5 Things for Sixers Fans to Watch in College Basketball

With the college basketball season quickly approaching, the Philadelphia 76ers are one team that will be paying heavy attention to some of the more noteworthy prospects and how their situations pan out.

Mandatory Credit: Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports

Mandatory Credit: Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports

The 2017 NBA Draft is likely to mark a significant turning point in the evolution of the Philadelphia 76ers’ current roster, as their likelihood of securing two lottery picks is seeming to increase as time goes on. With a draft class that is so thoroughly packed with talent throughout, the Sixers will have a real chance to pair another budding star alongside Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons — an opportunity we likely won’t see Bryan Colangelo waste given his desire for improvement.

Philadelphia has already taken a step forward this season, assuming Embiid can stay healthy. Even if their win total doesn’t see a drastic spike, there’s still a core talent that the roster can build around, which is something they haven’t been able to pinpoint in years prior. Ben Simmons, once fully healthy, should help elevate the team’s success as well, and make the addition of another piece with legitimate star potential that much more effective in shifting the direction of the franchise.

In all likelihood, we’ll see at least one of the two draft picks — assuming the Lakers fall outside the bottom three — be used on a guard to help balance out a frontcourt-heavy rotation. Former team president Sam Hinkie has become infamous for his apparent penchant for gambling on big men early on in the draft, which has left the team with the somewhat convoluted scenario they have today at the center position. Colangelo, who has made clear that the tank is over in Philadelphia, will almost certainly be looking among the likes of the class’ perimeter crop.

That, however, doesn’t limit what Sixer fans should be looking at to merely perimeter studs once the collegiate season comes around. With the potential for such a high pick, a name like Harry Giles does still make his way into the conversation based on pure talent level alone, while some of the late lottery, mid-first round talents could lead the Sixers to swing for a backup in lieu of a Nerlens Noel or Jahlil Okafor trade that could transpire this season.

This is a fairly dynamic Philadelphia core, with Ben Simmons and Dario Saric both capable of playing on the perimeter and Joel Embiid showing ample promise as a floor spacing big on the outside. There’s room to mix and match a lot of different position pieces under a Colangelo reign, and while a guard does seem likely with at least one of the picks, there’s certainly not absolute conclusion at this point in the rebuild.

The Sixers will continue to evaluate the situation as the season progresses, and so should you as an avid fan of the organization. This draft class, perhaps more so than any in recent memory, has the potential to alter the direction of not only the Philadelphia 76ers, but the league as a whole.

Here are five things you ought to watch for this season in college hoops:

Mandatory Credit: Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports

Mandatory Credit: Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports

Kentucky’s guard situation

Kentucky’s backcourt is headed by a trio of highly talented guards in sophomore Isaiah Briscoe and incoming freshmen Malik Monk and De’Aaron Fox, all three of which are players the Sixers should be paying attention to to some degree. While Briscoe is largely considered a second round talent this point and is far from a certain commit to the 2017 draft, both Monk and Fox figure to be in the lottery discussion — putting them right in Philadelphia’s wheelhouse.

In my most recent big board, I had Monk and Fox ranked 4th and 8th respectively, as both carry elite upside at the next level given their unique blend of innate talent and incredible physical tools. With that said, there’s a good chance we see one separate himself from the other in terms of draft stock as the season progresses, and that will largely depend on how they are used alongside one another in John Calipari’s always-unique setup.

We saw a somewhat similar situation evolve last season, with Tyler Ulis, Jamal Murray, and Briscoe all spending time together on the court. Ulis took on the vast majority of the ball handling duties, while Briscoe and Murray both spent ample time playing on the wings. Murray was the team’s most prolific scorer, both in catch-and-shoot scenarios and when given opportunities through the offense, while Briscoe’s lack of perimeter shooter reserved him to a role as a slasher and tertiary scoring option at best.

Fox is likely to take on the majority of the Ulis-esque role, with his quickness and craftiness with the ball in his hands making him an ideal candidate to control the pace of the offense and create for the others around. Monk, albeit a different animal athletically in comparison to Murray, will likely spend a good deal of time as an off-ball shooter and go-to scorer on the elbow. I don’t expect much to change in regards to Briscoe’s role in the grand scheme of things, although he will hold more of a leadership position on the floor as the veteran in the group.

