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Six (Very Early) Possible 76ers Draft Day Targets

The college season is officially in the books, and as the NBA's regular season begins to wind down, most of the playoff picture has already been painted. While a good chunk of teams are hoping to earn a postseason berth or gearing up for a title run, there are some whose excitement is re-directed to how the ping pong balls will fall on June 22, the day of the NBA Draft Lottery. The 76ers will be entering the offseason with two total picks in this year's draft: their own first round pick, as well as the New York Knicks' second round pick. But that may very well change, as president of basketball operations, Daryl Morey has shown in the past that he's more than willing to cough up draft capital to enhance a championship-caliber roster. The Sixers have been either first or second in the eastern conference for the entire season, so it's fair to expect that pick to fall somewhere between 26-30. And at the moment, the Knicks are a low playoff team, so we should expect their pick to land somewhere in the mid- to late-40's. And to be clear, not all of these guys are people I think the Sixers should draft. I'm just covering the bases of anyone they could end up selecting.

Greg Brown - PF - Texas

Greg Brown entered Texas as one of his high school classes' highest recruits. Standing at 6'9" with a slim 205-pound frame, he can play either forward position, and maybe even some small-ball center in time, and moves exceptionally well for someone his size and position. He showcased his freak athleticism, shot-blocking, and some ability to stretch the floor. His highlights look awesome, but they don't paint the whole picture. After one lone season with the Longhorns, the 19 year-old has declared for the 2021 NBA Draft. I think Brown is a better shooter than this three point percentage would indicate. He's a viable pick-and-pop option, he's got good range, good mechanics, and is certainly not short on confidence. In his first four games, he shot 1/15 from three. Since then, he was 29/76 (38.2%). The shot selection was iffy at times, and someone with his athletic capabilities should not settle for as many perimeter shots as he does (.472 3PA rate). He is an explosive finisher, who tries to turn everything over and punch it on the defense. That looks great for the highlights, but when he can't do that, he has mixed results. He lacks a level of touch around the basket, which is a big reason why his FG% is as low as it is. He isn't strong enough right now to be an interior force or spend most of his time down there. Assists aren't a super-telling stat for players who aren't inherently asked to be playmakers, but the fact that Brown only accumulated 10 assists in 26 games is quite hard to believe, especially when you factor in that he turned the ball over 60 times in comparison. Another huge red flag was just how many fouls he commits. For someone that barely played 20 minutes a night, he committed just shy of 3 fouls a game as well. His lack of discipline put him in some bad spots, which again points to not having a great feel for the game at this point in time. He was phased out of the rotation down the stretch of the Longhorns' season. In their lone NCAA tournament matchup with Abilene Christian, he played only 6 minutes. I do not believe Brown is NBA-ready, and I think it was an ill-advised decision for him to leave college after just one season. His game is still so raw, and staying back in school for at least one more year would allow him to continue to polish his game and improve his draft stock for next year. If drafted by the Sixers with their first round pick, I think he would spend most of his time in the G-League, which is not ideal for a team that is contending for a title. But his fit here long-term is enticing. If he can pack some more weight on and he's given the time to develop his talents and get a better feel for the NBA game, he could morph into a small-ball stretch five playing alongside Ben Simmons. He could also be much more than that. But he could also be just another athletic forward who didn't tap into his potential, someone like Marquese Chriss. He's your classic boom-or-bust prospect. I'm a believer in him long-term, but I don't think this would be the best place for him. NBA comparison: Aaron Gordon <><><><><><>

