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.
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.