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.

Jeremy Hellickson enjoyed his time with Phillies, now he'll look for free-agent riches

Jeremy Hellickson enjoyed his time with Phillies, now he'll look for free-agent riches

BOX SCORE

ATLANTA — Jeremy Hellickson made his final start of the season for the Phillies on Thursday night.

Now he becomes the team’s first big offseason decision.

Hellickson had long left the game with a sore right knee by the time struggling reliever Jeanmar Gomez was tagged for four runs in the bottom of the eighth inning in what ended up as a 5-2 loss to the Atlanta Braves (see Instant Replay). The Phillies were swept in their final trip to Turner Field — the Braves will move into a new ballpark in April — and have lost six of their last seven games heading into the final weekend of the season and a three-game series against the New York Mets at Citizens Bank Park.

“It’s a bad time to be in a rut and we’re in a rut,” manager Pete Mackanin said. “We’ve got to go home and snap out of it.”

Besides supporting his rotation mates, Hellickson won’t make any contributions this weekend. The 29-year-old right-hander, acquired in a November trade with Arizona, finished his season 12-10 in a career-high 32 starts. He tied a career high with 189 innings. His final ERA of 3.71 was his best since he recorded a 3.10 ERA in 31 starts for Tampa Bay in 2012.

Though he left the game in the fourth inning after tweaking his knee while running the bases (see story), Hellickson achieved his season goal.

“This isn’t anything that’s going to linger,” he said, looking down at his knee. “So I came out healthy. That was my main thing, try to throw 200 innings — I fell just short of that — and stay healthy. So as far as those two goals go, it was good.”

By staying healthy and pitching well, Hellickson built himself a nice free-agent platform. But before Hellickson heads out on the open market, the Phillies must make a decision: Do they offer him $17 million to retain him in 2017 or simply let him go. As a rebuilding team, the Phils would love to get a draft pick as compensation for Hellickson’s leaving. But to get that pick, they must make Hellickson that one-year qualifying offer and he must reject it and sign elsewhere. 

It seems likely that the Phils will make the offer to Hellickson. If he takes it, he will return in 2017 and fill the same veteran stabilizer role he did this season. If he rejects, the team will get a pick between the first and second rounds of next year’s draft. The value of that draft pick is significant and was seen as a reason the Phillies did not trade Hellickson in July.

Qualifying offers go out in early November, but general manager Matt Klentak isn’t ready to tip his hand on what he’ll do.

“Both are valuable,” he said, weighing Hellickson's returning on a one-year deal versus picking up a draft selection between the first and second rounds. “For the same reason Jeremy Hellickson was valuable to us this year, Jeremy Hellickson or a player like that could be valuable to us again next year. The draft pick at the end of the first round has a real, measurable, tangible value.”

After Thursday night’s game, Hellickson was asked if he believed he’d made his final start with the Phillies.

“I hope not,” he said. “But I don’t really know how to answer that. I would love to be back here next year. I think everyone knows how much I’ve enjoyed my time here and I think we’re moving in the right direction.”

The pitcher was pressed as to whether he could envision himself accepting the qualifying offer if the Phillies made one.

“Yeah, I mean I definitely could see it,” he said. “But …"

Hellickson paused. Then a reporter broke the silence by suggesting the pitcher would rather get a multi-year deal on the open market.

“Yeah, I would love that actually a little bit more,” he said.

The Phillies could look to strike a multi-year deal with Hellickson before he hits the open market five days after the World Series, but that does not appear to be in the club’s plans. The Phils seem to be interested mostly in short-term deals for veterans as they let their kids develop.

In time, this thing will play out.

But for now, the Phillies head home looking to stop a losing streak and scuttle the Mets’ postseason hopes.

Best of MLB: Cardinals top Reds on Molina's disputed double in 9th

Best of MLB: Cardinals top Reds on Molina's disputed double in 9th

ST. LOUIS -- Yadier Molina hit a disputed double that drove in the winning run with two outs in the ninth inning Thursday night, sending the St. Louis Cardinals over the Cincinnati Reds 4-3.

