In at least one way during Tuesday night’s NBA Draft Lottery, former Philadelphia 76ers general manager Sam Hinkie was vindicated.
As the drawing process of the lottery picks unfolded, the ping pong ball drama commenced when it was revealed that the Sacramento Kings’ original pick had vaulted into the top three selections. Due to the July 2015 trade that Hinkie struck with Kings general manager Vlade Divac, Philadelphia held the right to swap their pick with Sacramento’s.
And to the delight of the Sixers, Sacramento drew the right ping pong balls to win the third overall pick in the 2017 NBA Draft, sending that selection immediately over to Philadelphia.
On June 22, the Sixers will select third overall for the third time in four years — the lone other result being last year’s top overall selection. With difference-making talent already in the door in the form of Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons, and Dario Saric, Philadelphia can operate with a bit more flexibility during this version of their draft process as they look to land another cornerstone to their rebuilding franchise.
While Markelle Fultz and Lonzo Ball are expected to be the first two players off the board in June’s draft, the Sixers should be left with a handful of options that could make an immediate impact on the floor next season.
With that being said, here are the three best fits for Philadelphia’s third overall pick:
Josh Jackson, Kansas
Coming out of high school, Josh Jackson was regarded by Rivals as the best player in the country. A smooth blend of athleticism, length, a high-motor and defensive ability makes Jackson an extremely attractive option for the Sixers.
With plans to play Simmons at the point guard position, the wing talent on Philadelphia’s roster is severely lacking. Despite not having the most aesthetically pleasing shooting form, Jackson showed steady improvement throughout his lone year at Kansas to suggest he can be a legitimate scoring threat from the wing at the next level.
Over the course of his last 15 games in college, Jackson averaged 17.8 points per game, while shooting 48.9 percent from beyond the arc. Pairing his improving shot along with his already strong slashing game, Jackson could turn into a viable option for Simmons to pass to in a halfcourt offensive set, helping ease pressure off Embiid in the paint.
Jackson’s athleticism also fits perfectly with the Sixers’ up-tempo offense. Philadelphia finished with the fifth-highest pace in the NBA last season, and having an athlete of Jackson’s caliber to run up and down the court in transition with Simmons could be a headache for opposing defenses.
Along with his growing offensive game, Jackson’s defensive ability and tenacity is tantalizing to pair with the Sixers’ current core pieces. Jackson averaged 3.1 steals per-100-possessions during his freshman season.
A starting lineup that features Jackson (6-foot-8) at small forward, Robert Covington (6-foot-9) at shooting guard, Simmons (6-foot-10) at point guard, Saric (6-foot-10) at power forward, and Embiid (7-foot-2) at center would challenge for the tallest unit in the league. Size of that nature in today’s game would be an incredible mismatch at both ends of the court.
From his impact at both ends of the court, and with plenty of room to grow, Jackson would be a delightful two-way addition for the Sixers.
Jayson Tatum, Duke
After ranking in the bottom five of the NBA in scoring last season, it doesn’t take a professional scout to recognize that Philadelphia needs help getting the ball in the hoop.
Enter, Jayson Tatum.
At just 19 years old, the 6-foot-8 Tatum possesses an impressive array of offensive skills. From isolation moves to post work to shot-creating, there isn’t much Tatum can’t do with the ball in his hands. On a Duke team that featured established players and scorers like Grayson Allen and Luke Kennard, Tatum still managed to average 20.2 points per-40 minutes.
Boasting a true shooting percentage of 56.6, Tatum displayed growing efficiency as the year went on. Being able to insert a bonafide scorer like Tatum into the Sixers lineup would immediately be able to provide relief to Embiid in the paint.
With Simmons looking to facilitate the offense and Embiid drawing the attention of an opposing team’s entire frontcourt, Tatum will be awarded plenty of opportunities to take iso situations from the wing. Putting pressure on his defender in college worked in Tatum’s favor as well — he shot 84.9 percent from the free-throw line on nearly five attempts per game.
