Thursday night, the Sixers selected three players in the 2021 NBA Draft: Tennessee guard Jaden Springer at #28, Serbian big man Filip Petrušev at #50, and Western Kentucky center Charles Bassey at #53. After the draft concluded the team also came to terms with undrafted Michigan State wing Aaron Henry on a two-way contract.
28: Jaden Springer
Springer is an 18-year-old physical combo guard who really gets after it on the defensive side of the ball. In my eyes, he is a top 3 perimeter defender in this class. At 6'4" and 202 pounds with a 6'8" wingspan, he has an NBA-ready frame, and one ideal for a modern combo guard. He has the physical profile to be an elite guard defender in the NBA, with a bit of switchability upwards due to his strength. He is incredibly disruptive on-ball and has excellent hands when going for steals. He is a very solid all-around athlete, posting a 41.5" vertical leap, one of the highest this season. Although he doesn't have break neck straight line speed, he's agile and fluid with his movements.
Although it's mostly still a work in progress on the offensive end, he's a strong finisher at the rim, converting 59.3% of his looks in close. He uses his strength to get by people that aren't as physical as him and can cut through the defense. He is going to have to become more diverse with his finishing packages, as almost everything he does is off of 2 feet, which makes things a lot more difficult than they need to be sometimes. The shooting stroke is going to need to come around, and a lot of that will come from confidence, which I don't think he had a ton of. He shot 43.5% from deep, but on less than two attempts per game and was hesitant to let them fly at times. Coming to a jump stop as a 2 foot finisher also allowed him to naturally get into position for mid-range pull-ups much easier. Still not great and the shot selection from this range is definitely off, but plenty of reason to be excited for growth here.
The area of Springer's overall game that is going to need the most polish will be as a playmaker. He is a poor ball handler, and that gets him into trouble when asked to create for himself. His kevel of nuance as a passer isn't great, but it's encouraging. He can hit big men with dump-offs and lobs or hit cutters when he's driving. He can operate basic pick and roll sets, but won't be a primary offensive initiator early in his career (2.4 turnovers per game). He lacks the feel to be a shot creator right now as he doesn't have enough elusiveness to his game to get defenders off balance or create a lot of separation, which led to a lot of settling for contested and ill-advised shots. Part of that will come as he begins to develop that handle, but when defenses took away his air space, he struggled to assert himself.
Although I do believe there were better picks for a team inside of their championship window, Springer was a solid value pick to make at 28. Guys like Deuce McBride (selected 36th), Ayo Dosunmu (38th) and Jared Butler (40th) would have all been much more immediate contributors in my opinion. But he still has great upside. Daryl Morey admitted that because his core of Embiid, Simmons and Harris are all still fairly young, he feels he can grab players like Springer because they keep that window of contention open a little bit longer. Still only 18 years old, he has good size, he's athletic, he has all-defense potential, and if he continues to work on his all-around offensive game, I think he can become a well above average starting NBA guard down the road.
My grade: B
50: Filip Petrušev
Petrušev is a very offensively talented big man with an inside-out game. At 6'11" and 235 pounds, he spent two years playing at Gonzaga, then went back overseas to Serbia to play with Mega Bemax and just was named MVP of the Adriatic League. Still only 21 years old, his game has continued to grow each and every season. I think I have to start by pointing out a three point percentage in the mid-40's? That's absurd for anyone, let alone a near 7-footer. In today's spacing-driven game, I think this will be his calling card. He can very easily become a potent pick-and-pop threat. And he's actually surprisingly nimble for his size, showing the ability to attack bad closeouts and rise up for the slam.
Because of his burst and being so quick off his feet, Petrušev was a very strong roller as well. European basketball is more post-centric than the NBA, but this is not one of his strong suits, as he isn't a bruising big man. And as you can imagine, the issues with his game come on the defensive side of the floor. His wingspan doesn't appear to be very long, and might be even with his height. He is not a strong rim protector, but has shown flashes of being half-decent one day. He should be used almost extensively in drop coverage, and will more than likely get picked on in switches.
