next year.
Now, perhaps Hinkie is able to package something with his pick or the Lakers pick to move up, and that's certainly in play. But I don't think super tank mode is really in play, at least if the Sixers are remotely healthy.
Q: Do you think there is any way the Sixers could package any of the picks they are owed next year (OKC, Miami, and LA) and be able to move up high enough to draft both Mudiay and Russell using their own pick and the one they just acquired?