Finally finally the Philadelphia Sixers have what they want. The chance to select first in the NBA Draft was the reason behind General Manager Sam Hinkie’s decision to do away with proven players including All-Star Jrue Holiday for draft picks and the rights to 2013 number six pick Nerlens Noel. The caveat here was Noel was injured at the time of his selection and would not be able to feature in any game for the season leading to another visit to the draft. With hopes raised on landing the first pick and a potential franchise pillar, fortune wasn’t on the team’s side as Minnesota Timberwolves and Milwaukee Bucks got the first two picks and Joel Embiid (who will go on to miss two full seasons later) was chosen .
A year and more losses later, another third pick turned into Jahlil Okafor. The third strike did prove to be lucky enough for Philadelphia to net the first overall pick which it used on drafting Australian big man Ben Simmons in June this year. After compiling a record that produced only 47 wins in three seasons, the Sixers have what they want. Now the real work begins.
It gets harder for the new management led by Jerry Colangelo who replaced the sacked Hinkie midway through the season, as the team’s former number one pick Allen Iverson recently got inducted into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame. To get the 2001 finalists back into contention, management must first figure out what to do with their hoard of draft picks particularly the frontcourt where four top ten picks find themselves. Aside Embiid, Simmons, Noel, and Okafor, Croat Dario Saric will cross the Atlantic for his debut NBA season in October. Throw in the likes of Jakarr Sampson, Elton Brand (I am at a loss why they resigned him), Richaun Holmes and Jerami Grant, managing minutes would be a major headache for Coach Brett Brown.
Simmons and Saric figure to be safe from trades as they will be entering their first season in the league. Embiid, who will be featuring in the NBA for the first time since being sidelined by foot injuries the past 24 months, also figures to be safe as the highly touted seven foot tall shooting Center and his healed foot are yet to be tested. However, same cannot be said of Okafor and Noel who have been mentioned consistently in trade rumors right after both players didn’t seem to get it together when they played. Their immense skill set makes them tantalizing prospects for many teams; Okafor’s post heavy offense would fit perfectly in a spaced out system like the Houston Rockets. Noel can fit on any team looking for an athletic defender who blocks shots, steals balls and is a pest in transition say, Charlotte Hornets.
Knowing the right position for Simmons would be another grey area for management and technical team to decide with the versatile Power Forward able to pass, rebound, score and defend (in limited stretches). His display for Louisiana State University and the Sixers at the Summer League have convinced many including his Coach, the 6 foot 10 inch Australian can play Point Guard at some point in the season. Playing in College and Summer League are different environments compared to the pro level and the best way to use him in his early days would be to play him at the spot he is most comfortable in.
Midway through last season, Milwaukee Bucks turned lengthy 6 foot 11 inch Forward Giannis Antetokoumpo into a Point Guard with devastating positive results. Since moving to the point position, Giannis recorded five triple doubles for the season and that has been the cue for Philadelphia to do same with Simmons. But before the Greek Freak made his mark in an “unfamiliar” position, he went through two seasons playing on the wing and Forward spots which gave him the confidence to switch over.
Aside drafting him to be the foundational piece of the franchise, Ben Simmons will need proven players beyond wannabees like Sampson and Grant to excel. The team looks good to win more than the ten it did manage through last season but decisions are always made with an eye for the future. Should Saric make a successful transition like Toni Kukoc did at Michael Jordan’s side in the mid 90’s, Embiid’s foot heal completely and Jerryd Bayless and Gerald Henderson proven to be solid veterans, winning more than ten games is attainable but would it be enough to lure guys over to the city of brotherly love? Management’s decision’s come into play here because those hold the keys to unlocking what this promising group of players has in store.
For as talented as Iverson was, getting to the NBA Finals would have been impossible without acquiring the services of defensive stalwart Dikembe Mutombo. All looks good for Philly heading to training camp in a few weeks but when they do the real work then begins.
By Yaw Adjei-Mintah