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June 20, 2019

NBA Draft 2019: Some guys I like (and dislike) more than consensus for Sixers

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062019-CarsenEdwards-USAToday Thomas J. Russo/USA Today

Purdue Boilermakers guard Carsen Edwards (3) reacts during the first half in the semifinals of the south regional against the Tennessee Volunteers of the 2019 NCAA Tournament at KFC Yum Center.

The mock drafts, big boards, and speculation about the 2019 NBA Draft will soon be obsolete. The Sixers and 29 other teams will finally be on the clock on Thursday night, and while this class has been assessed as one with very little star power outside of Zion Williamson, there are a lot of potential role players to be had, and that makes it an exciting proposition for Philly.

Philadelphia's workout list was extensive during the pre-draft process, but a majority of the players they've had in have been likely second-round targets, masking what they might do with their first-round pick at No. 24. Will they make a high-upside play, or go with a safer option to plug in next to one of their stars?

Draft night is all about preferences. As it pertains to some of the players the Sixers will consider with their picks, the list below is all about my preferences, and what I see from some of the more prominent names who will come up between 20-40 or so. It is not a complete list, and I can't promise all of these players are in serious consideration for Philly, but you should know their names by now.

Without further adieu...

(As an additional note: I like Washington's Matisse Thybulle just about the same amount as everyone else seems to. I think he would be a good fit in Philly, but I don't have strong #takes about him.)

• More than consensus •

Chuma Okeke — Auburn

What I like: Before he went down with an injury during the NCAA Tournament, Okeke was generating potential lottery buzz. His all-around game was that good — he was knocking down shots, succeeding on defense on and off the ball, and in many ways he was the spiritual leader of a very good Auburn team.

There are a lot of similarities on defense between Okeke and former Sixers wing Robert Covington. Okeke is great at timing his jumps into passing lanes, has a quick set of hands, and on the mental side of things he is happy to do the dirty work to power his team to wins. Auburn's surge down the stretch was in large part due to a strong close to the year from Okeke.

I also think he is a bit undervalued as an offensive talent. Okeke scored on over 70 percent of his shots at the rim during his sophomore year despite lacking high-end athleticism, showing off good finesse skills around the basket. He has already proven capable of thriving in a role where he doesn't dominate the ball, and he has the perfect mentality for a role player, which would help Philly.

The concerns: We can start with his torn ACL that was suffered in March. That pushes back Okeke's debut until at least midway through this season, and the Sixers have often been conservative about inserting injured rookies into the rotation mix midstream. That would likely cap his impact this season, and the Sixers are in need of players who can help them win now.

You also have to wonder if Okeke's athleticism concerns will be even more pronounced post-injury. He was already going to face question marks about finishing through NBA size and athleticism at the next level, and if he loses a step, his defensive prowess could be impacted. I think he's a smart enough player to overcome those concerns anyway, but it's not a non-issue.


RELATED: Should Sixers consider any players with injury concerns?


Luguentz Dort — Arizona State

What I like: The Sixers have had a desperate need for guards who can win one-on-one battles defensively for years. Dort would almost immediately be the best guard defender on the team, clearing up some of the issues they had throughout the regular season this year.

Dort's physical tools are impressive on their own, but it is his competitive fire that makes his physical traits worth talking about. He relishes the challenge of getting into an opponent's chest and shutting someone down one-on-one, and though the NBA has moved away from relying on pure stoppers, it is never a bad thing to have a guy on the roster who can win his matchup consistently.

As a former soccer player, Dort also has a soft spot in my heart, though I do think there is something to be said for what cross-sport athletes bring to the table beyond my own personal preferences. Footwork and body control are integral in any sport, and Dort's history as a goalkeeper shines through at times.

The concerns: It's all going to come down to Dort's shooting. His handle is not especially advanced, and when teams would press Arizona State, Dort was often not the guy asked to break it. The Sixers have enough ballhandlers at this point that it wouldn't totally kill them, but obviously, you'd like a guard prospect to have self-creation skills.

And the shooting, by the way, is definitely a question mark coming into the league. He made just 30.7 percent of his looks from deep this past season, and though he wasn't shy about getting those attempts up, the Sixers would need him to fare much better to fit cleanly next to their core players.


RELATED: Terry Harris, Luguentz Dort work out for Sixers


Dylan Windler — Belmont

What I like: If the Sixers opt for pure shooting with one of their first three picks, Windler is the guy I like the best. The variety of shotmaking he showed at Belmont was impressive — off-the-dribble, coming around screens, you name it and he showed he was able to do it. When shots were dropping, he also proved he could turn the attention from defenses against them by cutting away from the ball.

