Taking a look at the Sixers Options at No. 3
Ever since the Sixers ping pong ball combination came up with the #3 pick in Tuesday night’s NBA lottery, the general assumption has been that Ohio State’s D’Angelo Russell is the front-runner to be picked by the Sixers.
It’s an assumption that I don’t necessarily disagree with, as I think Russell makes logical sense, both as an “upside” pick but also as a “need” pick. When a player checks both boxes, it’s a logical conclusion.
But what I disagree with is that he’s a virtual lock. In fact, I think it’s far more up in the air than most do.
So what do I think are the options the Sixers have at #3? And what are the chances I think each one ends up being selected on June 25th? Here is my very unscientific, bound to change, guess.
Note #1: This is from a combination of my own evaluation, chatter I hear around the league, and inferring whatever little I can from the Sixers front office comments and recent history. If you think Sam Hinkie has shared his big board with me, you’re crazy.
Note #2: This is assuming Towns and Okafor are taken with the first 2 picks in the draft. While not necessarily a lock, we’ll explore the possibility that they aren’t in future columns.
(Listen to Sixers insider Derek Bodner on the Sports Bash discuss the options for the Sixers with the No. 3 pick)
1) D’Angelo Russell, PG, Ohio State
As I mentioned during the intro, I do think D’Angelo Russell is still the front-runner, just not necessarily the prohibitive favorite.
A lot of that has to do with Russell’s offensive fit with Joel Embiid. I do think if you’re looking for a Robin to Embiid’s Batman, fit has to be taken into consideration, and that makes shooting a priority.
And Russell is one of the best shooters in the draft. It’s not just the 41.1% from three Russell shot on over 6 attempts per game, but it’s how much of a threat Russell is to pull-up at any time. The quickness, and accuracy, of his release, almost regardless of where is on the court or what he’s doing — dribbling off of a pick, running off of a screen, driving towards the basket — puts an incredible amount of pressure on an opposing team’s defense.
And if Russell is putting pressure on a defense from 24′ out, that will naturally open things up Joel Embiid down low. If there was a public measurement of gravity in college basketball, D’Angelo Russell would be up there with the best of them. Add in an incredibly creative passer off the pick and roll with great court vision and Russell’s fit is virtually perfect.
So why isn’t this 100%? Two things.
First, and I’ve mentioned this before, but Russell’s struggles against good defenses are just a little bit concerning. Because Ohio State’s non-conference schedule was so weak last season (ranked 328th in the nation according to Ken Pomeroy), you tend to focus on Russell’s tough competition a little bit more closely. And the results weren’t very good. Against top-100 defenses, Russell shot 37.9% from the field and 34.8% from 3, and dished out only 4.4 assists per game, compared to 3 turnovers per contest.
|Outside of top 100||16-2||32.4||20.8||52.2%||47.4%||5.6||2.8|
D'Angelo Russell's performance against top-100 defenses.
Now, if you’re asking me to determine “why”, I’d say I’m about 80% willing to throw those numbers away because of Ohio State’s general lack of offensive talent outside of Russell, a problem he won’t face with Joel Embiid attracting an immense amount of attention down low. Great team defenses can take away one man shows at the collegiate level, and Russell had very little offensive help at Ohio State.
Still, when you look at those numbers, and combine them with Russell’s average athleticism, it’s not something I can get 100% out of my mind, either. Am I going to go back and re-watch Russell’s games against Louisville, UNC, Illinois, Wisconsin, Michigan State, Arizona, et al to try to eliminate that 20% concern? No doubt.
The second concern I have with just penciling in Russell as a 76er is his defense. After this past trade deadline, Sam Hinkie talked about wanting 2-way stars, something that Russell right now just doesn’t fit. From a physical perspective, his lateral mobility is only average and he needs to add upper body strength.
The former he’s helped out with by his 6’9.7.5″ wingspan, which is excellent for a point guard. The latter he’s making progress on, having claimed to have gained 10 pounds during his time at Ohio State, something that seems plausible considering he’s up 17 pounds since when he was measured as the LeBron James camp in 2013.
D'Angelo Russell's wingspan
|D'Angelo Russell||6'9.75"||2015 combine|
|Michael Carter-Williams||6'7.25"||2013 combine|
|Jrue Holiday||6'7"||2009 combine|
|Emmanuel Mudiay||6'8.5"||2014 Nike Hoop Summit|
Even more of a concern than the physical profile, though, is his technique. He’s rarely in a good defensive stance on the defensive end, frequently upright and with his arms by his side. He does a poor job of running through picks and screens, he doesn’t close out all that well on shooters, he can get bit by misdirections, and he gets lost off the ball.
