The tanking is over. The Sixers are locked in and will finish with the second-worst record in the NBA. That gives them a 19.9 percent chance at the top pick in the lottery. If you're a Sixers' fan and that excites you, certain people don't share your enthusiasm.
There has been quite a bit of hype about the upcoming NBA draft. The general consensus has held it’s “loaded” and “deep.” Those are the two modifiers most frequently applied. One NBA scout recently described it to me by employing a different word: "overhyped."
In the last few weeks, as the Sixers’ tanking efforts played out, different scouts told me the draft has been overdramatized. It was strange to hear – a possibility I hadn’t previously entertained. Like most who agree with the Sixers’ approach – start over with young players, free up cap space and, most importantly, stockpile draft picks – I’ve long anticipated this draft. If calling it loaded and deep is overstating it, it hadn’t occurred to me. With each mock draft, I find a new player or two or three I could imagine fitting in nicely with the Sixers’ rebuild. (Current infatuations include Julius Randle and Adreian Payne, along with top of the draft talent like Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker and Joel Embiid.)
But what if this draft is something else? What if it isn’t swelling with top-tier players? What if it’s much thinner than we expected?
Howard Beck, an excellent basketball writer, recentl penned a piece that wondered that very thing. Jerry West told ESPN radio that he thinks the draft is “a poor one.” Gasp. And Danny Ainge predicted the draft is without “game changers.”
"I've been saying all along that the experts on ESPN and so forth are blowing this draft out of proportion,” Ainge said recently. He continued: “There are a lot of nice players and players that we'll be excited to work into the development, but they're not going to come in and turn our team around in one year or two years.”
That last part is less troubling than the rest of it. If you subscribe to the plan laid plain by Sam Hinkie and Brett Brown, you wouldn’t expect the Sixers to grab anyone in this draft that will immediately improve their fortune within the next season or two. Even if you believe that Wiggins, Parker, Embiid and others can be All-Star level players – and I do believe that – you still understand what Hinkie and Brown have said all along: that the rebuild will take three to five years. If not longer.
The rest of what Ainge (and West) said is more disconcerting. The notion that the draft is either poor (as West said) or merely made up of nice players (as Ainge said) is enough to make a Sixers fan weep. In lieu of wins and relevance, the Sixers sold hope this season. There is a certain entertainment value in that. It is the fantasy sports component – an invitation for the dreamers to play general manager in their minds and imagine a bright future with pieces that haven’t yet been added. It is why so many of us geek out on the process and the draft.
If this draft has been overinflated by those of us who keep pumping it up (guilty), then the Ainge/West/scout sentiment feels like the opposite end of the spectrum – a too-forceful pushback by the established old guard against the notion that this draft could actually be pretty good. After all, the 2003 draft might have been the last one that was universally hyped and fulfilled expectation. LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade went in the top five. Then again, so did Darko Milicic. So much for everyone knowing exactly what to expect.
Which reminds me: In 2007, Greg Oden went before Kevin Durant, while Yi Jianlian, Corey Brewer and Brandan Wright went before Joakim Noah. In 2008, Michael Beasley and O.J. Mayo went ahead of Russell Westbrook and Kevin Love. More infamously, that same year, Marreese Speights went before Roy Hibbert, Ryan Anderson, Serge Ibaka, Nicolas Batum, George Hill, Nikola Pekovic and DeAndre Jordan. The last two, by the way, went in the second round – as did Mario Chalmers, Omer Asik and Goran Dragic. That was a pretty good year, but I don't remember many people trumpeting it ahead of time. The idea that anyone, regardless of pedigree, knows precisely which players or which drafts will be good is silly.
In 2009, there wasn’t a ton of hype. That draft included Blake Griffin, James Harden, Steph Curry, Jrue Holiday and Ty Lawson. The next year, 2010, featured John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins, Greg Monroe, Paul George, Eric Bledsoe and Lance Stephenson (in the second round). Those were both pretty good classes.
This class feels like something closer to boom than bust. As one former NBA exec put it, there are several “top level players” that will “help any franchise.” Maybe that won't make it one of the best drafts in a decade, but it ought to be good enough for the Sixers' purposes.