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.
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