Sixers fans were told exactly what they wanted to hear yesterday with the new draft workout roundup from ESPN's draft guru Chad
Ford, who was privileged to attend workout sessions by the year's likely top three selections: Joel Embiid, Andrew Wiggins and Jabari Parker. Amazingly, all three appear to have helped their draft stock with their performances--Embiid looked healthy and measured well, Wiggins had improved his fundamentals and appeared more explosive than ever, and Parker dismissed notions that he was overweight by showing up in good shape and going harder in the workout than anyone Ford had seen since Damian Lillard.
"All three players are worthy of the No. 1 pick in the draft," concludes Ford at the column's end. "It seems there will be no losers on draft night."
This is all pretty nice for the Sixers, especially if primary target Wiggins ends up falling to them at #3. (Ford now views this as a distinct possibility, saying that one source told him that it's between Parker and Embiid for Cleveland at #1, and that he thinks Wiggins isn't in Milwaukee's top two a spot later.) It seems like no matter what happens, all three teams in the draft's top tier should be walking away with an All-Star caliber player they can build their team around for the rest of the 2010s.
Sounds cool. But in the NBA, things don't usually turn out like that.
If you look back at the last 20 or so years of draft history, focusing on just the top threes, there's almost always at least one selection that stands out as a disappointment of some degree. It's exceedingly rare that all three players pan out the way the teams that originally drafted them hoped. In fact, this millennium, we've yet to have a single top three that produced three All-Stars--you have to go back to '99 with Elton Brand, Steve Francis and Baron Davis for that, and of those three, Davis was the only one who made the All-Star squad with the team that originally drafted him. ('94, with Glenn Robinson, Jason Kidd and Grant Hill, was the last time all three players made All-Star with their original club, and even then, behind-the-scenes turmoil with the Mavs forced Kidd to be traded the next summer.)
For whatever reason, it's just hard for teams to go three-for-three up top. You had Blake Griffin and James Harden go #1 and #3 in 2009, but in between them was Hasheem Thabeet. 2008 produced the best class in recent memory, including Derrick Rose, Kevin Love and Russell Westbrook, but Michael Beasley and O.J. Mayo still dragged down the average at #2 and #3. Kevin Durant and Al Horford both became franchise players from 2007, but the man drafted above them, Greg Oden, barely cracked triple-digits in games played. Four future Hall-of-Famers went in the top five in 2003, but loitering in their midst at #2 was Darko Milicic. And our old friend Kwame Brown went first overall ahead of Tyson Chandler and Pau Gasol in 2001.
There's probably some logical reasoning of mathematical variance as to why this has so long been the case, but the simpler explanation is just that there's just very, very few sure things in the draft, often not a single one in a year, and never as many as three. Nobody picking in the top three thinks that their guy is gonna be the guy who busts or underwhelms, but every year, there's a player who ends up struggling to adjust to the pro level, or who gets hurt early in his career, or who never matures and develops as a player and/or person, or who just wasn't really ever as good as the team who drafted him hoped he would be.
And so this year, we have Joel Embiid, Andrew Wiggins and Jabari Parker. From these workout reports, from what we've seen of them in college, and what we hope to see of them in the pros, right now we're feeling like we can't miss with any of them. But time and time again throughout the history of pro basketball, we've been shown that one of the top guys always ends up disappointing, and this year is not likely to be an exception.
Maybe Embiid's back will flare up early in his pro career, and he'll end up suffering through an Oden-like injury history that leaves him unable to ever be a real contributor of any importance on the NBA level. Maybe Wiggins will turn out to be the next Marvin Williams (#2, 2005), seemingly gifted with the body and all the skills needed to reach NBA stardom, but never figuring out (or caring enough to figure out) how to maximize them to reach his highest ceiling. Maybe Parker will be the reincarnation of our dearly departed Evan Turner (#2, 2010), an extremely talented offensive player in college who just can't figure out how to translate his game to be similarly effective in the pros.
There's obvious precedent for all of them, enough to scare Sixers fans into wondering if putting all our eggs in the lottery basket was really even the way to go in the first place. But that's just how the draft works, and Sam Hinkie is probably more acutely aware of this than anyone. All he can do is put the maximum amount of research into all three players--as well as potential reach candidates like Dante Exum, Noah Vonleh and Aaron Gordon--and minimize his chances that the player he takes is the one of the three who never reaches his potential with the team that drafted him.
The truth of the situation is that Ford is basically right: There will be no losers on draft night. Every team in the top three will walk away with a player that they have cause to be very excited about adding to their team. The loser will come three or four years from now, when one of those players has, in all likelihood, gotten badly injured, or failed to improve their numbers from their rookie campaign, or feuded with their coach and teammates and implicitly or explicitly demanded a trade. We hope it won't be us with our guy, but we won't know until then, and we definitely won't know on June 27th.