While Tatum may not possess the elite athleticism or defensive technique of someone like Jackson, he certainly is no slouch on that end of the ball. With a 6-foot-11 wingspan, Tatum has the length to be able to guard opposing wings at the next level, plus shift to the block to check a faction of stretch-power forwards. And just like with Jackson, Tatum’s size would allow the Sixers to put a player at least 6-foot-8 in every position on the court.
The Sixers need a guy who they can depend on to create their own shot and get a bucket in crucial moments. Tatum could very well be that guy.
De’Aaron Fox, Kentucky
Yes, the Sixers are on record saying that Simmons will serve as the team’s point guard next season, despite checking in at nearly seven feet tall.
However, what remains to be seen is who will guard the opposing team’s point guard, and who will accompany Simmons in the backcourt. At 6-foot-3, Fox could be Simmons’ running mate in the backcourt for years to come.
Despite struggling to shoot from long-range — Fox hit just 24.6 percent of this three-point attempts at Kentucky — the ultra-fast guard averaged 22.6 points per-40 minutes, facilitating the Wildcats’ offense with 6.2 assists per-40.
While not being the ideal shooter that may be desired to pair with Simmons in the backcourt, Fox possesses defensive prowess that can be focused on the opposing team’s lead guard. This was on clear display during the last NCAA Tournament, where Fox went head-to-head with projected top-two pick Ball. Fox outshined Ball, with a 39-point scoring performance while holding Ball to just 10 points.
Even though Fox isn’t considered to be a knockdown shooter, he did show improvement over the final 10 games of the season by shooting 42.9 percent from beyond the arc. If he can continue to improve his off-the-ball scoring abilities, pairing Fox with Simmons could wind up being one of the most versatile backcourts in the entire NBA.
Along with acting as a pairing option with Simmons, should the experiment to play the former No. 1 pick at point guard not pan out, Fox would act as a built-in backup plan. If the Sixers decide they want to draft a guard come June, their best bet at landing a potential star is with Fox.
With the opportunity to add another franchise-changing talent in this year’s draft, Philadelphia could quickly be on their way to a time when the draft lottery is no longer the most exciting night of their season.
NBA Daily: Checking In With Terrance Ferguson
Oklahoma City Thunder rookie Terrance Ferguson talks to Basketball Insiders about learning from his teammates, earning minutes and being mentally tough.
Before he reached the NBA, the Oklahoma City Thunder’s Terrance Ferguson was once often referred to as a man of mystery. After changing course on two different programs in a two-month span, Ferguson ditched the typical one-and-done collegiate season for an adventure on the other side of the planet. But even after the Thunder selected Ferguson with the No. 21 overall pick in last year’s draft — the questions still lingered. How would a teenager with one season overseas adjust to the world’s most physical basketball league?
Not many rookies can contribute to a 40-plus win squad out in the cutthroat Western Conference so quickly — but down the stretch, here Ferguson is doing just that. With the Thunder locked in a tight playoff battle with six others teams, the 19-year-old’s hard-working personality has fit alongside the roster’s three perennial All-Stars — Russell Westbrook, Paul George and Carmelo Anthony. And although his rookie season has come with some growing pains, Ferguson is earning meaningful minutes and making the most of them.
“I think it’s my work ethic, I come in every day with the same mentality,” Ferguson said. “I work my butt off — inside the game, being physical. Even though I’m a skinny guy, as everyone can see, I’m still everywhere on the floor being physical. I think [the coaching staff] really likes that, especially on the defensive end.”
Skinny or not, Ferguson is one of the league’s youngest players, so the 6-foot-7 guard has plenty of room to grow — literally. But for now, he’s playing an integral role on an Oklahoma City team looking to protect its high postseason seed. Late January brought the unfortunate season-ending injury to Andre Roberson — an All-Defensive Second Team honoree in 2016-17 — so the Thunder have needed both new and old players to step up in bigger roles.
