Ten Biggest Questions of the Sixers' Off-Season: #3. Who Are We Gonna Draft?

Ten Biggest Questions of the Sixers' Off-Season: #3. Who Are We Gonna Draft?

Like most basketball fans who have firmly prioritized the pros over the college game, I really shouldn't be pretending to have any idea about who the Sixers should be picking with the #11 pick in the upcoming draft. But it's too big a moment in the franchise's off-season to have absolutely no opinion about, so I've been doing my part reading up on the guys projected to go about in the Sixers' range, deciding who I like and who I don't based on my somewhat arbitrary gut feelings about the type of draft prospects that pan out (and in a couple rare cases, my impressions of the players I actually saw a game or two of in the NCAAs).

Anyway, I'll try to keep my irrelevant personal commentary here to a minimum, and just go over the likely suspects who I think the team will be eyeing come draft night. First, though, let's get some fringe dudes out of the way.

[10 Biggest Questions: 10. What are we now and where are we going? | 9. Is Thad Young untouchable? | 8. Is Spencer Hawes good enough for our starting Center? | 7. Are any of our mid-level FAs worth re-signing? | 6. What players are worth trading for? | 5. Free agent targets? | 4. What to do with Evan Turner?]

Good Fits, But Out of Our League: Victor Oladipo (SG, Indiana), Alex Len (C, Maryland), Ben McLemore (SG, Kansas), Otto Porter (SF, Georgetown)

Sure would be nice to get one of these guys, but all are all-but-guaranteed to be off the board by the time the Sixers get around to picking. I had my eye set on Len, the athletic seven-footer, from the beginning of the season--mostly because I happened to catch a Maryland-Kentucky game that he dominated in a fluky awesome performance--and was pumped that he was originally pegged to go in the mid-to-late lottery, where Philly was primed to be picking. But his stock rose a little at year's end, and the Sixers' draft slot slid a little, and now the two are unlikely to be matched.

Good Fits, But Probably Too Much of a Reach: Kelly Olynyk (C, Gonzaga), Shane Larkin (PG, Miami), Gorgui Dieng (C, Louisville), Allen Crabbe (SG, California)

Some mocks have Olynyk, the skilled seven-footer with the wavy hair, going to Philly, but it's hard for me to see him being the best available big left at #11. Dieng I have a sneaking feeling is going to be one of the steals of the draft--at least at first, since he's likely to be able to contribute early in his career, especially on defense--but he's probably a little too old already (23) and a little too offensively limited to go as high as the Sixers are picking. And as much as we can use a backup point guard (as Larkin will likely be), if that's the best we're doing with the #11 pick, that's not so good, Al.

The Actual Candidates:

Cody Zeller (PF/C, Indiana)

If you've heard one name in conjunction with the Sixers in anticipation of this draft, it's probably that of Zeller, the much-hyped big man with the good scoring touch and high basketball IQ out of Indiana. Zeller underwhelmed some in his sophomore year, eventually being overtaken both in draft stock and on-court importance/leadership by his teammate Oladipo, but his freakish measurements at the recent draft combine have done much to make up for that slippage--in fact, I wouldn't be surprised at this point if some upside-starved team in the top ten took their chances with Zeller before the Sixers even got the chance to make a judgment.

In any event, ESPN mock draft guru Chad Ford still has the Sixers taking the Indiana big man, who may now be trying to sell himself more as a stretch four than as a center. Whether that hurts or helps his standing with the Sixers depends on what else the team is planning on doing about their current big man situation, which is still something of a mystery.

Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (SG, Georgia)

As one of the few obvious two-way two-guards available in this draft, Caldwell-Pope has steadily risen up the draft boards after a solid sophomore year on a crappy Georgia team. Billed as a pure shooter with a deadly stroke, he'd certainly be an asset to a Sixer team still looking for a young player who fits that description to grow alongside Jrue Holiday in the backcourt (unless not working on his three-point stroke again this summer improbably turns Evan Turner into Reggie Miller--always a possibility).