How Fox evolves as a playmaker and Monk’s trajectory as a scorer are two things Philly needs to watch when considering just which type of guard they’ll want on draft night. DraftExpress projects both landing somewhere in that 10-18 range in their prospect rankings at the moment, but the thought of both falling outside the top 10 is almost blasphemous to me assuming something radical doesn’t occur.

If Fox is able to prove his chops as the type of up-tempo, two-way threat that made John Wall a must-get coming out of Kentucky, then the Sixers could be inclined to go his direction depending on how Ben Simmons adjusts as a primary playmaker in Brett Brown’s rotation. If Monk is able to establish himself as one of college basketball’s most consistent perimeter threats in terms of shooting the ball and carrying the offense from a scoring perspective, don’t be surprised to see his stock fluctuate around the top of the lottery in a manner much akin to what Murray’s did this season.

Both these players are capable of manning the point guard spot, although it may be more naturally tailored to Fox’s skill set. The Sixers will need to analyze just how confident they are in Fox as the type of elite distributor he could project as at his best, as well as how confident they are in Monk’s ability to combine point guard duties with whatever off-ball scoring prowess he showcases with the Wildcats heading into 2017.

How the Sixers’ backcourt shapes up and where they end on draft night could make the attainment of either Monk or Fox in the lottery a feasible occurrence when looking long term, so this is definitely a situation worth monitoring as a Philly fan.

Mandatory Credit: Marc Lebryk-USA TODAY Sports

O.G. Anunoby’s development at Indiana

Nobody predicted Anunoby being in this position a year ago, but the upcoming sophomore now has a legitimate chance of cracking the upper echelon of the lottery if he’s able to maximize his play this upcoming season. As somebody who was an afterthought in the Hoosiers’ rotation early last season, his breakout performances in the NCAA Tournament played a massive role in skyrocketing him to the forefront of the Indiana rotation.

Now, ranked 10th on my big board, Anunoby’s rare defensive potential and unbridled hustle in every aspect of the game has made him somebody worth looking at from Philadelphia’s perspective. He could be a late lottery grab should the Lakers’ improvements continue, and his ability to build upon his impressive defensive repertoire with a complete offensive will determine just how viable that decision would be from the Sixers’ perspective.

Standing at 6-8, Anunoby’s pure strength at the three spot is unquestioned after essentially just the eye test. He has the foot speed to cover either wing position effectively, as well as the strength needed to work his way into the post for rebounds and compete with larger opposition on the low block when faced with that talent. His instincts are well beyond his experience on the defensive end as well, and there’s really nobody in what is already a special class of talents that projects on Anunoby’s level from a perimeter defense perspective.

It’s his offense, however, that is going to decide just how well he could potential fit with Philadelphia. If he’s able to hit 3-point shots with consistency in a larger sample size over the course of the season, then he emerges as a far more appealing option than Robert Covington long term at the three. He showed flashes of intelligent passing off of cuts as well, and showcased — at least in the tournament — a level of overarching offensive prowess that really exceeded anything we had seen from him previously.

If Anunoby is able to work his way into the Kawhi Leonard discussion as an elite defensive prospect who can make smart basketball plays and execute the offensive fundamentals, then he instantly becomes someone that Philadelphia fans should be looking into rather heavily. He likely won’t be one of the first handful off the board, but if Philadelphia finds themselves in that 8-14 range on draft night, then Anunoby could quickly emerge as the best option available in from the front office’s perspective.

Mandatory Credit: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

How Duke’s frontcourt situation plays out

This one may seem odd at first, but there’s a reason behind it. The Sixers are likely in the market for trading either Noel or Okafor at this point, which does, in theory, free up some space in the frontcourt. With Saric and Simmons both being capable of stretching out to the three spot, there could be reason for the Sixers to consider going big — namely via Duke’s Harry Giles — if they do end up with two high end draft picks.

While that’s somewhat of a long shot, the only reason Giles falls to second rather than first in my big board is injury concerns, as his talent level is simply undeniable at the four spot. He’s an elite defensive prospect with a versatile offensive game that could cause fits alongside Joel Embiid in the rotation, and his upside is arguably higher than any member of the Philadelphia roster as it currently stands.

