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June 20, 2018

Sixers mailbag: All the biggest questions heading into the 2018 NBA Draft

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050418-BrettBrown-USAToday Bob DeChiara/USA Today

Philadelphia 76ers head coach and interim GM Brett Brown.

Whether they have a qualified GM running the show or not, the Sixers have a date with destiny Thursday. Blessed with a top-10 pick for what may be the last time in a while — barring some unforeseen tragedy — the 2018 NBA Draft offers a golden opportunity for the Sixers to upgrade their rotation and continue building toward a championship down the road.

Outside of some rumors and rumblings here, an extra workout or two there, the Sixers have offered mostly silence on their plans for Thursday night's big event. That's almost always the smart thing to do, especially after your franchise went through an embarrassing public scandal involving the leaks of confidential information on Twitter. Can't start any harmful rumors if you keep the information to yourselves!

So we've been left to piece together information and ideas based on workout schedules, old intel, and some good, old-fashioned talent evaluation. Where that leaves us depends on who and what you value, and what you believe the Sixers need in order to take the next step, but a clearer picture has emerged over the last few weeks.

With that in mind, let's run through some of your most pressing questions leading up to draft night.

The name that jumps out for me here is Creighton's Khyri Thomas, who I spotlighted as a player to watch way back when Sixers fans were glued to the NCAA Tournament in March. There are some real flaws in his game, but I think in the back half of the first round you could do a lot worse than what he brings to the table.

I would view Thomas less as a pure wing than a guard/point-of-attack defender who can cope with some switches, because his height is going to limit him some at the next level. He's only about 6'4", which he offsets with his plus wingspan (6'10") but will limit the types of players he can match up with.

His height notwithstanding, Thomas has been one of the best defenders in college basketball and almost certainly will make his living getting stops at the next level. Because the Sixers have a unique player in size and skillset like Ben Simmons, they can afford to draft/play guys like Thomas who lack the usual creation skills you'd want out of a 6'4" guard.

Thomas has also been a consistently good shooter from deep across three seasons at Creighton, shooting 40.6 percent on over 300 total attempts. I would be dubious about that holding up in the NBA — he shot in the low 70's from the free-throw line, and was downright bad there early in his college career — but he should be able to hit spot-up jumpers and attack in transition. If the Sixers decide to actually use No. 26, Thomas should be a prime candidate.

I laid out why I believe this to be the case yesterday, but I believe if the Sixers are trying to get into the top five, the only name that really makes sense to target would be Luka Doncic.

Doncic is one of the best players in the class, would fit into the ball-sharing offense the Sixers play, has seen his stock drop in recent months (through no fault of his own), and is the only valuable enough talent in the draft's top tier that would justify Philadelphia trading up. There are players near the top of the draft who I believe could provide surplus value to the Sixers relative to other teams — Trae Young being one example — but represent much bigger risks to bust altogether.

Philadelphia's long preference for Doncic and his relative availability makes this the only logical conclusion, in my opinion. But nothing about the last month in Sixers world has been all that logical, so who knows.

I would be stunned if the Sixers don't make any trades. Even though they have a head coach serving as interim GM, it's one who has been intimately familiar with his franchise's draft process for years and has the support of a qualified front office group behind him.

There are just so many potential moves the Sixers can make one way or another that standing totally still feels impossible. The rumors are there about trading up from No. 10, the Kawhi Leonard situation hangs in the balance, they probably don't necessarily want to make a pick at No. 26, and they have a surplus of second-round picks that they can't/won't possibly use. Something has to give here.

Now keep in mind, that something might just be exchanging some seconds or making small, ultimately inconsequential moves that are more about cash or picking up small chips for down the line. But a trade will almost certainly happen, and I'd bet on more than one, frankly.

Ideally, yes I do think Kevin Knox might be best suited to play minutes at the four. Some of his concerns would be best minimized by moving him up a spot from where he's playing in college, if we're to assume that means you're getting more ballhandling and other wing/guard skills by doing such a thing.

But really, thinking of his future in such a binary fashion seems a little silly with the way the league is heading. The questions for Knox in general but also from a Sixers perspective are two simple inquiries: who is he able to defend at the next level, and will his offensive skill set compliment the other Sixers well enough to succeed?