None of that is to necessarily say that he can’t improve upon all of those, because they’re mostly mental lapses and technique concerns, but it’s not something I can absolutely pencil in, either.
2) Mario Hezonja, SG, FC Barcelona
The guy that I think people are sleeping on, both in Philadelphia and nationally, is Mario Hezonja. If Hezonja were feasting on weak college competition rather than trying to fit in on a deep, talented, Barcelona squad playing against grown men in the 2nd most talented basketball league in the world, he’d be a top-5 pick and I don’t think most would call this a 4 person draft.
The intrigue? 6’8″, elite athlete, elite shooter, and can play very good defense.
The concern: attitude, shot selection, inconsistent defense, low free throw rate.
Hezonja’s strengths are virtually unteachable. It’s not just that he’s a great shooter, but that he’s a great shooter stationed in the corner, a huge threat as a shooter coming off of screens, and good at pulling up off the dribble. That gravity score that I talked about with Russell is in play here, as I think Hezonja will have more impact on floor spacing than a guy like Justise Winslow.
And that athleticism opens up a world of potential for Hezonja. As of now it’s mostly realized in transition and off of cuts to the basket off the ball, where he’s a constant threat for lobs at the rim, but it shows up off the dribble at times as well. While Hezonja’s ball handling still needs a little bit of progress to catch up to his athleticism, it’s not terrible, either, and his first step gives indication that creating off the dribble is something he can improve upon down the line.
His weaknesses? Almost all correctable. Or, at the very least, manageable. His defense, when he’s engaged (which usually directly aligns with when he’s involved in the offense), can be very good. His lateral mobility and length are excellent, and Brett Brown would have a ton to work with. His shot selection over the past 12 months has improved, and having played as a role player on a deep Barcelona squad may have helped in this regard, as being the #1 option he almost certainly would have been on a college squad may have resulted in more freedom than he was ready for. His attitude, which ranges from confident to cocky, could be immaturity, or it could be the type of confidence that is a positive attribute if he actually develops into one of the best players on a team.
The biggest question may be his low free throw rate.
Part of this is that he needs to improve his ball handling to really take advantage of his athleticism, and part of this is his shot selection. But I do believe that part of this is situational as well. Barcelona plays a structured offense, and Hezonja’s playing time was, as a young player, in part based on his ability to play within this structure. More freelancing from Hezonja would have likely resulted in more time on the bench.
I believe there’s an immense amount of potential in Hezonja, with a skill set the Sixers desperately need, and the potential to be an impact player on both sides of the court. He also has the physical tools, advanced skill set, and professional experience where he could come over next season and contribute right away.
There would be riots in the streets of Philadelphia if Hinkie selected Hezonja 3rd overall, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it would be a bad decision.
3) Kristaps Porzingis, PF, Baloncesto Sevilla
This is likely where I lose a lot of people. I don’t necessarily disagree, as I think Porzingis would be a riskier selection than either Mudiay or Winslow. Far risker, in fact.
But I think the potential might be worth it.
I’ve spent a lot of time in this article talking about gravity and floor spacing, and Porzingis has the potential to be elite in that regard. At 7’1″ Porzingis shows incredible ability as a three point shooter, with an ability to hit shots coming off of a screen and off the dribble that 7’1 ” big men simply don’t have. There are very few 7 footers who could take a running one-footed jumper in traffic and you go “oh, that’s a good shot” and actually mean it. Porzingis is one of them.
That itself makes Porzingis an incredibly unique talent, and one that could potentially be a perfect fit on a team centered around Joel Embiid. What separates Porzingis even more, however, is some of the defensive tools that he has. Most big men who make their living stretching the floor are defensive sieves. Porzingis is not.
Porzingis has the ability to alter shots at the rim, blocking 2.3 and 1.8 shots per 36 minutes over the past two seasons, despite playing quite a bit on the perimeter. He has excellent length at 7’1″ and is quick off his feet, a tantalizing combination.
Not just a shot blocker, though, Porzingis actually moves his feet very well for a guy his size, and uses his length on the perimeter well. In a game that increasingly revolves around pick and roll play, Porzingis ability to alter shots at the rim AND be a good pick and roll defender is immensely valuable, and also a rarity for a floor spacing big. Once again, with Joel Embiid playing down low, Porzingis’ potential to defend pick and rolls and perimeter oriented big men is huge.