With Giles dealing with some of those injuries, however, the likes of Marques Bolden among others in the Duke rotation could be asked to take on an extended role. Giles underwent a knee scope procedure in early October, and is still recovering from knee problems that have bothered him throughout high school. On that note, Bolden, who ranks 7th on my big board, is also projected to miss extended time via a foot injury.

In terms of what that means from Philly’s perspective, it’s simply worth monitoring the situation as is progresses throughout the season. Once, ideally, both Giles and Bolden get back on the floor, analyzing how Giles fits alongside a physically-dominant big man around the rim in Bolden could be a good indicator as to how he’d mesh alongside the likes of a Joel Embiid at the next level, although Embiid’s offensive skill set is far more diverse than Bolden’s at the moment.

Giles’ aptitude to cope with injury and just how strongly he returns will be another major factor to keep an eye on, as an injury-prone forward who is unable to stay on the court for extended periods of time would likely be ruled off of Bryan Colangelo’s list of potential draftees with relative haste.

Mandatory Credit: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

The elite point guard talents in the class

I understand that this seems like an overly broad category, but it’s due to the inevitable fact that this is where the Sixers will be most heavily engaged in pre-draft evaluations. The likes of Dennis Smith Jr. and Markelle Fultz top the list in terms of point guards, while players like the aformentioned Monk and Fox have the potential to work their way into the upper echelon of the conversation as well.

As of right now, Smith is currently atop my big board heading into the campaign, meaning he could perhaps be the man Philadelphia is most interested in from a preliminary standpoint. He’s arguably the quickest player in the class, and utilizes an incredible blend of speed and athleticism to maneuver his way around the court and find rather gaping holes in the defense when he’s at his best.

He’s highly reminiscent of Damian Lillard when you watch how he controls the pace offensively, and is somebody who will have ample opportunities to showcase his talents as the prime talent at N.C. State. With Cat Barber now searching for an NBA career, Smith is the unquestioned top dog heading into the 2016-17 campaign, and perhaps the most noteworthy of anybody in this highly coveted class to kick of the year.

Fultz, who is built more in the mold of a D’Angelo Russell-type player, is another guy who is almost certainly bound to end up on Philly’s radar. He’s a smooth 3-point shooter both on and off the ball, and brings a level of playmaking IQ that few 18-year-olds are able to lay claim to. He’s a dynamic playmaker with a lot of upside as a perimeter scorer in a league tailor-made towards his skill set for the time being, and is perhaps the most fitting of the elite one guards in regards to the current build of the Sixers’ rotation. He’s ranked 3rd on my overall big board as of right now.

Monk and Fox were mentioned in the Kentucky section, but more than carry over into this conversation as well. They’re two uniquely explosive guards with individual strong suits on both sides of the ball that make them incredibly intriguing talents. They’re projected a bit higher in my big board than some rankings at the moment, but have all the talent necessary to alter that narrative relatively quickly.

A handful of other names that could sneak their way into the lottery discussion boil down to Frank Ntilikina, Lonzo Ball, and Edmond Sumner, the latter of which is the only non-freshman mentioned here.

Ntilikina is likely the smartest playmaker in the bunch, and has been praised as one of the smartest ball players you’ll find at his age during his time overseas. The Frenchman has excellent physical tools at 6-5, but is somewhat limited in his scoring ability at times. It doesn’t necessarily come down to his talent in scoring the ball, but rather his unwillingness to search out his own offense that can sometimes hinder his production.

Ball, simply put, is a freak athletically. At 6-6 and with one of the most explosive athletic packages in college ball, he has perhaps the most potential of anyone to shoot up my rankings, where he’s currently 16th overall. His shooting stroke from outside is awkward – -really awkward — and he has some turnover problems that could develop into major issues, but the potential is certainly looming. If he’s able to iron out a few kinks, he could find himself in the top 8 conversation.

Sumner, a sophomore as Xavier, is ranked 20th on my big board coming in, but is another guy with plenty of room for growth. He’s a lengthy point guard at 6-5 with smooth playmaking skills and a nice set of scoring moves that, if developed more thoroughly in a larger role this campaign, could see him make some major impressions on NBA scouts.

