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May 15, 2018

2018 NBA Mock Draft: Early guesses on who Sixers will take at No. 10

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051618_Mikal-Bridges_usat Winslow Townson/USA TODAY Sports, File

Villanova Wildcats guards Mikal Bridges and Phil Booth celebrate after advancing to the Final Four.

You didn't exactly need a lot of time to digest Philadelphia's lack of movement in the 2018 NBA Draft lottery. They stayed exactly where the numbers suggested they would stay at No. 10, and nobody was going to throw a parade or drive down the street blaring their horn at the thought of Mikal Bridges joining the Sixers this summer.

But Tuesday night's lottery does bring a whole lot of clarity to the table for Philadelphia, and with clarity on the draft board we can all participate in everyone's favorite yearly exercise: mock draft season! There's nothing the basketball world likes to obsess over like made-up rankings of prospects and where they could be headed. This year's draft will be no exception.

In a strange way, Philadelphia's position at No. 10 leaves them with a lot more openings and possibilities than they would have at No. 1. The conversation would have started and likely ended with Real Madrid's Luka Doncic, with many of the bigs at the top of draft boards being pulled off the table for Philadelphia. DeAndre Ayton might be a tantalizing prospect, but there's almost no universe in which he would have coexisted with Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons.

At No. 10, the Sixers will be outside the top talent tier but sitting there with a range of interesting prospects and outcomes. As we all gather intel on the best players out there for Philadelphia to consider, here's what some of the internet draft cartel think the Sixers could (and perhaps should) do with their top selection. When appropriate/available, I'll also include blurbs on what the Sixers could do with their own pick at 26.

Jonathan Givony, ESPN.com (formerly DraftExpress)

The pick at 10: Mikal Bridges, F, Villanova

You should get used to seeing the local product's name connected to Philadelphia. The vast majority of outlets are slotting Bridges into that No. 10 slot, and for good reason. Getting an athletic wing who can knock down threes and defend at a high-level is one of the team's biggest priorities moving forward.

Before I throw cold water on the selection, a brief glimpse at the justification from Givony:

Bridges is an easy player to slot on almost any NBA roster, thanks to his multipositional defensive versatility, 3-point shooting and role-player potential. He isn't as gifted a shot creator as you'd like from a top-10 pick, but on this roster, he won't need to be.  [espn.com]

Now here's where I'll interject, and a point I'll continue to raise throughout the draft process: I'm not sure that shot creator bit is true. What we saw in Round 2 against Boston was a Philadelphia team devoid of secondary shot creation on the perimeter, to a degree that inserting T.J. McConnell into the starting lineup ended up being a necessary step for Brett Brown. The Celtics basically took Philadelphia's wing players out of the series, because none of them were players who could create shots with their handle or do much more than catch-and-shoot.

It helps to have players who don't need the ball to be effective, but there's a logical limit to how effective a roster can be if it is devoid of secondary shot creation.

That's a story and an argument for another day, to be discussed at length. Moving forward...

The pick at 26: Bruce Brown, SG, Miami

As Givony notes in his write up, there's a decent likelihood the Sixers either a) don't use this pick or b) prioritize finding a player to stash with it. There are only so many open spots for minutes on the roster, and adding a late-first talent isn't likely to be the difference between winning a title or not.

But Brown makes a lot of sense if they're going to keep it, for all the reasons Givony lists:

Although he had a disappointing season that ended with an injury, Brown is a willing passer, lockdown defender and gritty rebounder, and he has shown enough promise with his jump shot at times to lead you to believe he will become adequate there eventually. There's a significant market for players in his mold, provided he has a strong pre-draft process.  [espn.com]

Gary Parrish, CBS Sports

The pick at 10: Mikal Bridges, F, Villanova

No big developments or surprises here. Parrish sticks with the conventional wisdom and puts a future member of the starting lineup in Philadelphia.

I'm not sure any non-freshman helped himself more this season with NBA people than Bridges -- who averaged 17.7 points and 5.3 rebounds while shooting a career-best 43.5 percent from 3-point range in 32.1 minutes for a Villanova team that won the national title. More than anything, the 6-7 wing spent the season making "pro shots" more regularly than ever and doing most of the things any franchise would want him to do at the next level. His ability to guard multiple positions makes him somebody who could theoretically contribute to a playoff team, like the 76ers, on opening night. 

Bridges likely isn't equipped to create his own scoring opportunities, at least at this point. But he's a great catch-and-shoot prospect -- perhaps the best in this draft.  [cbssports.com]

The next guy on this list figures to be, well, a little more controversial.