Bennedict Mathurin - SG - Arizona

Bennedict Mathurin has been rising up draft boards all season long thanks to his shooting, athleticism and size at the wing position, measuring in at 6'7" and 195 pounds. Ranked 128th in the 2020 high school class according to 247 Sports, the Pac-12 all-freshman has performed admirably at Arizona, turning the heads of scouts everywhere, and drawing first round consideration in the upcoming draft. Mathurin's most intriguing skill would have to be his shooting, which is something we never would have said just a year ago. His jump-shot was his biggest weakness in high school, but you'd never guess that by watching him play. It became arguably his biggest strength as a college player. He wasn't asked to be a volume scorer or shooter, but his 3.5 three point attempts per game actually made up just under half of his total shot attempts. Arizona coach Sean Miller said "he's put in a lot of time with our staff...It wouldn't surprise me if, when he leaves us, that he doesn't go on to be a long-term really good 3-point shooter." His shot creation repertoire is limited right now, but given the rapid improvement with his shooting stroke, there's certainly plenty of reason to expect some growth here. Because of his quick burst and good hops, Mathurin also continued to impress as a slasher. He's athletic enough to blow by his defender, can attack bad closeouts, as well as do some damage in transition. But he could still stand to improve as a ball handler, as doing so will help him become more than just a straight-line driver. I don't know if being a primary offensive focal point will ever be in his cards, but he is capable of being a secondary or tertiary playmaker for a team in time once he gains more experience in this role. With his physical profile, versatility, and length, he projects to be an above average defensive weapon in the NBA, but he couldn't put those pieces together last season. I would like to see him be far more disruptive, and more aggressive hunting for turnovers in the future. He certainly projects as someone who can defend at least 2's and 3's at the next level, maybe even 1's in time. Mathurin hasn't officially declared for the 2021 NBA Draft at this point, but he's widely expected to. This would be one of the most realistic options for the Sixers to take with their first round selection right now. He's still not quite as rock-solid from day one as some other guys, but if you buy the shooting development, I see no reason against this pick. At just 18 years of age, he can fill in at either shooting guard or small forward and could fill the void left by Furkan Korkmaz if he opts to leave in free agency this summer. He would give them an athletic shooter, and one who hopefully can make use of his tools to fill out the rest of his game and become more of a well-rounded contributor. He has solid starter upside in my eyes if the shooting progression is real and he can begin to initiate his own offense and become an asset defensively. NBA comparison: Terrence Ross <><><><><><>

Isaiah Livers - SF - Michigan

Isaiah Livers is the consummate 3-and-D wing that every NBA team desires. He was the heart and soul on one of the best collegiate teams in the country, and the 6'7", 230 pound forward led his team all the way to the 4th overall ranking in the final AP Poll, and a #1 seed in the big dance. Unfortunately for him and that Michigan team, he suffered a stress fracture in his foot in the first game of the Big Ten tournament, which would cost him the remainder of his senior season. I can confidently say they would have at least gotten past UCLA and gone onto the Final Four had he been available. His services should be in high demand by contending teams on draft night. Livers' best attribute would undoubtedly be his ability to space the floor. A 43% clip on over 5 attempts per game (9.4 attempts per 100 possessions) is great no matter how you try to spin it. But when you take out an 0-5 in his final game, in which he was visibly not okay and playing while hurt, his percentage rises to 44.6%. He won't offer you much in terms of perimeter creation for himself or others, but he spices up his role with smart off-ball cuts, attacking bad close-outs, and running the floor in transition. He was also their biggest weapon in close games, and they sorely missed his late-game presence against UCLA. I anticipate his role being a shooter more exclusively when he hits the NBA floor because that should be where he holds the most value. Defensively, I think Livers has become a bit underrated. Because he's not naturally quick and looks a little burly to be defending in space, I think some just write him off as a below average defender. But he has spent a great deal of time in Michigan lineups that were among the best in the country on that end, ranking 13th in the country in field goal percentage allowed. He wasn't necessarily a shutdown on-ball defender and didn't force a ton of turnovers, so I think that's where most of the skepticism lies. He should be able to defend 3's and 4's comfortably at the NBA level, and in time could work his way up to 2's as well. I think worst case scenario is that he is serviceable on-ball and a smart team defender for his whole career. This would be a slam dunk pick for the Sixers if Livers was still on the board when they make their pick in the second round. Even as a second rounder, the 22 year-old would come in and immediately contribute in an area where the Sixers have been lacking some depth at either forward position. Behind Tobias Harris and Paul Reed, they don't have any forwards under contract next season. They have long been bitten by their second unit only being productive on one end of the court, and I think he would finally bring them a piece that bridges both gaps. He's a low-usage, high efficiency, sharpshooting wing who plays both ends and has winning experience. Players like him enjoy long and fruitful careers (see: Danny Green). His fit alongside Embiid, Harris, and Simmons could not be better. Sign me up. NBA comparison: Joe Ingles <><><><><><>