He's a little unproven and he doesn't have a terribly complete game yet, but if Sam Hinkie is looking for reliable elite skills in his #11 pick, it seems that Caldwell-Pope's outside shooting--he finished second in the SEC in threes made, and first in percentage--would be that elite skill.

Steven Adams (C, Pittsburgh)

Another guy who's helped himself immeasurably through the combine, impressing in both measurements and interviews, which has the seven-footer Adams pegged as a likely lottery pick despite his superficial numbers his only season at Pitt (7.2 PPG, 6.3 RPG) being pretty unimpressive. The intangibles seem to be there, as does the toughness, but the polish is sorely lacking--"Looks completely lost on offense" is how Ford puts it in his analysis card for the center, which, yeah. But Adams is still only 19, turning 20 in July, and could be a kind of rawer version of Alex Len if Len is, as most predict, already off the board when Philly picks, with similar long-term potential.

Dario Saric (SF, Croatia)

Saric is maybe the biggest X factor in this year's draft, a foreign prospect thought to have about as much potential as anyone in the draft, as a small forward with extraordinary passing and ball-handling ability who idolizes Magic Johnson. However, his athleticism is something of a question mark, and scouts have only seen him playing against international competition (if they've seen him at all), with the Croatian playoffs pre-empting a possible visit to the States for the combine. He'd be an odd positional fit for the Sixers, but moreso, if Hinkie is planning on taking the long approach with rebuilding the Sixers, grabbing and developing an intriguing talent like Saric could be the best-percentage play.

Rudy Gobert (PF, France)

You can't teach height, and you definitely can't teach length, and Gobert certainly has both of those in spades--7'2" and 9'7", respectively. Gobert would likely be the Sixers' best shot-blocker and rebounder since the departed Samuel Dalembert, but he may have a couple of Sammy D's less-desirable qualities as well, lacking strength, finesse and possibly even athleticism. As Hasheem Thabeet has taught three NBA teams and counting, height and length only takes you so far--eventually, you have to actually do stuff on the basketball court.

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My mostly uninformed take is that I'd rather stay away from Gobert and Zeller (who majorly no-showed in a couple big games too many at Indiana when he should have already been dominating for me to feel comfortable about his pro prospects), and that I'd be cool with Adams and Kentavious-Pope, though Saric is the one that tickles my fancy the most, if only because there's never anything more tantalizing than the totally unknown.

I think we'll find out a lot about Hinkie's plans for the team with how he selects here, whether he picks to plug an immediate need, snatches the best player available regardless of position, takes a longshot on an unknown, or even deals up or down in the draft to get to a slot where he can find better value. Whoever we get might not have a huge impact on the Sixers' next season, but he could be the first piece of a much bigger puzzle.

Best of NBA: Wall, Wizards top Knicks for 4th straight win

Best of NBA: Wall, Wizards top Knicks for 4th straight win

NEW YORK -- John Wall had 29 points and 13 assists, scoring Washington's final four points in the last 32 seconds as the surging Wizards beat the New York Knicks 113-110 on Thursday night.

Otto Porter Jr. made six 3-pointers for the second straight night and added 23 points, but the Wizards needed big plays from Wall down the stretch to win their fourth in a row.

He made two free throws to put Washington back on top after New York had rallied to take a 110-109 lead, then rebounded Carmelo Anthony's miss and left all the Knicks in his dust as he raced down the floor for a dunk with 13.7 seconds to play.

Anthony finished with 34 points but Wall stole the ball from Brandon Jennings to prevent the Knicks from attempting a 3-pointer that could have tied it (see full recap).

Leonard scores 34 to lead Spurs over Nuggets
SAN ANTONIO -- Kawhi Leonard scored 34 points, rookie Dejounte Murray added a season-high 24 and the San Antonio Spurs overcame a pregame injury to Pau Gasol in beating the Denver Nuggets 118-104 on Thursday night.

Denver's three-game winning streak was snapped despite a career-high 35 points from Nikola Jokic.

Leonard had his fifth straight 30-point performance, right after learning he will start for the Western Conference in the All-Star Game for the second consecutive season.

