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June 25, 2015

What should the Sixers do with the third pick?

It’s the final countdown.

After getting that instrumental out of your head, fully appreciate that we have finally reached the day of the 2015 NBA Draft. This is the Sixers’ Super Bowl at this stage of the game, and certainly not something to be taken lightly. The question I receive most often from friends, family, Twitter followers, etc. is, “Who are the Sixers going to draft?” Sam Hinkie plays these things closer to the chest than one of Chris Christie’s dress shirts, so that is impossible to answer.

Coming in a clear but distant second is, “Who should the Sixers draft?” While that is a difficult question to answer, it certainly isn’t impossible. Doing so also carries the added benefit of being on the record and possibly looking back in a few years and saying, “See, I told you he should’ve been the pick!” And if the guy turns out to be a bust, everyone will conveniently forget about it anyway. It’s what we call a win-win, folks.

The answer isn’t as simple as, “PLAYER X needs to be the pick.” And off we go…

Trading up for Towns

How about Flip Saunders overseeing an extremely promising rebuild? Even if he did the right thing holding on to Kevin Love long enough to secure the services of Andrew Wiggins via trade, there is no way he receives any credit for the first overall pick this year. Remember, this is the team that gave up a Top-10 protected pick for one year of Thaddeus Young. They were trying to be competitive in 2014-15.

Here’s the thing, though: Whether you plan for the lottery like the Sixers or get there by accident like Minnesota, the ping-pong balls don’t differentiate between you. Every franchise knows the rules of combat, even if before the season, the Timberwolves reportedly voted to reform a lottery they greatly benefited from. Whether Saunders receives credit or not doesn’t matter because he is having the last laugh. Flip will very likely have both Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns on his team later tonight, and that is cool beans for him. 

Like a lot of people, I believe Towns is the best prospect in this draft by quite a bit. He doesn’t possess the type of weaknesses/question marks that every other top prospect has at least one of (Jahlil Okafor’s defense, D’Angelo Russell’s athleticism, etc.). I’d make a call to Minnesota and ask what type of package it would take for the top selection to come back in return, and the offer would be:

•    3rd pick in the 2015 draft
•    Los Angeles Lakers’ Top-3 protected 2016 first-round pick
•    Miami Heat’s Top-10 protected 2016 first-round pick.
•    And heck, we’ll even take Chase Budinger’s contract off your hands as a sign of good faith.

Unfortunately, Saunders and the rest of his front office know how good Towns is, too. When they politely decline, it’s back to the drawing board.

What happens if Okafor goes second to the Lakers?

This is the easier scenario. Allow me preface what I’m about to say by acknowledging there are many possible outcomes that are completely logical. Kristaps Porzingis could be not just good, but great. Emmanuel Mudiay’s shaky jumper is concerning, but the Sixers have more info on the athletic guard — Remember, Sam Hinkie is the only GM who got to China early enough to see him play in person — that could reasonably alleviate most of their concerns. Mario Hezonja is as cool as the other side of the pillow.

But for me, Stauskas.

Just kidding. D’Angelo Russell is my guy at 3. There are question marks, and personally my main concern is how a lack of explosiveness could affect his offensive game. Still, I’m willing to bet on his strengths eventually winning out: excellent size for the point guard position, a crafty handle, ability to make shots off the dribble, ability to make shots from NBA range, and expert passing vision. Here’s a guy that should be able to make defenses pay for going under on the pick-and-roll.

The analytics like him and don’t like him at the same time, and some scouts like him and don’t like him at the same time. Still, "Voodoo" is the choice here.

What happens if the Lakers want their 2016 pick back in exchange for the right to swap 2 and 3?

This was Ken Berger’s report from yesterday. If Los Angeles knows that Hinkie really wants Russell, they could lean on him and try to correct a past mistake in the same way Hinkie did with Orlando and Elfrid Payton last year. They could threaten to take Russell second if he doesn’t give them their pick back.

In that case, I don’t blink. If I haven’t done a 180 on Okafor, it has probably been a 177. He’s third on my theoretical big board (because nobody actually physically has one of those things). If the Lakers want to take Russell, they can go ahead, but the consensus seems to think they want the Duke center. Think about it: MIKAN, WILT, KAREEM, SHAQ, MIHM, GASOL, Russell? Nah, I don’t think so.

OK, so they just took Russell. You still taking Okafor?

Yep. Take a look at these ridiculous numbers that he put up at Duke, per KenPom (they're a little small, sorry). According to Ken Pomeroy’s metrics, Okafor was the second-best player in the country as a freshman. At 19, he was the best player on an elite team that just so happened to win the national championship:

Okafor Numbers

Okafor was unbelievably efficient despite carrying a huge burden on the offensive end. He’s the best low-post player we have seen enter the draft in forever. After watching his work with Nerlens Noel this past year, I trust Brett Brown to figure out Okafor’s free-throw shooting to the point where it’s passable. As for the defense? It’s still worrisome, but we'll get to work on that as well.

What about trading back?

I wouldn’t because of the way my player rankings shake out, but if both Mudiay or Hezonja were the top players remaining on my board at 3, the Orlando Magic and the fifth pick seem like an excellent trade partner. Just like last year, the goal is to lean on them until they cough up what we want. First, I would send a screenshot of this tweet to Rob Hennigan:

Hennigan is only 33 years old, so he responds quickly. After exchanging a few laughing/crying emojis, we get down to business. The rumors are that he covets Porzingis, and even though I don’t want the Latvian big man, the Knicks very well could at 4. What might the Magic give me that would make the deal worth doing? They have all of their upcoming first rounders, so maybe one of them or Aaron Gordon would get the deal done. That way, I could still get my guy at 5 after the Knicks scoop up Russell or Okafor, whether it’s Hezonja or Mudiay.

Could you do something that isn’t even mentioned here?

Like this?

Probably not, but I’m certainly not ruling anything out.

Follow Rich on Twitter: @rich_hofmann