While those candidates included the three-point shooting Alex Abrines, veteran Raymond Felton and the newly-acquired Corey Brewer, Ferguson’s recent rise in the rotation has arguably been the most interesting development. Since the calendar flipped to January, Ferguson has featured in almost all of the Thunder’s games, tallying just two DNP-CDs and one missed contest following a concussion. This steady diet of opportunity comes as a stark contrast to the 15 games in which he received no playing time, spanning from the season’s opening tip to the new year.
Of course, playing time is not always indicative of success, but Ferguson himself isn’t surprised that he’s carved out a crucial role ahead of the playoffs.
“Not really, it’s all up to coach’s decision,” Ferguson told Basketball Insiders. “I’m just here playing my part, staying ready at all times and some minutes came, so I’mma take them and play to the best of my ability.”
Back in October, Basketball Insiders’ own Joel Brigham spoke to Ferguson about his unconventional path to NBA and the choice to spend a year grinding with the Adelaide 36ers, an Australian outfit. In the land down under, Ferguson averaged just 15 minutes a night, considerably less than he would’ve likely received as a highly-recruited prospect here in America. Some five months later, Ferguson’s early-season stance on the move still stands out.
“I’m living the dream now, right? I must have done the right thing,” Ferguson said.
Today, it’s hard to disagree with Ferguson’s decisions considering that they’re currently paying off. In 2009, Brandon Jennings became the first to skip college and play in Europe before being drafted, with Emmanuel Mudiay most notably following in his footsteps six years later. While those two point guards both were selected in the top ten of their draft classes — at No. 10 and No. 7, respectively — it still remains the road far less traveled.
Considered raw by most pre-draft evaluations, an early expectation was that Ferguson would spend much of the season with the Oklahoma City Blue, the Thunder’s G-League affiliate. Instead, Ferguson has played in only three games with the Blue, where he has averaged a commendable 14.7 points, four rebounds and 1.3 steals per game.
But as of late, the Thunder have found somebody that’ll always work hard, learn from others and do the little things that don’t show up in the box score.
“I’ve learned a lot more from when I first started,” Ferguson told Basketball Insiders. “I got great teammates — I got Nick Collison, I got Russ, PG, Melo, so just picking their brains. I got Corey now, so just the work ethic they put in, just picking their brains each and every day about what I can do better, watching game film, it’s a lot of things.”
When he was drafted, Ferguson had a reputation as a skyscraping leaper with the athleticism to become an elite perimeter defender. Although his current averages with the Thunder understate his innate potential, Ferguson knows he can contribute without scoring — even noting that he can make up for it “on the other side of the court.” Playing defense and competing hard every night, he has slowly made a name for himself.
And while Ferguson has tallied far more single-digit scoring outings than his 24-point breakout performance in early January, he’s earned the trust of head coach Billy Donovan and his veteran teammates, which is something the rookie will never take for granted.
“Coach believes in me and that means a lot to me,” Ferguson said. “But my teammates believe in me, so I’m not gonna let them down. I’m gonna go out every day and play my hardest, compete and try to get the win each and every night.”
One might assume that his year abroad in Australia helped to mentally mold him into the high-flying, hard-nosed rookie we see today. Ferguson, however, contends that he’s had that edge from the very beginning.
“I’ve been mentally tough, it wasn’t overseas that did that,” Ferguson told Basketball Insiders. “I had to be mentally tough just to go over there — so I’ve always had that mentality, the [desire] to just dominate, play to the best of my ability and compete.”
And now he’s doing just that in the NBA.
Is Kyrie Irving’s Second Opinion a Cause for Concern?
Shane Rhodes breaks down the tough situation the Celtics are in with Kyrie Irving.
The Boston Celtics are in one awful predicament.
With a third of the roster out due to injury, Brad Stevens has been forced into the impossible task of maintaining Boston’s championship aspirations with some subpar talent; while they have performed admirably, the likes of Abdel Nader and Semi Ojeleye wouldn’t see the same run they are currently on with most contenders. Gordon Hayward has missed the entire season, save a few minutes on opening night. Kyrie Irving, Jaylen Brown, Marcus Smart and Daniel Theis are all currently out, some for the year and others not. Key contributors Al Horford, Marcus Morris and others have missed time as well.