In a scenario where the Sixers run it back with this roster, Windler is almost always going to draw the worst defender on the floor for the opponent. In many cases, that will mean opposing point guards are matched up with him, which will give him a considerable size advantage and allow him to shoot over the top of his defender with ease. He was an elite shooter during both his junior and senior seasons, and he has a definitive skill that would help him get into the rotation right away.

The concerns: Windler is not a terrible athlete, but he does have questions to answer on the defensive end at the next level. In a best-case scenario, he might offer some switchability, but he could also prove too slow to deal with quicker wings and not strong enough to guard the biggest ones. It's tough to know because of the competition level he faced in the Ohio Valley Conference.

Drafting a guy who might end up being a one-trick pony on offense also isn't always my favorite thing, and if the Sixers end up losing guys in free agency, they will likely wish they had opted for a more versatile player. Still, I believe in the shooting, and that should help regardless.


RELATED: Is Dylan Windler's shooting enough to warrant a selection?


Grant Williams — Tennessee 

What I like: Williams is likely the smartest player in the draft, and he was certainly one of the most productive. He may not turn into a star, but there are very few guys with high basketball IQ, stats like Williams had, and high-end strength that fail once they reach the NBA.

The Sixers have been open about their desire to bring in mature players, and Williams fits that bill. His intelligence is not just a talking point — he makes great reads and has proven to be a high-level passer, using any extra attention he received from defenses to hit open teammates for good shots. Williams is a problem solver, and while he's not going to be the hub of an offense at the NBA level, I would bet on him figuring out how to impact the game.

Measuring at 6'7.5" at the NBA Draft Combine also helps his case on the defensive end. There were concerns he might be a couple inches shorter than that, and combined with his help instincts, he should be a useful defender at the four.

The concerns: You are basically asking a college post player to become a completely different guy at the next level. Williams has said all the right things about working on wing skills, but we simply didn't see him show a ton of them at Tennessee.

If he doesn't turn into at least an average outside shooter, how does he find minutes in Philly? He's not big or athletic enough to play a lot of small-ball center, and whether he's playing in the frontcourt next to Joel Embiid or running with Ben Simmons once Embiid hits the bench, he will have to show he can be a threat from the corners to open up the floor for their stars.

Williams may be better suited in a situation without established building blocks, where a team can take their time to figure out how he fits and how to get him where he needs to go.


RELATED: Grant Williams, the NBA Draft's renaissance man, is worth considering for Sixers


Terance Mann — Florida State

What I like: There is no doubt Terance Mann knows what he needs to be at the next level. That sounds simple but is an important trait for a player joining the Sixers to have in order to fit in. Asked to compare himself to an NBA player, Mann chose Denver's Torrey Craig, a defensive stopper who will take on the opponent's toughest assignment and serve as the glue for the top choices elsewhere.

And Mann has the chops to make that happen. He comes from a Florida State program where you don't get on the floor if you don't compete defensively, and he takes pride in being a stopper. Mann has improved as a finisher (1.27 points per possession at the rim), as an outside shooter (39 percent from deep his senior year), and would be an excellent addition to the locker room.

The concerns: Beware the senior shooter who suddenly breaks out. Mann was a below-average and low-volume shooter for the majority of his ACC career, and even his final breakout season was on relatively low volume from three. He doesn't have the dribble craft to survive if he can't shoot, which obviously would be worrisome for the Sixers.

But we're talking about a guy who will likely be drafted in the 40's or lower. He has the makeup of a guy who will put in the work to improve, and I'd take my chances on him.
 

• Less than consensus •

Cameron Johnson — UNC

My concerns: If you take Cameron Johnson at No. 24, you are saying you believe he is going to be a high-level shooter at the next level. I'm less certain than others are that he can deliver there.

Every year, there are concerns expressed about upperclassmen who spike with above-average numbers from deep after putting up middling or bad numbers in their early years. Johnson was as elite as it gets his senior year at 45.7 percent, but as a sophomore and a grad transfer he had seasons of 37.5 and 34.1 percent. His free-throw numbers have been good for his entire amateur career, which lends hope, but since Johnson is predominantly a spot-up shooter, he needs to be elite to get max value out of him.

There's also his health history to worry about. He has torn his meniscus, underwent hip surgery, and medically redshirted his freshman year at Pittsburgh with a shoulder injury. Injuries in isolation are not a huge deal, but this has been an ongoing problem for Johnson throughout his career, and with the franchise built around a big man with a checkered history of his own, the Sixers need reliable contributors elsewhere.

Why they might not matter: If he shoots well enough, he will help this team. It's really that simple. He has had prolonged stretches of elite shooting and good free-throw numbers, so this could just be nitpicking. I don't think he's going to be any sort of threat to take people off of the dribble, but again, it won't matter if he makes shots.