The pick at 26: Grayson Allen, SG, Duke

Once lauded as a potential mold-breaker at Duke, the trip-happy Allen ended his college career as well known for his antics as he was for his production. Let's hone in on that latter part with Parrish for a second:

J.J. Redick is an unrestricted free agent who might not return to the Sixers. So drafting another off-guard who can shoot would make some sense. Allen is a good athlete with good size who made 273 3-pointers in his final three years of college while shooting 38.2 percent from beyond the arc. The Duke graduate should be equipped to play meaningful minutes as a rookie, even for a playoff team like Philadelphia.  [cbssports.com]

Fair enough points, and Allen will certainly do alright for himself as an off-ball player in the league. If the draft shakes out the way Parrish imagines it, however, I'd be more inclined to take a look at someone like Jacob Evans from Cincinatti. He can give you a lot of the same off-ball shooting with some defensive upside, which seems like a more valuable use of a late first than a one-way player on his best day. 

Jeremy Woo, Sports Illustrated

The pick at 10: Miles Bridges, F, Michigan State

Another Bridges appears! This time it's the well-regarded forward out of the Big 10, rather than the kid who played his college ball at Nova. Woo lays out the case for the other Bridges:

Philadelphia can breathe easy after keeping this pick away from Boston (it would have conveyed had it leapt to No. 2 or 3), and should be looking to complement their established core talent. Bridges may be an ideal fit for the Sixers, who play more of a fluid positional style with Ben Simmons at the point, and could use an athlete like him to help run the floor. 

While questions remain about how good of a shooter Bridges actually is and how much of a defensive plus he can become, he’s extremely athletic and has the makings of a utility-type combo forward. The four is probably his most natural spot, despite a lack of ideal positional size. Bridges could benefit from reimagining himself as a high-energy glue guy.  [sportsillustrated.com]

This Bridges is very much an eye of the beholder prospect. A cynical viewer will scoff at his shot selection and the inconsistency of his defensive play, thinking he's the sort of guy who doesn't have the right makeup to get it going at the next level. Alternatively, there's a lot of untapped potential in Bridges, and he has the athleticism to do big things if he's ever able to put it all together.

The tweener label he's stuck with matters a lot more on defense than offense in the modern NBA, but I fall somewhere in the middle on the MSU edition. I'm not sure he has the handle to consistently create on the wing, and that's going to be exposed as he plays less four at the pro level.

The pick at 26: Bruno Fernando, C, Maryland

I'm not going to sit here and pretend I was watching a big man for Maryland play much basketball this season. You'll have to decide if you trust Woo's judgment here.

After filling a need with Miles Bridges at No. 10 and also owning a pair of Top-40 second-rounders, Philadelphia can take a chance on talent here. Fernando’s impressive physical gifts, improving motor and room for growth make him an appealing prospect, and could he be groomed into an eventual backup for Joel Embiid and useful rotation player in his own right. He’s mobile, can rebound and may be able to add a consistent jumper. He’ll have a big opportunity at the combine this week.  [sportsillustrated.com]

Backup big man is a spot where the Sixers need an upgrade, and it doesn't look like Richaun Holmes is going to be that guy for them long-term. If Fernando fits the bill there, go nuts.

Ricky O'Donnell, SB Nation

The pick at 10: Mikal Bridges, F, Villanova

The song remains the same on Nova's Bridges. From my pal Ricky:

Mikal Bridges should be ready to step in as a 3-and-D wing from day one. He spent four years at Villanova growing into a knockdown shooter, and learning how to use his combination of length and quickness to become one of the better perimeter defenders in this draft. He doesn’t do much as an offensive creator, but he can have a big impact simply by doing the things he already does well.  [sbnation.com]

Things get a little more interesting at No. 26...

The pick at 26: Shake Milton, PG SMU

With combo guard size and the ability to succeed on and off the ball, Milton is a name you should see connected to Philadelphia plenty leading into June's draft.

The Sixers need shooting and supplemental ball handling next to Ben Simmons. That makes Milton a perfect fit. The 6’6 lead guard can play on or off the ball thanks to his shooting ability. He hit better than 40 percent of his three-pointers all three years at SMU.  [sbnation.com]

Various, The Ringer

The pick at No. 10: Wendell Carter Jr., PF/C, Duke

I would guesstimate there's just about zero chance for the Sixers to invest a top-10 pick in a player who has little likelihood of starting for the team over the long-term — barring an injury to Embiid, that is. Carter would fit within the "best player at all costs" mindset the Sixers employed under Sam Hinkie, but that was undertaken because the Sixers did not have their star players yet. This is a much tougher sell now.