Again, Porzingis carries some risk. If he doesn’t add significant bulk to his 220 pound frame, he’s going to get eaten alive. His rebounding, and post defense, suffer because of that. He isn’t of much use as a passer, either, something that would become an issue if he does grow into the #2 or #3 option on offense that being drafted this high almost necessitates. But for a 19 year old kid with a world of physical tools and a high skill level, there’s a lot to like.
Besides Porzingis being, stylistically, the right fit next to Embiid, the Sixers might also be the right fit for Porzingis. Kristaps is going to need a team that will let him play while he’s developing, and many teams will be unwilling to give him playing time while he’s getting pushed around and manhandled. The patience that the Sixers have shown with Joel Embiid and Nerlens Noel helps, as does having Joel Embiid on the roster to play next to Porzingis, thus limiting how much Porzingis is going to have to guard bruising big men. It also helps that the Sixers have a 1-1 affiliate with a D-League team, and could send Porzingis down to get playing time if necessary.
Note #1: I’ve been told that it’s a virtual lock that both Porzingis and Hezonja will come over next season. Now, Sam Hinkie could prefer one of them to stay overseas, although I don’t necessarily think that’s likely, but the option for them to come over will likely be there for the Sixers.
Note #2: I’ve heard from multiple sources that Hinkie has gone over to Sevilla personally multiple times to see Porzingis play and that he is a fan of the Latvian big man.
4) Emmanuel Mudiay, PG, Guangdong
Like Hezonja and Porzingis, few have seen Mudiay play of late, as Mudiay, a native of Congo who grew up in Texas, has spent the past year playing in China.
In addition to the relative anonymity that playing in China provides, Mudiay also only played 12 games overseas, limited by an ankle injury for much of the season. In news that I find utterly amazing, it’s reported that only one NBA general manager made it over to China to see Mudiay play in person. That GM is none other than the Sixers own Sam Hinkie.
I actually think Mudiay is a relatively safe pick, perhaps with a higher floor than Russell. While I think there’s some concern whether Russell can consistently get good shots off against NBA caliber size and athletes, Mudiay is extremely quick with the ball in his hands and should be able to get into the paint right off the bat. His size and strength makes him a threat to get to the line, he has a better defensive profile than Russell, and his point guard instincts are better than advertised. I see very little chance of Mudiay being a bust.
So why do I view him as being a relatively low chance to be a target by the Sixers?
That shooting is a huge question mark for me, especially on the 76ers. On my team-agnostic mock draft I’m much higher on Mudiay than I am on my Sixers big board, as I have Mudiay ranked 4th overall. But, as I’ve mentioned many times, I think shooting is a huge consideration when finding a long term partner with Joel Embiid, and I have significant questions about whether Mudiay can ever be a consistent shooter.
And, while many point guards of late have come in and excelled even with questionable shooting, they have largely been elite athletes at the point guard spot, guys like Derrick Rose, John Wall, or Russell Westbrook. This is the part of Mudiay’s game that I think gets mischaracterized the most. I think Mudiay is quick, strong, and a good athlete. I don’t not think he’s the athletic marvel that those guys are, though. And to be really effective as a partner next to Embiid, I think that jump shot is going to be key.
5) Justise Winslow, SF, Duke
I think Winslow is a fantastic prospect, and one with a really high floor. I think Winslow’s incredible defense and the progress he made as a catch-and-shoot option makes him almost a lock to be a good pro, and I love his ability to rebound, push the ball, and make plays in transition. I also think he has a lot of potential as a dribble-drive threat, especially because he’s left handed, even if he does still really need to develop his right hand more to take the next step.
But, I think that with the number of options available to Hinkie who could form a legitimate 1-2 threat with Joel Embiid and form the nucleus of a squad, I think Hinkie will ultimately go in another direction. For as much as I like Winslow, I’m not sure I see him becoming the focal point offensively on the perimeter, and I think getting that outside threat to go with Embiid’s inside threat is a tough position to fill. And, with the Sixers having the ability to fill that this year, I think they’ll go that route.
It’s not that I think Winslow will be a bad player or a bad fit, and I think that an analytically (and defensive) minded GM like Hinkie probably loves Winslow.
It’s just that I think getting a guy like Russell has the potential to become, especially if the Sixers start improving with Embiid and the 2015 pick on the court, is tough to do, and this year presents a real opportunity to do so.
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