RELATED: NBA Mock Draft roundup: Is Cameron Johnson the favorite for Sixers at No. 24?


Carsen Edwards — Purdue

My concerns: If you are going to make it in the league as an undersized guard, you almost always need to be more than just a pure scorer. I am not necessarily convinced Edwards is more than that, and it may limit the sort of role you can ask him to play on a good team.

In three collegiate seasons at Purdue, there was only one season where Edwards had more assists than turnovers. Teams threw waves of bodies at Edwards, and while that can be used to explain his shooting percentages, it also should have meant there were more open teammates to find for easy looks. If he wasn't able to turn doubles against defenses as the most talented player on his college team, should we really expect him to do that against NBA defenses?

If he can't playmake, that relegates him to a pure scoring role and caps his value unless he proves to have shooting gravity similar to Steph Curry. He's most likely a one-position defender at the next level, and Philadelphia's size was a key component to bothering Toronto in the second round this season.

Why they might not matter: Though he may be undersized, Edwards has a decent-sized wingspan for his height and has excellent strength for a guard. He has put in a lot of work on his body to overcompensate for his height, and that has helped him to create separation up until this point.

You could argue Edwards has the most star equity of any player in the 24-34 range the Sixers will be picking in. A lot of his concerns would be muted on Philadelphia's roster — you can use him as more of a straight two-guard next to Ben Simmons, and his ability to create instant offense on his own would give them a dimension they've been missing on their bench for a long, long time.

I also think Edward's mental toughness will serve him well at the next level, and when you ask around, no one has any questions about whether he will put in the work to get the most out of his ability. I don't dislike Edwards, I am just wary of him, and could see his career breaking toward either end of the spectrum. If he falls to the second, it's almost a no-brainer.


RELATED: Carsen Edwards unfazed by height concerns heading into NBA


Terence Davis — Ole Miss

My concerns: Always, always, always beware of the guy who suddenly rises because of the pre-draft process. Davis' story is a double-edged sword in some respects — should he get credit for acing workouts and invitationals to a degree that he is in the mix, or should we question why it took a pre-draft explosion for his name to pop up on draft radars?

I lean toward the latter. Davis finally had his breakout shooting season as a senior, but his free-throw numbers have hovered in the 70's over that same time period. His ability to space the floor is likely going to make or break his fit on this Sixers team, because he's not advanced enough on offense to hurt teams elsewhere. He didn't show (or at least wasn't asked) to score much as a cutter, is a secondary-type handler on his best day, and shot the bulk of his threes from the elbows or above the break, neglecting the corner area the Sixers would need him to hang out from a lot.

Why they might not matter: They call it a double-edged sword for a reason. It should not be ignored that Davis has taken it to his competition during the pre-draft process, drawing rave reviews almost everywhere he goes. Teams are always searching for players who deliver when the stakes are highest, and Davis has basically been delivering under pressure for most of the last two months. That is tough to do.

Would I be stunned if Davis made it as a pro? Absolutely not. But in recent weeks, he has been projected in the early second round, and I think there are better bets with more upside than Davis if the Sixers don't move out of their spots at No. 33 and 34. 

Bol Bol — Oregon

My concerns: Call me old-fashioned, but I tend to prefer basketball players whose love for the game is apparent. The knock on Bol Bol beyond any concerns about his skillset is that this might not be a labor of love for him. That is part of why you've seen his stock dip as we approach the draft after appearing almost unanimously in top-10 lists before the season started. It seems from where we sit today that he could drop all the way into the back of the first.

Even if we set aside those whispers, Bol did not show a whole lot of competitive fire during the brief period we saw him play at Oregon. There have been great NBA players (like Philly's own Simmons) who mailed it in on defense in college only to turn it on at the next level, but half the reason to draft a guy like Bol is to take advantage of his physical gifts on defense. His length is a weapon, but he can be pushed off of his spot rather easily and defending pick-and-rolls is going to be a struggle for him for the foreseeable future.

Physically, we have no idea if he'll hold up, and he already has a navicular bone surgery on his medical sheet. He's a long-term bet rather than a short-term play, and that makes him something of a no-go for Philly.

Why they might not matter: He has a 9'7" standing reach and might be able to make above-the-break threes at a high rate. Maybe there's less upside for him on a team with Embiid, but if he drops all the way to No. 24 or lower, you could convince yourself no one else's upside is even close to his in that range.

Personally, I would not be the guy to take that gamble, at least if I was running the Sixers specifically. They don't need to risk strikeouts in pursuit of home runs at this point. With a few singles or doubles in the draft and free agency, the program will continue to move forward.


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