Many believe the 2017 NBA Draft starts at pick No. 3 with the Philadelphia 76ers, who don’t have an easy choice to make on draft night.
The Philadelphia 76ers were ecstatic when they got to swap picks with Sacramento to get into the top-three of the 2017 NBA Draft. That was short lived, as they were the first team announced out of the final TV break. In such a loaded draft class, No. 3 is a great spot, but top-two would’ve been much better.
Mareklle Fultz and Lonzo Ball figure to be the first two players taken on June 22. Unfortunately for the Sixers, Fultz and Ball would be the most ideal fits next to Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid. Philadelphia could very likely sit at No. 3 with both players gone.
This is by no means the end of the world, but many prospects that offer tremendous fit and upside would be a bit of a reach at No. 3. Those who resemble the best player available risk not working out with the Sixers’ centerpieces.
Now, Philadelphia could look to trade up or down. It would take a lot to entice Boston or L.A., but general manager Bryan Colangelo says he’s already received offers for the pick. There’s a big difference, though, between getting offers and taking one. In a loaded draft class, the Sixers might be better off trusting their scouting and making a decision with the third pick. Here are the five guys they should consider.
Jan 20, 2017; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Philadelphia 76ers head coach Brett Brown watches a replay before arguing a call during the fourth quarter of the game against the Portland Trail Blazers at the Wells Fargo Center. The Sixers won the game 93-92. Mandatory Credit: John Geliebter-USA TODAY Sports
5. Frank Ntilikina, PG/SG, France
in 2015, the Sixers had the chance to select an international player whose game fit very well next to Nerlens Noel and Joel Embiid. Instead they took Jahlil Okafor, who likely won’t be on the team by training camp.
Philadelphia once again will be mulling over upside versus fit in 2017. Players like Dennis Smith Jr. and Josh Jackson have bright futures, but aren’t the cleanest fit in Philadelphia. This year, Philadelphia could ambitiously call the name of an international player, who like in 2015, fits very well with their core.
Frank Ntilikina is a borderline top-10 talent and may even slide to 11 or 12, but he’s a stupidly good fit next to Ben Simmons and Embiid. The native of France is a 3-and-D combo guard, who could one day grow into a lead guard. But if Simmons pans out as the next version of Giannis Antetokounmpo, Ntilikina won’t have to.
At 6-foot-5 with a lanky wingspan, he has the potential to guard three positions very well at the next level. He’s no De’Aaron Fox, but he has strong hands, a desire to play defense, and an amazing physical profile. Ntilikina will dominate passing lanes, generating plenty of steals, blocks and deflections.
While questions remain over his playmaking ability due to an average handle and playing off the ball in France, his improved shooting gives good reason to buy high on him. This season, he made over 43 percent of his threes in the Pro A, per Basketball-Reference. Furthermore, at the U18 European Championship, he even showed the ability to make pull up threes.
That might not be enough to call his name at No. 3, but like Malik Monk, fit may prevail. He’s not as safe of a pick as Monk, but is arguably an even better fit due to his ability to shoot, defend multiple positions and be a secondary ball handler. If the Sixers trade down, he’s a guy to keep your eye on.
Mar 18, 2017; Orlando, FL, USA; Florida State Seminoles forward Jonathan Isaac (1) during the first half in the second round of the 2017 NCAA Tournament at Amway Center. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
4. Jonathan Isaac, SF/PF, Florida State
Jonathan Isaac is the dream prospect for the modern NBA. At 6-foot-10, he can handle the ball, shoot, guard multiple positions and provide weakside rim protection. Like Josh Jackson, if added to the Sixers he could take their defensive potential from good to great.
The key question here is fit. Simmons and Dario Saric will primarily get the majority of minutes at the 4, and one of them may even get some time at the 3 so they can share the court. Robert Covington is another player who likely needs to be at small or power forward.
Though Isaac may eventually be able to play some small-ball center, that won’t be for some time. And even then, Philadelphia just got out of one logjam up front, why beckon a second?
One possible line of thinking could be that Isaac is seven years younger than Covington. Isaac could be a super bench player to start and then eventually take over a starting spot. Saric could be moved to the bench and Isaac and Simmons could be an interchangeable frontline. That’s a pretty terrifying combo if Embiid stays healthy and Isaac’s jump shot improves.
Isaac made a respectable 41 percent of his two-point jumpers and his 78 percent from the charity stripe is a good sign for long-term shooting ability. If he can add any type of dribble game or passing, he’s going to be one of the most valuable players in the NBA. He’s not a perfect fit for the Sixers, more of a long-term vision, but a fascinating one all the same.
Mar 7, 2017; Brooklyn, NY, USA; Clemson Tigers guard Avry Holmes (12) defends North Carolina State Wolfpack guard Dennis Smith Jr. (4) during the first half during the ACC Conference Tournament at Barclays Center. Mandatory Credit: Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sports
3. Dennis Smith Jr., PG, NC State
Malik Monk and Josh Jackson are likely the Sixers’ two best options in terms of value of the No. 3 pick for fit, but the team shouldn’t sleep on Dennis Smith Jr. The role of Simmons as a point guard next season should rule out non-shooting point guards like De’Aaron Fox or wings who need the ball, like Jayson Tatum. Smith Jr. certainly needs the ball, but offers a far better ability to play off the ball than Fox or Tatum.