Let's take those one at a time. Knox was not a great defender at Kentucky, but he showed enough flashes to offer hope and has a nice combination of size and agility for a guy his size. He's not going to be super successful against the quicker and stronger wings in the league while he's still growing into his body, but he's among the youngest players in his class and has plenty of time to get on track there. Not only that, he will have the benefit of almost never taking the top perimeter assignment — Simmons and Robert Covington will do the heavy lifting there.

Offense is where the case gets trickier. If you play Knox in lineups with Covington and Dario Saric, are you getting enough ballhandling outside of Simmons? His jumper is obviously the major key here, but Philadelphia's lack of secondary ballhandling was exposed as an issue against the Boston Celtics in the playoffs. This matters a lot more than positional designation, because you need complimentary skill sets to count on when things go south.

But that's a potential problem with a lot of the wings at the top of this draft, and not just Knox, and it's what makes the selection at No. 10 so tricky.

Either guy is going to come with his fair share of warts, so this one is sort of an eye of the beholder question. I think Mikal Bridges is more of a sure bet to be an impactful defender because of measurables and proof on tape, and I think Miles Bridges can potentially provide more utility on offense between shotmaking and off-the-bounce game.

My preference between the two is the Villanova product, because I would rather have the guy I feel confident in as both a shooter and a defender with better measurables. He would still come with his own set of concerns (specifically the lack of creation that hurt Philadelphia vs. Boston) but brings enough to the table that I can see him having a long and successful career in most outcomes. MSU's Bridges has a wider range of outcomes and perhaps a higher ceiling, but not a likely enough path there that I'd gamble on him.

The concern with Parsons would definitely not be the on-the-court production. He's a far cry from the player he was when he was commanding big contract offers, but that primarily comes down to his inability to stay on the court and the repercussions of major injuries on his play.

Parsons offers plenty of utility for the Sixers if you can actually keep him in fighting shape. I would definitely not count on that, but he's consistently been a very good high-volume shooter and is good enough in other areas on offense to use the threat of the three-point shot to create looks for himself and others.

Should the Sixers pull off a move involving No. 4 and Parsons — which I'd categorize as fairly unlikely — it's the money that will be the biggest issue for Philadelphia. Without corresponding moves to clear space, the Sixers would be boxed out of chasing max free agents this summer and next, undoing years of planning and preparation in the process.

There are outs here, and as others have already noted the stretch provision would be an option. Spreading Parsons' cap hit over a longer period of time would offer them some more flexibility in the short-term, and corresponding trades could free the cap space necessary to bring in, say, LeBron James. This would be all about order of operations: the Sixers wouldn't go through with stretching Parsons and exploring trades until they had confirmation a big free agent was coming.

As I noted in my piece on Doncic yesterday, this move would depend on the intel and confidence the Sixers have regarding their chances in free agency. It's big risk, and not one I'm sure they should be prepared to make.

This really depends on how you evaluate some of the pieces on the roster moving forward. The group who will definitely be a factor in the rotation next year, I agree, is about six guys: Embiid, Simmons, Saric, Covington, Fultz, McConnell are the no doubters. However, there are a lot of considerations to be made beyond that.

Whoever the Sixers will take at No. 10 will get developmental priority, so that brings the group up to seven. Then there are recent first-round picks in Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot and Furkan Korkmaz, who the organization probably isn't going to give up on quite yet. That's nine. Add on Richaun Holmes and Justin Anderson — two guys outside the rotation, but young and developing in their own right — and the Sixers are all of a sudden up to 11 guys to account for before veteran acquisitions or holdovers are accounted for, or before we mention Jonah Bolden, who seems likely to join this group or replace Richaun Holmes.

And it's the veteran part of the equation that mucks things up for the draft. Are the Sixers going to fill the roster up with more young players if their plan is to get a big name free agent and really compete next season? Probably not. They'd already be hard-pressed to find minutes for the likes of TLC and Korkmaz, and they'll be shopping in the same relative value zone at No. 26 as they did when they brought in that pair of Europeans in 2016.

It's more likely the Sixers would want to use a few roster spots to account for a big free agent, plus the potential for a few glue guys that fit best around said free agent and the current core guys. There are only going to be so many developmental opportunities on this team moving forward, and with Fultz and the No. 10 pick needing major minutes to get up to speed, you sort of have to pick your battles, I think.

This is not to say the Sixers should ignore value if it presents itself, but there are consequences developmentally and financially if your prioritize bringing in guys to play via the draft.

I'm going to save questions like these, of which there were many, for its own post. 

Rankings will be available to you soon enough.


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