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 MLB: Mets win in 10th on Yoenis Cespedes' walk-off HR

Best of MLB: Mets win in 10th on Yoenis Cespedes' walk-off HR

NEW YORK -- Yoenis Cespedes homered with two outs in the bottom of the 10th inning to give the New York Mets a 2-1 victory over the Miami Marlins in the first game of a pivotal series between National League playoff contenders Monday night.

Jose Reyes dashed home to score the tying run in the eighth on a dangerous collision at the plate, and the Mets pulled even with Miami for second place in the NL East. With its seventh victory in nine games, New York remained 2 1/2 games behind St. Louis for the league's second wild card.

It was an exhilarating win for the Mets, who appeared to be at a major disadvantage on the mound in the opener of a four-game set. New York was shut out for six innings by Marlins ace Jose Fernandez, but Mets starter Rafael Montero also put up zeros in his first major league start since April 2015 (see full recap).

Martinez's 13 K's, throwing error give Cards win
MILWAUKEE -- Stephen Piscotty scored on a throwing error in the ninth inning after Carlos Martinez struck out a career-high 13, leading the St. Louis Cardinals over the Milwaukee Brewers 6-5 on Monday night.

With two on and nobody out in the ninth, Yadier Molina dropped down a bunt. Reliever Tyler Thornburg (5-5) threw to third base for a force out, but Jonathan Villar's throw to first was wild, allowing Piscotty to score.

After Martinez held Milwaukee to one run over six innings, the Brewers scored four runs in the seventh to take a 5-3 lead. St. Louis tied it in the eighth on a two-run homer by Randal Grichuk off Corey Knebel.

Seung Hwan Oh pitched a perfect ninth for his 14th save. Miguel Socolovich (1-0) pitched 1 2/3 scoreless innings to pick up his first win.

Jedd Gyorko and Kolten Wong each hit solo home runs for the Cardinals (see full recap).

Royals keep rolling, take down Yankees
KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Dillon Gee kept the Royals' momentum going with six sharp innings, Alcides Escobar hit a three-run homer and Kansas City beat the New York Yankees 8-5 on Monday night to open their three-game set.

Gee (6-7) allowed only four hits and a run in the latest impressive start by the Royals' staff, helping the reigning World Series champions win for the 18th time in 22 games.

Lorenzo Cain, Kendrys Morales and Alex Gordon drove in runs off Michael Pineda (6-11) during a five-hit salvo in the first inning. Pineda then retired 15 straight before getting into a two-on, no-outs jam in the seventh that led to Escobar's homer off reliever Blake Parker.

Starlin Castro drove in two runs for the Yankees, the second in a four-run eighth inning that forced Kansas City manager Ned Yost to summon fill-in closer Kelvin Herrera (see full recap).

Jake Thompson tweaks delivery, offers ray of light on a dark night for Phillies

Jake Thompson tweaks delivery, offers ray of light on a dark night for Phillies

BOX SCORE

On the surface, this was not a very positive night at the ballpark for the Phillies. They had just four hits and lost, 4-0, to the Washington Nationals in front of the smallest crowd of the season – 16,056, announced – at Citizens Bank Park (see Instant Replay).
 
But lest we forget, this is a rebuilding season and in a rebuilding season the final score isn’t always paramount. So on an otherwise dark Monday night there was a ray of light for the Phillies.
 
Jake Thompson had the kind of start those who traded for him a year ago and those who watched him pitch this season in Triple A said he was capable of having.
 
“It was great to see,” manager Pete Mackanin said. “That’s just what he needed. He needed a real positive outing. I think this will do wonders for him down the road.”
 
Thompson held the NL East-leading Nationals to two runs over seven innings, his longest of five outings in the majors.
 
“He looked like the pitcher that was advertised,” Mackanin said.
 
Thompson’s first four outings in the majors were poor. He was tagged for 22 hits and 21 earned runs in 19 1/3 innings. He walked 13 and struck out 13. Those results were starkly different than his last 11 starts in Triple A. He went 8-0 in those 11 starts and recorded a 1.21 ERA while allowing just 10 earned runs in 74 1/3 innings. He gave up just 52 hits and 18 walks over that span while striking out 42.
 
After watching Thompson for four starts, pitching coach Bob McClure decided to suggest some delivery changes to the 22-year-old right-hander.
 
Players are often receptive to making adjustments when they are struggling. Thompson incorporated the changes McClure suggested and found success Monday night.
 