The Spurs were unexpectedly without Gasol, Tony Parker and then coach Gregg Popovich. Gasol and Parker were both late scratches due to injury, and Popovich was ejected for the first time this season.

Gasol broke the ring finger on his left (non-shooting) hand by jamming it against Kyle Anderson's shoulder during pregame warmups while attempting a running hook. The 16-year veteran center immediately clutched his hand and left the court.

X-rays revealed the break, and the Spurs said there is no timeline for Gasol's return.

Irving, James lead Cavs over Suns
CLEVELAND -- Kyrie Irving scored 26 points, All-Star teammate LeBron James had 21 points and 15 assists, and the Cleveland Cavaliers looked more like themselves at home in a 118-103 win over the Phoenix Suns on Thursday night.

The Cavs were back in Quicken Loans Arena following a six-game road trip (their longest of the season) that concluded with an embarrassing 35-point loss at Golden State. But on their home floor, they had better offensive balance and ball movement while improving to 30-11 -- the same record Cleveland had at the halfway point of its 2016 NBA championship season.

Channing Frye scored 18, Iman Shumpert 17 and James Jones 14 while filling in for star forward Kevin Love, still bothered by back spasms.

Tyson Chandler had 22 points and 16 rebounds, but the Suns lost for the fourth time in five games (see full recap).

Best of NHL: Surging Capitals rock Blues in St. Louis

Best of NHL: Surging Capitals rock Blues in St. Louis

ST. LOUIS -- Andre Burakovsky, T.J. Oshie and Evgeny Kuznetsov each had a goal and an assist to lead the Washington Capitals to a 7-3 victory over the St. Louis Blues on Thursday night.

Jay beagle, Brett Connolly, Marcus Johansson and Justin Williams also scored, and Alex Ovechkin and Daniel Winnik each had two assists to help Washington earn at least a point in its 12th straight game (10-0-2) for an NHL-best 66 points.

Braden Holtby bounced back from his roughest outing of the season with 22 saves. Holtby was pulled after giving up a season-high five goals on 26 shots in an 8-7 overtime loss at Pittsburgh on Monday. He improved to 22-8-4 and 5-0 lifetime against St. Louis (see full recap).

Grabner scores 2 goals, Rangers top Leafs
TORONTO -- Michael Grabner scored two goals against his former team, helping the New York Rangers snap a three-game losing streak with a 5-2 victory over the Toronto Maple Leafs on Thursday night.

Pavel Buchnevich, Brady Skjei and J.T. Miller added goals for New York, and Henrik Lundqvist made 23 saves following a series of rough outings.

Tyler Bozak and Zach Hyman scored for Toronto, which had a three-game winning streak stopped. The Maple Leafs had earned 21 of a possible 26 points in their previous 13 games (10-2-1). Frederik Andersen gave up four goals on 40 shots (see full recap).

Tavares leads Islanders to shutout of Stars
NEW YORK -- Getting a new coach this week didn't change things much for the Islanders -- and oddly enough, that's a good thing for New York.

John Tavares narrowly missed out on his second hat trick in a week, Thomas Greiss got his second straight shutout and the Islanders beat the Dallas Stars 3-0 on Thursday night in their first game since firing longtime coach Jack Capuano.

New York canned Capuano in the middle of his seventh season Tuesday, replacing him on an interim basis with Doug Weight (see full recap).

Niederreiter, Wild dodge letdown, edge Coyotes
ST. PAUL, Minn. -- Nino Niederreiter had two power-play goals and an assist, including the go-ahead score for the Minnesota Wild with 7:06 remaining in a 4-3 victory over Arizona on Thursday night after the Coyotes came back from a two-goal deficit.

With Shane Doan in the penalty box for hooking, Niederreiter knocked in a nifty redirect of Mikael Granlund's slap shot for the winner. Devan Dubnyk stopped 20 shots for the Wild, who are 18-2-2 in their last 22 games.

Louis Domingue made 21 saves for the Coyotes, who lost their fourth in a row and fell to 2-12-1 in their last 15 games starting with a 4-1 loss to Minnesota in Arizona on Dec. 17 (see full recap).