But let the folks at The Ringer — spearheaded by Kevin O'Connor, Danny Chau, and Jonathan Tjarks — talk you into Carter as a prospect, in this series of blurbs provided by O'Connor.

Has the soft hands to catch tough passes and the court awareness to quickly finish on dump-offs or in the pick-and-roll. Not an elite athlete, but can finish lobs when he has space. Elevates quickly on layups and putbacks. Good shooter from 3 off the catch, with smooth mechanics that should translate to the NBA line. Versatile interior player who can post or face up from either block. Can finish with either hand, and has a plethora of moves. Great passer for his position who makes quick reads and throws accurate dimes from all areas of the floor. [theringer.com]

Building toward a future in which twin towers lineups are a best-case scenario for a top-10 pick doesn't seem like a wise use of resources in 2018. I understand the value, but don't think this is the move.

The pick at No. 26: Khyri Thomas, SG, Creighton

Now this is a player who would fit like a glove with what the Sixers want to do. A two-time Defensive Player of the Year as a guard in the Big East, Thomas' oversized wingspan allowed him to man both guard spots in college and build a rep as one of the peskiest amateur defenders out there. I even spotlighted him in our NCAA Tournament watching guide back in March.

Some thoughts from O'Connor:

Elite perimeter defender who moves quick laterally, can switch onto wings, and combines good technique with intensity to neutralize opponents. Strong frame with thick legs and a long wingspan enables him to battle on post switches and rebound at a high level for his position. Plays and looks like a strong safety off-ball; quickly closes out to intercept passes and pickpocket ball handlers. Turns defense into offense with steals, deflections, and rebounds. 

Knockdown spot-up 3-point shooter who shows flashes of dynamic play off screens and handoffs. Ambidextrous at-rim finisher who’s at his best when feeding off teammates on straight-line drives, slashes, and cuts. His quick first step, long strides, and steadily improving handle suggests there’s untapped shot-creation potential. [theringer.com]

The concerns with Thomas' handle and shot creation ability are real and will be what hold him back from going as high as he might otherwise. That said, he would represent excellent value in the back half of the first round, and offer a lot of the defensive tenacity McConnell brings with more upside as a shooter and finisher — and of course, better tools to impact defense across multiple positions.

Jonathan Wasserman, Bleacher Report

The pick at 10: Lonnie Walker IV, SG, Miami

The Reading native will be a fascinating case study when the draft rolls around, representing part of the argument of betting on tools vs. believing in guys who offer tangible production, athletes or not. Walker looks and often flashes like the part as a scorer on the wing, which is what intrigued scouts in the first place when he headed to Miami.

There are some who still believe in him, though even Wasserman admits he would be a bit of a reach at No. 10.

Throughout the predraft process, Walker should win back support he lost from teams when he was up and down in a spotlight role this past season. Walker is one of the most explosive guards in the class, and his shooting stroke appears far more convincing than his 34.6 percent three-point mark suggests. 

Duke's Wendell Carter Jr. remains on the board, but with Dario Saric and Joel Embiid locked in up front, the Sixers may not want to draft a backup in the lottery. Compared to Miami, Philadelphia should be a more suitable setting for Walker to play to his strengths as a shot-maker and line-drive attacker. And in time, he should show the potential to improve as a shot-creator and ball-screen playmaker. [bleacherreport.com]

Walker will definitely benefit from the increased spacing and style of play the NBA offers, but the Sixers are looking for players at No. 10 who can provide that spacing. He didn't shoot the ball particularly well during his lone year at Miami, and his free-throw percentage in the low 70's doesn't offer concrete proof that he'll grow into a lockdown shooter over time.

Is the lack of production a red flag for Walker, or more a product of returning from a torn meniscus? Answering that question will be critical for Philadelphia and other teams with mid lotto picks to answer during the draft process. He could end up being a steal in the middle of the first, but the risk is fairly significant for a top-10 selection. 

The pick at 26: Khyri Thomas, SG, Creighton

More love for the junior forward out of the Big East. We'll see whether this sales pitch means anything to the Sixers' front office:

With Redick and Belinelli both unrestricted free agents, the Sixers should have eyes on Thomas, a three-and-D 2-guard who shot 41.1 percent from deep this past season and won his second consecutive Big East Defensive Player of the Year award. He isn't a big creator, but he converted 63.9 percent of his twos and finished in the 96th percentile in transition and 89th percentile in spot-ups. [bleacherreport.com]

I'm pretty in on Thomas as a late-first target, provided he's there. We'll see whether he's important enough for Philadelphia to bring him in for a draft workout between now and late June.


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