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June 25, 2024

Sixers mailbag: Could a first-round NBA Draft trade up be in play?

Answering your questions with some last-minute NBA Draft thoughts and free agency tidbits.

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Dillingham 6.25.24 Jordan Prather/USA TODAY Sports

Could dynamic Kentucky guard Rob Dillingham fall all the way to the Sixers at No. 16 in the NBA Draft on Wednesday?

We are officially one day away from the start of the 2024 NBA Draft, with the opening of free agency soon to follow. Let's get to some of your questions in the final Sixers mailbag before chaos ensues:

From @Eagles25champs: Could you imagine a scenario where the Sixers trade up?

This is something I have spent a lot of time thinking about in recent days, and so I traveled to Sixers President of Basketball Operations Daryl Morey's basketball-reference page to observe his history of draft-centric trades. Since taking over the Houston Rockets in 2007, Morey has traded up on draft day a total of... zero times.

Part of this could be because Morey has often led teams in win-now mode who did not always have a ton of draft ammunition. But when there is a sample size of more than a decade and a half at play, it may also speak to a philosophical principle for Morey. Many are of the belief that because drafting well is so inherently difficult, it is not worth giving up throws at the dartboard for the sake of slightly improving one's draft position.

If there was ever a draft class in which that was true, it might be this one, where many have described the crop of prospects as "flat," meaning there is not much separation at all between significant groupings of players expected to be drafted in the same range.

If the Sixers identify a player with genuine star upside who is unlikely to be available at No. 16 and begins to fall, I do not think it is inconceivable that they move up by a few spots to ensure they get their guy. If this is the case, dynamic Kentucky guard Rob Dillingham feels like the most sensible target. But any sort of significant move up the board feels highly unlikely for Morey here.

From @JoelHinkieMaxey: Which deficiency hurts a team more, a small defender or a non-shooter? For example, in this class, Dillingham vs. Ron Holland.

For those who are not up-to-date on this year's prospects, Dillingham is a gifted scorer but only stands at 6-foot-2 and 164 pounds, only blocking two shots in the entirety of his lone season at Kentucky, while Holland is an extremely athletic wing with a nearly 6-foot-11 wingspan; a defensive playmaker who is still only 18 years old but shot just 24 percent from three-point range for NBA G League Ignite.

When I study draft prospects, the first thing I look for is how they can thrive in an NBA setting: what are their strongest skills that can enable them to have success? But the next thing I evaluate is how they could end up not panning out whatsoever. 

Ultimately, a lot of this boils down to team context: teams like the Boston Celtics and Oklahoma City Thunder could very easily stomach having a non-shooter on the floor because their existing offensive spacing is outstanding. But the Sixers should prioritize offensive utility over defensive utility this time around, almost entirely because they have Joel Embiid.

Embiid would have become the NBA's back-to-back-to-back scoring champion last season had he not injured his meniscus, but he remains an outright dominant defensive player and rim protector, particularly during postseason play. While pairing Tyrese Maxey with a small guard like Dillingham could pose issues on the defensive end of the floor, Embiid's presence gives the Sixers a certain floor there because he is so outstanding on the back-end.

Meanwhile, it is absolutely crucial that Embiid and Maxey are given the necessary space on offense to do maximum damage. We have seen so many Sixers players fall out of favor in recent years because they just cannot force defenses to respect them as a shooter -- guys like Matisse Thybulle, P.J. Tucker and Jaden Springer come to mind -- and that makes life much more difficult for the team's main cogs. 

From: @sportmanzf6: Favorite undrafted free agent targets for the Sixers?

A major caveat here is that I have not studied this class in-depth, so recommending specific players becomes tricky. But I can speak to certain archetypes of players who have panned out as undrafted free agents. One stands out:

Three-point specialists are valued much more now than they used to be given the changed nature of the game, but it still seems to be the mold of player who most often emerges from the undrafted pool and becomes a rotation piece for an NBA team.

Even if the player becomes a regular season contributor who cannot be trusted deep into the playoffs, it is a massive win to add them without even using a draft pick. Sam Hauser has carved out a niche for the Celtics, and Duncan Robinson before him made his name shooting the lights out for the Miami Heat. 

Who could that be this year? 

• Antonio Reeves of Kentucky is very much in play to be a second-round pick but appears to be on the fringes -- Reeves shot 39 percent or better from beyond the arc on significant volume in each of his final three collegiate seasons, including a ridiculous 44.7 percent from deep last season on 5.7 attempts per game. 

• USC guard Boogie Ellis shot a combined 39.5 percent on threes in his three season with the Trojans, including knocking down 41.8 percent of his 7.2 long-distance attempts per game last season.

• UConn's Cam Spencer may be a long shot to go undrafted, but will almost certainly not be picked until near the end of the draft. Spencer made 41.7 percent of his triples over the course of his entire five-year collegiate career, including a 44 percent clip on 5.6 attempts per game last year as a starter for a Huskies team that won it all.

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