The Cardinals began the day one game behind San Francisco for the second NL wild-card spot.

Matt Carpenter drew a one-out walk from Blake Wood (6-5). With two outs, Molina's one-hop hit appeared to bounce off a sign above the left-field wall and carom back into play.

Carpenter kept running and scored from first. Reds manager Bryan Price ran after the umpires, who left the field as soon as Carpenter touched the plate.

Price later said umpire crew chief Bill Miller told him that teams have 10 seconds to appeal on a game-ending play, and that the complaint wasn't made in time.

"I'm not blaming the umpires. I'm blaming the system," Price said.

Molina and Jedd Gyorko hit solo homers for the Cardinals.

Seung Hwan Oh (6-3) wound up with the win (see full recap).

Jimenez delivers strong start, Orioles blank Blue Jays 4-0
TORONTO -- Ubaldo Jimenez and two relievers combined on a three-hitter and the Baltimore Orioles beat the Blue Jays 4-0 on Thursday night, moving into a tie with Toronto in the AL wild card race with three games remaining.

When he started at Toronto on June 12, Jimenez allowed five runs and six hits in 1/3 of an inning, the shortest start of his career.

The right-hander returned Thursday and carved up the Blue Jays. The only hit he allowed was Ezequiel Carrera's single to begin the first. Josh Donaldson followed with a walk but Jimenez retired the next six batters in order.

Devon Travis walked to open the third and advanced on Carrera's sacrifice, but that was the first of 11 consecutive outs for Jimenez, a streak that ended with Edwin Encarnacion's two-out walk in the sixth. Jose Bautista flied out to end the inning.

Jimenez (8-12) allowed one hit in 6 2/3 innings, improving to 3-1 with a 2.31 ERA in five September starts. He walked three and struck out five (see full recap).

Cubs, Pirates play to rare MLB tie
PITTSBURGH -- The Chicago Cubs and Pittsburgh Pirates played a rare major league tie on Thursday night when their game was called off due to rain with scores level at 1-all in the sixth inning.

With the Cubs and Pirates not scheduled to play again this season, officials decided the game would not be made up, since its outcome will not affect postseason positioning. Chicago long ago clinched the National League Central, while Pittsburgh is out of playoff reckoning, sitting third in that division.

So instead of becoming a suspended game, the match was declared a tie -- the first since Houston and Cincinnati went seven innings on June 30, 2005, before rain halted them.

Willson Contreras had two hits and scored for the NL Central champion Cubs, who have already clinched the best record in the majors. Josh Bell hit a sacrifice fly for the Pirates.

The game was called in the top of the sixth after a delay of 1 hour, 23 minutes.

Tim Federowicz hit a sacrifice fly in the Cubs second. Pittsburgh tied it in the third.

Cubs rookie Rob Zastryzny gave up one unearned run in 3 2/3 innings in his first major league start after beginning his career with seven relief appearances (see full recap).

Buxton doubles, triples in Twins' 7-6 victory over Royals
KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Byron Buxton tripled, doubled, drove in two runs and scored twice as the Minnesota Twins defeated the Kansas City Royals 7-6 on Thursday night.

After Salvador Perez's pinch-hit RBI single with two outs in the ninth pulled the Royals within a run, Terrance Gore ran for him. With Paulo Orlando, who had four hits to match his career high, hitting, Brandon Kintzler picked Gore off first base.

Gore was initially called safe, but after a 1 minute, 15 second review, the call was reversed to end the game.

Buxton's one-out double triggered a three-run ninth off Kelvin Herrera (2-6). Robbie Grossman, Miguel Sano and Max Kepler contributed run-scoring singles in the ninth.

The Twins won for the first time in 10 games this season at Kauffman Stadium (see full recap).