It couldn’t get worse, could it?
Well, it may just have. Reports surfaced Tuesday that Irving, who had missed time this season — including the last four games — with left knee soreness, is seeking a second opinion after a lack of progress in his recovery.
My understanding is that Kyrie Irving is getting a 2nd opinion on his left knee, perhaps as soon as tomorrow. Bottom line: he needs the screws out. Knee is flaring up. He will either play thru it going forward or … he will get thee screws out and won’t play at all. Stay tuned.
— Tony Massarotti (@TonyMassarotti) March 20, 2018
With lack of progress on his ailing left knee, Celtics All-Star Kyrie Irving plans to travel for a second opinion later this week, league sources tell Yahoo.
— Shams Charania (@ShamsCharania) March 20, 2018
In the wake of the Isaiah Thomas fiasco and his ailing hip last Summer, an injury that lingered deep into this season, the Celtics will likely be more than cautious with Irving, whom they gave up a haul (the rights to the 2018 Brooklyn Nets first round pick, most notably), to acquire. But one can only wonder if these persistent issues — Irving’s left knee was surgically repaired after he sustained a fractured kneecap in 2015, and he reportedly threatened the Cleveland Cavaliers with surgery this offseason before his trade to Boston — are a cause for concern for general manager Danny Ainge and the Celtics.
The situation presents the Celtics with a quandary, to say the least.
Knee injuries aren’t exactly a death-knell, but fans need not look far for to see the devastating effect they can have on NBA players (e.g. Derrick Rose). They can snowball and, over time, even the best players will break down. Regardless of the severity, Irving’s knee issue presents problems both now and in the future.
The problems now are obvious: the Celtics, already down Gordon Hayward, cannot afford to lose Irving if they are at all interested in making a Finals run this season. Boston struggles mightily on the offensive end when Irving and his 24.4 points, 3.8 rebounds and 5.1 assists aren’t on the court. In a playoff atmosphere, especially, the team would sorely miss his scoring prowess.
Looking ahead, if Irving is dealing with these problems at the age of 25, what could the future hold for the All-Star guard? Knee issues, most lower body issues in general, are often of the chronic variety, and constant maintenance can wear on people, both mentally and physically.
Just a season separated from a likely super-max payday, will the Celtics want to commit big-money long-term to potentially damaged goods?
If there is a silver lining in it all, it is the fact that 20-year-old rookie Jayson Tatum must now shoulder the scoring load, something that should go a long way in building on the potential that made him the No. 3 overall pick last June. And, should Irving miss the remainder of this season, exposure to the fires of the playoffs should only temper the Celtics’ young roster. In the event that Irving’s absence isn’t prolonged, time like this could only serve to strengthen the roster around him.
Still, Ainge brought Irving to Boston for a reason: he was meant to lead the Celtics into battle, alongside Gordon Hayward and Al Horford, in their quest for a title. Obviously, he can’t do that from the bench. Without Irving at 100 percent, the Celtics are not a championship caliber squad, healthy Gordon Hayward or not. That fact alone will make Irving’s situation one to monitor going forward and for the foreseeable future.
NBA Daily: Houston Has It All
Deciphering whether Houston is a contender or pretender is tough, but they’re making it easy.
It is very easy to get caught up in the NBA regular-season hyperbole. The past is littered with a plethora of NBA teams that looked like world-beaters in the regular season only to pull up lame in the playoffs and emerge as a bunch of pretenders.
So when it comes to the Houston Rockets, it’s no surprise many pundits and fans of the game fall heavily on one side or the other. The 2017-18 Rockets are a polarizing squad in that respect. On one side of the fence, you have the folks that are struggling to get behind Houston until they see how the franchise performs in the playoffs under the brightest of lights and on the biggest of stages. On the other, folks that place a great deal of weight on the 82-game regular season and the ability to sustain consistency throughout the marathon.
As always, the truth is somewhere in the middle.
