June 18, 2019
This time last year, Elton Brand was in a much different position on the Sixers' totem pole heading into draft night. As he recalled during the team's final group workout on Tuesday morning, he compiled his own draft board in advance of last year's draft, ready to tell Bryan Colangelo and the rest of the brain trust how he saw the world as the leader of their G-League team, the Delaware Blue Coats.
For the 2019 NBA Draft, the pecking order is a bit different, and the G-League personnel will only have so much input they can offer.
"They have some say until I make the decision to say, forget about what you're saying, I need this guy," Brand joked to reporters. It was meant to be lighthearted, but there is some truth to that.
The Sixers are a collaborative organization, and Brand will rely on the collective input of dozens of people when all is said and done. Front office members like Vince Rozman lead the scouting operation, Alex Rucker leads the analytics department, and everyone from low-level scouts to high-ranking officials hits the road to see prospects at some point.
But at the end of the day, the buck stops with Brand. And Thursday represents a big test for Brand, who will be at the helm of the franchise for his first NBA Draft ever.
As his lieutenants have expressed before him, Brand made it clear that priority No. 1 for Philadelphia on Thursday night will be to get players they can bank on to be contributors sooner rather than later. He compared the sort of player you're looking at when you select in the top five — one that you're often happy to wait on a little bit — to the type of guy the Sixers are looking at in the late first.
"We are definitely looking for some players that can compete for a spot in our top eight right now," Brand said. "[It] starts with a specific skill that [Brett Brown] can look down the bench and say, 'Alright, I need defense, I trust him. Oh, I need some shotmaking, the defense might not be there, something else may not be there, but I know I can get this from this rookie.'"
That fits with the sort of player they have had in during the pre-draft process. The practice facility in Camden has been filled with upperclassmen, including some who were barely on the draft radar until the pre-draft process. Terence Davis of Ole Miss, for example, only received an invite to the Combine at the last minute because of a strong performance at the Portsmouth Invitational, with his competitive fire and ability to repeatedly perform under pressure drawing attention from teams with second-round picks.
Davis is just one example of the sort of guy the Sixers need right now — someone unfazed by the moment who knows they aren't going to walk through the doors of the Wells Fargo Center and be the man for this team. It wasn't that long ago that the Sixers were searching for their first building block player. Now they have at least two for the foreseeable future, and perhaps three or four if they can lock up Jimmy Butler and/or Tobias Harris on long-term contracts this summer.
As they've tried to whittle down their board, the Sixers have also made it a point to bring in multiple players from several big programs (namely Washington, Tennessee, Villanova, and Michigan) throughout the pre-draft period. Whether they ultimately go with a player from one of those schools is uncertain, but they've explained their logic behind mining specific programs.
"I think really it's just a testament to some of these programs like Tennessee and Michigan and some of these programs that are just loaded," Vince Rozman said last week. "We're drawn to those types of programs."
Being a big-time scorer or box-score stuffer as a one-man show is something that will get you noticed by scouts, and the Sixers certainly aren't going to write guys off because they had to play a little hero ball. But if you look at some of the names of the guys they've been prominently linked to, a la North Carolina's Cameron Johnson, and it's easy to connect them. They may not share skills or personality traits, but they were pieces of winning programs who were willing to dig deep on specific roles for the betterment of the team.
Hanging over the team is their second-round defeat at the hands of the Toronto Raptors, who eventually went on to dethrone the Golden State Warriors as NBA champions. There are no sour grapes in Philadelphia, and Brand saluted Raptors GM Masai Ujiri and the rest of Toronto's organization for reaching the pinnacle of the sport this season. But they are not going into this summer backing down from the outside threats, and it is their desire to win now that will drive their decisionmaking throughout the summer.
"It just shows me that we are close," Brand said. "So my goal this summer is to get better through the draft, through free agency, what we have to do and be able to compete again at that level. It definitely hurts, from the players from the coaches to my staff, we want to grow and we want to get better."
• Brand and the Sixers may be looking for someone who they can get on the floor to help out right away, but he would not rule out waiting on an injured or overseas player if it was the best option for the organization.
"It depends on where. You know, later on, later in the second round, one of those picks, if the value proposition is there, and you're like, 'Okay, he has to rehab and get better', you think about it," Brand said. "Because in two years we're gonna need talent. We're gonna need talent. But the appetite to wait, it's all going to be determined on the clock and who the player is."
• Shake Milton spent a lot of Tuesday's pre-draft workout going through his own workout on the far court, prepping himself for a season where he may get his chance to play real rotation minutes. Brand says he has never seen someone as excited to play in Summer League as Milton is, and that the team hopes Milton can build off of a strong campaign in the G-League last season.
"We believe in Shake," Brand said. "Kudos to our G-League program and development staff in developing him there. In the NBA, you know, like a young player's gonna have, had some struggles, but we're counting on him to grow and get better."
Milton was a bit erratic in spot minutes for the big club last season, but most young players are. He has a skillset that can help this group, and getting any source of cheap production would be huge for Philly moving forward.
• What does the makeup of an ideal Sixers player look like, in the eyes of Brand?
"Tough, hard-nosed. You know, respectful, wants to get better," Brand said. "Treat your teammates with respect. Younger players we'd like a high IQ, guy who know how to play, play defense, make the right pass, take the shot when warranted, and a competitor. We want tough competitors that can think the game."
If you were trying to figure out who they're drafting based on that comment, good luck, because just about every player they've had in for a workout believes they are that guy. We'll see on Thursday night.
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