These are the players who have the most pressing relation to the Sixers as far as projections for 2017 go, and are probably the most important group of individuals to keep an eye on as the season progresses outside of certain scenarios on a team by team basis.

Mandatory Credit: Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

How the upperclassmen perform

In a draft that has been so consistently highlighted by the enormous potential among an elite crop of freshman, the upperclassmen in the class have been massively overlooked in many cases. While freshmen do make up a solid portion of the top 15 or so prospects, they certainly don’t encompass the full frame of a 60-person draft, and it’s the ability of those who have been in college basketball for a year or more to produce that will determine just how deep the talent level goes in this draft.

For the purposes of this piece, lets simply define upperclassmen as anybody who isn’t a freshman — even if sophomores don’t technically fall into that category on every occasion. When you look towards the end of the first round and into the early stages of the second round, there is a plethora of veteran players who could see their draft stock move depending on how they perform this campaign, as is typical once you get outside the truly elite talents.

When looking at players such as Grayson Allen at Duke or the aforementioned O.G. Anunoby at Indiana, those are two players with lottery level potential if they play their best basketball who aren’t by any means guaranteed a top 14 spot on Draft night. Allen’s ability to be the lead playmaker on a Duke team filled with freshman phenoms will go a long way in determining the trajectory of his stock this season, while Anunoby’s aptitude is filling in a featured role is a major key to his development.

In the same manner, Ivan Rabb, who is the highest rated non-freshman on my big board at 9, will be the featured man in California this year. With Jaylen Brown now in the NBA, the athletic rebounder will be given much more room to operate offensively, while being relied on even more as a versatile defender as well.

Players like Josh Hart, a senior, and Dillon Brooks, a junior, are coming off of massively successful campaigns, yet don’t have the highest of praise among NBA scouts at the moment. Both emerged as two of the more consistent wing threats in college basketball, and should they be able to do so once again in slightly different rotations, could see their stock edge closer to a firm spot in the first round.

While it’s nearly impossible to go through the list of every major returning member of collegiate basketball, it is worth monitoring the status of some of the league’s NBA-bound vets. The Sixers may be more inclined towards the lottery at this point, but opportunities latter in the first round are always capable of popping up, and the second round has been a valuable tool for Philadelphia in the past under Sam Hinkie.

It’s the upperclassmen that really shape the dynamic of the draft class behind the freshman at the forefront, and control the direction of the NCAA season itself. How well certain groups fare are often based on the leadership of the guys returning, rather than the raw basketball talent of new arrivals, so it’s far from a pointless endeavor to pay some attention outside of the names topping off the big boards right now.

Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

How this all ties back to Philly

As we’ve seen countless times over the course of “The Process,” this is a Sixers team that has heavily relied on the draft to boost the talent level in the organization. While the emergence of Joel Embiid, the impending debut of Ben Simmons, and the consistent addition of veteran talent under Bryan Colangelo has certainly sent the team in a new direction, there is still quite a bit riding on the 2017 NBA Draft for a Philadelphia team that is still losing games at a high clip for the time being.

This is likely the most talented group of players coming into the league that we’ve seen in recent years, and there’s a legitimate opportunity for Colangelo to send the team to the next level of competitivness through this draft class alone. A lottery pick could pair another budding star alongide Embiid and Simmons, while proper execution of picks later in the draft as they come to fruition could help build the foundation around the team’s cornerstones.

From the elite point guards who could help shape the future of the organization on the perimeter, to the players like Anunoby or Harry Giles who have a real chance of throwing an interesting twist into Philly’s rebuild, there are numerous different players who could realistically make an impact on the team for years to come.

That’s why it’s important to watch college ball to some extent as a Sixers fan, even if you aren’t avidly watching every contest. Situations like Kentucky’s or Duke’s will determine what later happens on draft night, and certain players could work their way onto and off of the Sixers’ radar via good play or the opposite.

This is a team that still remains uniquely dependent on the draft, and monitoring the future is always a wise decision, especially when it could inevitably relate the Sixers to such a great extent once the offseason rolls around.

This article originally appeared on