At the top of Houston’s lineup are two future Hall of Famers in James Harden and Chris Paul. The latter was a perennial star in his heyday and is still a top-tier talent in the league. Harden, on the other hand, is closing in on his first MVP award and had serious cases for winning the honors in prior seasons, as well. Both Harden and Paul are criticized for their past playoff failures.
Paul entered the league during the 2006 season and has been dogged by the ever looming fact that he’s never reached a Conference Finals. Harden has been to the NBA Finals but has been dogged for multiple playoff missteps and shaky performances that remain etched in everyone’s memory. But something about this season’s Rockets team (57-14) seems different as the duo closes in on 60 wins.
One way to measure the true greatness of a NBA team is evaluating how many ways the roster can win playing a variety of styles. From the eyeball test, Houston checks the boxes in this category. The team sustains leads during blowouts. They have an offense built to erase large deficits quickly. The team possesses the talent to employ an array of versatile lineups to withstand top heat from opposing teams. Head coach Mike D’Antoni has shown the ability to adjust on the fly during certain situations. Houston is seemingly comprised of a bunch of guys that are selfless and ready to sacrifice at this stage of their respective careers.
Time will tell on all of those aforementioned aspects, but the Rockets are built to compete and win now. On paper at least, the team fits the criteria.
Paul has a chance to go down as a top five point guard in NBA history .His court vision is unquestioned and his big men always seem to end up being in the top five of field goal percentage each season (i.e. Tyson Chandler, DeAndre Jordan and now Clint Capela). In years past, the Rockets faltered down the stretch of games because the entire system ran through Harden. But this year’s club has the luxury of taking some of the on-ball expectation away from Harden and by giving the rock to Paul who naturally thrives in this role the squad doesn’t take a step back on the floor.
This is going to be big for Houston which has seen Harden gassed late in playoff games from carrying the entire load.
Small Ball Ready
Presumably standing between the Rockets and an appearance in the NBA Finals are the Golden State Warriors. The Warriors turned the NBA upside down with their free-flowing offense, long range accuracy and the successful ability to push the pace while playing small ball.
At the height of Golden State’s success they employed the “death lineup” which places All-Star forward Draymond Green at center. In different variations this gives the Warriors five guys on the court who can dribble, drive, pass and shoot. Versatility is important and if you look at this year’s Rockets team they have the ability to match the death lineup with their own version. Veteran forward P.J. Tucker would be able to guard Green in this scenario at center or Houston could just rely on the athleticism of Capela.
When it comes to defense, the Rockets will never be confused for the bad boy Detroit Pistons of yesteryear, however, the team has an assortment of individually capable defenders on the roster. Paul has all defensive team honors hanging on his mantle during his time in the league. Small forward Trevor Ariza made his bones in the league by placing an emphasis on defense. Before Capela emerged as a double-digit scorer, he was relied on as a defensive spark off the bench. Luc Mbah a Moute has a reputation and consistent track record of being a very willing defender.
Shooting, Versatility and Experience
All of this success, leads to the variation D’Antoni can put out onto the floor. The versatility to go with a small ball lineup or a lineup heavily skewed toward defenders is a luxury amenity. Houston also features five guys with 125 or more three-pointers made this season with Harden, Eric Gordon, Ariza, Paul and Ryan Anderson leading the way. A sixth, Tucker, should join the +100 club before season’s end. Veteran Gerald Green has only played 30 games with the franchise but has already knocked down 76 attempts from distance.
Experience is key as well. This year’s Rockets team features only one player under 25, receiving 25 or more minutes per night in the rotation. Look at NBA history, title winning teams are full of veterans not second or third year players.
Again, the Rockets will never be confused with the late 80s or early 90s Pistons but the team has more than a few guys that don’t shy away from contact or physical play. The collection of Nene, Tucker, Green and Ariza have had more than their share of shoving matches when things get heated on the floor.
With the start of the NBA playoffs (April 14) under a month away, the Rockets continue to build momentum toward a title run. Will Harden and Paul’s playoff demons from the past emerge or is their first true shot at greatness with a complete team? These questions will soon be answered.