As you may have heard, the 2009 NBA Draft is occuring tonight. As the Timberwolves man the phones trying to figure out what to do with their 27 first-round picks and Blake Griffin attempts to convince himself that he'll be the first high draft pick in Clippers franchise history not to turn out disastrously, the Sixers are indeed in the mix down at #17. With our shooter needs seemingly satiated by the recent trade for Jason Kapono, the priority turns to the two other roles currently not adequately filled on the team--a center and a point guard, with the latter currently being in far more plentiful supply.
So what do we do? Let's examine the options, in approximate order of likelihood:
The 2009 ACC Player of the Year is currently projected by ESPN draft guru Chad Ford as the pick that will fall to the Sixers, and I for one can think of worse things. Leading UNC to a #1 seed and stealing the spotlight from the victory tour that was Tyler Hansbrough's senior year, Lawson became a virtual phenom with his excellent play in the Tar Heels' NCAA championship run, despite a left ankle injury many thought would keep him out of the tourney altogether. He's basically the exact opposite of Andre Miller, a quick-footed, tenacious defender (over two steals a game last year) who can shoot the lights out from beyond (an astounding 47.2% last year). He can penetrate, he can distribute, and he can finish on the break, all without making too many mistakes (a stellar 3.5 assist/TO ratio). “I just think with the way I play, with Andre Iguodala, Thaddeus Young, I can be real good for this team,” Lawson has said. "I like to play fast paced and things like that. I think I’m a good fit for this team.”
So what's the downside? Well, he's on the small side at just 6'1", and some worry his style and lack of mid-range game might not translate well to the pros. Perhaps more pressingly, he might not get to #17, having impressed some in recent workouts and apparently drawing the interest of the Pacers (#13), Bucks (#10) and even the Knicks (#8). But I know I'm not alone on this board in saying that I'd be elated to have Lawson drop to us--he seems like just about everything that the Sixers need in a point right now.(He even has Thad's official endorsement).
Lawson's main competition in the draft--or perhaps just his primary back-up should he not be available--is Eric Maynor. The key phrase consistently thrown around when talking about Maynor is "NBA ready"--certainly a sexy phrase for a team like the Sixers that may be drafting a guy to take the keys on day one. Maynor averaged an impressive 22 points and six assists in his senior season, and his stock was also helped by his play in the NCAAs, as he nearly led an 11-seed VCU to a first-round upset of UCLA. He's quick like Lawson and has a good defensive rep, and is also more traditionally point guard-sized at 6'3". The knock on Maynor is that he's yet to really play against stellar competition in the Colonial Athletic Association, and that he might not be a pure knockdown shooter yet. Still, with the experience and the stats, you gotta like this choice pretty OK too.
Slightly more controversial on the draft boards is Wake Forest point Jeff Teague. Midway through the sason last year he was the best player on the best team in the country, leading Wake to a victory over UNC and a #1 national ranking, but he fizzled some since, and played poorly in the team's first-round upset at the hands of Cleveland State. He's more of a natural scorer than the other points the Sixers are looking at, but he did have a great offensive season last year (18.8 ppg, incuding 44% shooting from deep) amidst stellar ACC competition, and averaged a couple steals a game for his trouble as well. The Sixers worked him out, but needing more of a pure point and already having a shoot-first tweener option with Louis Williams, I'd have to think they'll only take him here if Lawson and Maynor are already off the board.
Perhaps the biggest enigma (from this country, anyway) in the draft this year, and a longshot selection for the Sixers, is B.J. Mullens of Ohio State. Before last season, he was considered to be as high a prospective pick as the #1 overall, but after a less-than-inspiring freshman season (8.8 ppg, 4.7 rebounds) he's dropped to more of the Sixers' range. Some scouts still love him for his height (7'1" with freaky long arms) and supreme raw athleticism, especially in a draft incredibly short on big men, but the knocks on him are many, as everything from his IQ to his defense to his work ethic have come into question. The Sixers seem more eager to draft a player that can help them now then to take on a multi-year project like Mullens, but if they're not thrilled wih any of the choices left at the point when it comes time to pick, it might be worth taking a gamble on Mullens as a potential center of the future.
Possible Sleeper Selections: Wayne Ellington (SG, UNC), Darren Collison (PG, UCLA), Austin Daye (SF, Gonzaga)
Would Be Great if They Somehow Fell To Us: Brandon Jennings (PG, Italy), Jrue Holiday (PG, UCLA), Jonny Flynn (PG, Syracuse)
Dream On: Tyreke Evans (SG, Memphis), Stephen Curry (PG, Davidson), Ricky Rubio (PG, Spain)
A note on possible trades before we go: Rumors have recently had the Sixers shipping Samuel Dalembert to Charlotte for Vlad Radmanovic, Nazr Mohammed and a swapping of picks (Charlotte's #12 for our #17) in a classic "I'll show you my lousy overpaid players if you show me yours" deal. It's not terribly attractive, but getting to #12 might be our only shot at getting Lawson, so I'd probably at least consider the deal if I was Ed Stefanski. A possible thought, though: Apparently Boston is losing patience with Rajon Rondo, and is willing to listen to offers for the elite point guard. Hey Danny--Thad Young and the #12 pick for Rondo? I know, I know, just a thought...