His numbers on two- and three-point jumpers aren’t great, but he has a much more projectable shot. Shooting just under 36 percent from three isn’t outstanding, but that also came with terrible spacing at NC State. Smith Jr. would get much cleaner looks taking advantage of double teams of Simmons and Embiid. His fit with Philadelphia hinges on whether they believe in that jumper.
The main negative in taking Smith Jr. is that he’ll likely always be a minus on defense. Philadelphia may feel that they can minimize those deficiencies thanks to defenders like Embiid and Covington, but that flaw — combined with the lack of leadership and poor body language last season — may cause him to slide. It’s up to the Sixers’ staff to determine if that was because of his situation or his demeanor. Simmons might have some good insight into that.
If that checks out, does Philadelphia want to invest into a total minus on defense and someone that they can’t maximize because of Simmons running the point? These are the questions they have to ask themselves.
One common misconception about the Sixers’ situation, though, is that a ball-dominant point guard can’t play with Simmons. Just look over at Simmons’ big brother in LeBron James, who plays with Kyrie Irving. Yes, Irving has superior handles and shooting, but Smith Jr. isn’t a slouch when it comes to those skills.
Great teams always have multiple ball handlers and passers on the floor. The most recent NBA champions – Cleveland and Golden State – play this way. If the Sixers believe Smith Jr. and Simmons can coexist, they could invest in a point guard who could become as dynamic as Markelle Fultz offensively.
Mar 19, 2017; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Kentucky Wildcats guard Malik Monk (5) reacts after a three-point basket against the Wichita State Shockers during the second half in the second round of the 2017 NCAA Tournament at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. Mandatory Credit: Thomas Joseph-USA TODAY Sports
2. Malik Monk, SG, Kentucky
Where Jackson is the attractive upside pick that isn’t a perfect fit, Monk was made to play around Simmons and Embiid. Monk hit nearly 40 percent of his threes at Kentucky and was unguaradable in certain games, like his 47-point performance against UNC.
What makes him so tough to guard is he’s tremendous at moving off the ball, has a stellar pump fake, a quick first step and gets insane elevation on his jumper.
He did take a few too many contested midrange jumpers last season, though much of that can be credited to poor spacing and youth. Once Monk gets a season or two under his belt and is receiving the ball in more space, his shot selection should improve. Still, his midrange pull-up game will be a tremendous weapon at the next level.
If Monk was 6-foot-5 or taller, the Sixers probably draft him here. Instead he’s 6-foot-3, meaning it’s highly unlikely he can guard anyone but point guards. While it’s unclear how Monk could hold up against the point gods of the NBA, he’s a tremendous athlete. If he puts the work in and can get support from fantastic defenders, which the Sixers have, it might be doable.
Additionally, he has the potential to become a decent passer. If Monk is guarding point guards for Philadelphia, he won’t be in charge of creating for everyone. That being said, there’s no reason not to buy in on him improving his passing. Still, because of his size and lack of excellence on defense, this might be a bit of a reach at No. 3.
If Philadelphia trades back, however, he’s definitely a stronger option. Should they take him at No. 3 though, you can understand the fit. It would be a sign to the league that the Sixers believe they have their core and now value fit the most.
Mar 19, 2017; Tulsa, OK, USA; Kansas Jayhawks guard Josh Jackson (11) goes up for a shot during the second half against the Michigan State Spartans in the second round of the 2017 NCAA Tournament at BOK Center. Kansas defeated Michigan State 90-70. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports
1. Josh Jackson, SF, Kansas
Josh Jackson is arguably the second-best prospect in this draft class behind Markelle Fultz. He is a true wing who can guard positions 1-4 and has the potential to be one of the league’s best playmaking forwards.
Despite playing the majority of his minutes at power forward, Jackson somehow assisted on 18 percent of his teams baskets when he was on the floor — and that was while largely playing with two point guards. Just imagine the ball movement between him, Ben Simmons and Dario Saric.
He’s also a terror cutting off the ball and wreaks havoc on the offensive glass. Jackson is a bulldog in every sense of the word, in a good way. He wants to destroy people when he gets on the court. That’s an attitude that Philadelphia would fall in love with. Adding him to Joel Embiid, Robert Covington and Simmons would make for one of the nastiest defenses in the NBA.
Now, the reason why Jackson isn’t a foregone conclusion at No. 3 is because of his jump shot. His stats say he shot it like a sniper to end the year, but his mechanics aren’t great. We’ve seen unorthodox shooters prove us wrong, but those players, like Kevin Martin, shot in the 40s in college. The Sixers could find themselves in all types of spacing from hell if Jackson can’t knock down the three.
That being said, even if Philly doesn’t trust his jumper, he’s still worthy of the selection here. Even without a jumper, Jackson can still be a world class role player similar to Andre Iguodala. Jackson will bring intensity, great passing and superb defense. If that’s the case, his worst-case scenario might be a sixth man who runs the show when Simmons comes out. The two could even coexist down the road for small stretches.
If Jackson can figure out his jump shot, though, look out. He is reportedly a gym rat, so there’s no telling what he could accomplish if he sets his mind to improving as a shooter. If Jackson adds that jumper, he’d exceed the Iguodala comp and become an All-Star two-way wing.