“We just tried to simplify his delivery so he could make better quality pitches,” McClure said.
 
In his old delivery, Thompson started off facing home plate. He pulled his arms over his head, turned and lifted his front leg before delivering the ball. McClure eliminated many of the moving parts. No more lifting the arms above the head. No more body turn. Thompson started his delivery with his body already turned, like a modified stretch. He simply lifted his leg, let his body go down the slope and fired. The new delivery slowed everything down for him. He looked poised, especially after the first couple of innings, and started attacking hitters with first-pitch strikes like a confident pitcher does.
 
Considering he only worked on the new delivery in two short bullpen sessions Saturday and Sunday in New York, Thompson was a pretty quick study.
 
“It was huge,” he said of the new delivery. “Just on the physical side of things, I’m in a better position to make pitches. I took away some moving parts to make it easier on myself.”
 
Thompson allowed seven hits, walked one and struck out three. All three strikeouts came in his final inning of work. He struck out leadoff man Trea Turner with two men on base with a slider to end the inning.
 
That’s another adjustment McClure made. He had Thompson stop throwing his curveball and focus on his fastball, slider, cutter and changeup.
 
Both of the runs that Thompson allowed came in the first inning on a solo homer by Jayson Werth and an RBI single by Anthony Rendon. After that, Thompson recorded six straight shutout innings. His teammates didn’t support him offensively. Washington right-hander Tanner Roark pitched seven shutout innings. He is 3-0 and has allowed just two runs in 28 innings in four starts against the Phils this season.
 
Thompson needed a start like this for a couple of reasons. First, if he had been pounded again, Phillies officials might have had to consider taking him out of the rotation just so his confidence didn’t get ruined.
 
And second, with Aaron Nola and Zach Eflin out with injuries, the team needed to know something was going right for one of the young pitchers being groomed for the future. Vince Velasquez, another young arm, had three poor outings before pitching well in New York on Sunday.
 
“This will help his confidence a lot,” McClure said.
 
McClure then offered a little glimpse into Thompson’s competitive character.
 
“He seemed pissed that he wasn't pitching well,” McClure said. “But he wasn't deflated. We felt like we should keep starting him because he didn't seem beaten. He seems like a tough kid mentally. We felt like once he started making better quality pitches, he'd get better results.”
 
It happened Monday, a ray of light on an otherwise dark night.

Instant Replay: Nationals 4, Phillies 0

Instant Replay: Nationals 4, Phillies 0

BOX SCORE

The Phillies were beaten, 4-0, by the Washington Nationals on Monday night, but wins and losses don’t matter as much as development in a rebuilding season, so there was a bright spot: Rookie right-hander Jake Thompson finally broke through with a good start in holding the Nats to two runs over seven innings.
 
The Phillies’ offense was not good. It produced just four hits on the night.
 
Washington got all the offense it needed when Jayson Werth, the second batter of the game, homered off Thompson in the first inning.

The Nats lead the NL East at 76-55. The Phils are 60-71.
 
The crowd of 16,056 was the smallest of the season at Citizens Bank Park.
 
Starting pitching report
Thompson had struggled in four starts — 9.78 ERA — since arriving from Triple A and there were questions whether he’d even make this start. But he put together a nice outing. After giving up two runs in the first inning, he pitched six straight scoreless innings, finishing his outing with three strikeouts, the last of which came on his 111th pitch when he froze Trea Turner with a breaking ball with two men on base. Thompson allowed seven hits — four in the first three innings — and walked one.
 
Washington right-hander Tanner Roark pitched seven shutout innings to improve to 14-7. He held the Phils to four hits and a walk and struck out five.

Roark is 3-0 with a 0.64 ERA (two earned runs in 28 innings) in four starts against the Phillies this season. The Nats are 15-4 in his last 19 starts.

Bullpen report
Frank Herrmann gave up two runs in the ninth.
 
At the plate
Odubel Herrera had two of the Phillies’ four hits.
 
Werth’s homer in the top of the first was his 19th. Anthony Rendon drove in a run with a two-out single in that inning. Clint Robinson and Turner had RBI singles in the ninth to push the Nats’ lead to 4-0.
 
ICYMI
Herrera is staying in center field for the remainder of the season, Pete Mackanin said (see story).
 
Up next
The series continues on Tuesday night. Jerad Eickhoff (9-12, 3.87) pitches against Washington right-hander Max Scherzer (14-7, 2.92).