It is already confirmed that Petrušev is a "draft-and-stash," so he will spend one more season playing in Serbia before joining the 76ers. But he brings in a new stretch 5 dynamic that the team hasn't really had since Mike Muscala (shudders). A big man that can legitimately space the floor really opens up an offense. Even with the defensive limitations, his skillset is in high demand. I honestly don't know what his career has in store for us at the NBA level.
My grade: B
53: Charles Bassey
Bassey is an athletic specimen that has long been destined to play in the NBA. At 6'10" and 230 pounds, he was a top high school recruit (ranked #6 by 247 Sports) who suffered a brutal knee injury as a sophomore at Western Kentucky that was seen as possibly career-jeopardizing. Nonetheless, he rehabbed, got back out there on the court and looked as good as he ever has. He was built for the modern NBA, as a mobile, rim-running, shot blocking big. His 3.1 blocks per contest was 4th best in the nation. As an explosive leaper with a 7'3" wingspan and a 9'0" standing reach, he projects to be a very strong rim protector at the next level.
Bassey's game isn't the most polished offensively, but it doesn't really need to be. He's an all-around explosive athlete that, if used properly as a roller and roamer, could wreak havoc in short spurts on a team with multiple scorers. He's quicker than the majority of centers even in the NBA, and can get easy points by running on the break. He's an elite offensive rebounder. Although I certainly would not like him to live out on the perimeter, adding just a respectable mid-range jumpshot can go a long way to deciding how effective he can be at the next level. He shot 76.8% from the free throw line in his three years at Western Kentucky, so I think there is reasonable room to grow here. He has a limited post repertoire and has proved capable, but this won't be where his value lies.
My only real complaint about the pick was that we went big man with essentially back to back picks. Along with Paul Reed and Petrušev, that's three people on that big man depth chart 22 or younger, all of which lay behind franchise cornerstone Joel Embiid. I love the player, and I love the long-term potential tied to him. Bassey possesses all of the necessary tools to become a real impact player one day. Swing for the fences on a guy who has had a little bit of an injury history, but has a ceiling that is remarkably high for this area of the draft (Clint Capela?). Big men are notoriously difficult to project.
My grade: A-
UDFA: Aaron Henry
Henry is a hard-nosed, defensive-minded wing. At 6'6" with a 6'11" wingspan, he is a staunch on-ball defender against pretty much all players 2-3, as well as a good amount of 1's and some small-ball 4's. That alone, in an era with defensive gameplans prioritizing switchability and versatility, should allow him to at least become a defensive specialist early on. He makes a handful of highlight worthy plays a game, and is a menace off-ball as well.
Henry has shown some early stages of a shot creation repertoire, looking more comfortable from the mid-range. With his athleticism, he is a dynamic slasher and cutter. And for a number of reasons, I think he is a better three point shooter than that percentage would indicate. As the primary offensive option for that Michigan State offense, he will certainly look better when asked to return to an off-ball role.
How the 21-year-old Henry went undrafted is so far beyond me. Daryl Morey did a great job scooping him up on a two-way contract just minutes after the 60th and final selection was made. He will more than likely spend the majority of the season down with the Blue Coats working on his craft. But he has serious diamond in the rough potential if he can develop even a semi-reliable offensive game.
My grade: A
It was obvious that the 76ers were prioritizing defensive minded players in this draft, as I believe they got not just one, but two of the top 5 perimeter defenders in this class (Springer and Henry), as well as one of the premier rim protectors (Bassey). This team had the second best defense in the NBA last season, and they're continuing to stockpile a handful of young players that defend really well, without really addressing their desire to add perimeter shot creators and scorers alongside Joel Embiid. The elephant in the room is standing there, but I won't address that right now. But I do believe that is an encouraging sign towards resolving the team's dilemma