David Johnson - PG - Louisville

David Johnson is a tall sophomore guard who can give you a little bit of everything on a basketball floor. Standing 6'5" and 210 pounds, he has an NBA-ready frame, but his game leaves a bit to be desired in some areas. His college career was weird, in that he played two full seasons at Louisville, but was an entirely different player in each of those seasons. He just announced he would be entering the NBA draft pool and forgoing his NCAA eligibility. Johnson's biggest area of growth between his two collegiate seasons was definitely in his shooting stroke. As a freshman, he was essentially a non-shooter, attempting only 23 threes all season long, making only 5. But this past season, he was launching over 4 a game and making them at a very solid clip. That is remarkable progression in a year's time. But oddly enough, the rest of his game suffered as a result. He ended up recording more turnovers than assists last season, a sharp decline from his 1.47 assist-to-turnover ratio as a freshman. Louisville wasn't as good of a team this season, a big reason being Jordan Nwora leaving for the NBA, but having another year under his belt should have left him better prepared. I am not the biggest believer in advanced stats, such as net rating, win shares, and so on, but there's something to be said for the fact that every single one of them says that Johnson was noticeably better as a freshman, despite playing significantly less minutes. And when given a larger share of the offensive workload this season, his overall efficiency nosedived without taking a step forward as a scorer or facilitator, which calls into question if he has what it takes to be "the man" on offense at either level. He's a decent athlete, but he's not a game changer. He's got the size and length to be an effective and relatively versatile guard defender, but he doesn't have the foot speed to be clashing with lead guards in the NBA. Johnson is currently projected all over the place in the second round. If the Sixers were to select him, I would be quite puzzled. He's got the big ball-handler thing going for him, but I don't know what else. No 20 year-old prospect is already capped out, but his game doesn't scream upside to me, and I don't know what his best skill is. Is it that he's tall? It might honestly be his ability to run an offense, but his sophomore numbers give off a very poor impression for someone trying to make it as a point guard. I don't know if the shooting will translate at nearly the clip it was at last season. Being just a so-so athlete is going to hold him back both as a playmaker and perimeter defender. My fear is that he just winds up remarkably mediocre. And guys like that don't stick around very long in the league. NBA comparison: Dante Exum <><><><><><>

Jason Preston - PG - Ohio

Jason Preston is one of this classes' premier passers from the point guard position. The 6'4", 187 pound junior led his 13-seeded Bobcats by a 4-seeded Virginia team in the first round. Although they lost in the next round to Creighton, his ball skills really turned some heads in the round of 64. His name has been gaining a lot of steam in draft conversations recently, and it looks like he might declare this year. In my opinion, Preston is a top 5 playmaker in his class. A 2.42 assist-to-turnover ratio is very impressive to begin with, and especially so considering the volume at which he was asked to create for himself and others. He's a great game reader, keeps plays alive, and almost always makes the right read in live action sets. His element of flair makes him a fun player to watch. His ball handling is already top notch, and allows him to be aggressive attacking the hoop without elite-level athleticism. He was very productive as an elusive finisher, but this got him to the line very sparingly, and I'd like to see him force more contact in the future. His jumpshot has been constantly improving, attempting 4.1 per contest. I think that percentage is a bit deceiving, but I buy the progress he has made in this department. One of the biggest detractors Preston has is that he plays for a smaller program like Ohio, and in a MAC conference that does not offer a very high level of competition. In his only matchup against a top-tier team in the regular season, he impressed, scoring 31 points (career-high), and recording 8 assists with zero turnovers against All-American guard Ayo Dosunmu and that high-powered Illinois team. He looked good against a perennially good Virginia defense, but struggled against Creighton in the tournament. The sample size is low, but it leaves reason for optimism. Overall, he doesn't have great burst, and this calls into question how much he will be able to succeed at getting past NBA defenders, and prolonging plays to wait for defensive breakdowns. The on-ball defense got noticeably better from his sophomore season, but he still projects as a negative on this end. Preston certainly has made a case to be drafted this season, but if he ultimately opts to return to school for his senior season, I think he rises a lot farther up the board for next season. For the Sixers, this would be a pretty good second round selection. Aside from George Hill (and Simmons, depending on your definition), this team lacks a true point guard on the roster. I wouldn't pencil him in for a rotation spot, but I think a year in the G-League system would do wonders for a cerebral guard like him, and help to ease the transition between a so-so collegiate conference and the association. I personally think he has a solid NBA future ahead of him, with his biggest swing trait being that three point shot. NBA comparison: Delon Wright <><><><><><>

Matthew Hurt - PF - Duke

Matthew Hurt is a talented scorer at the power forward position. He stands 6'9" and 235 pounds, and he was the best player on a Duke team that ended up missing the NCAA tournament for the first time since 1995. Although he was a relatively high recruit from his 2019 high school class (ranked no. 17 according to 247 Sports), his freshman season didn't see him take on a very big role. But after nearly doubling his scoring output from his freshman season, the sophomore appears to be declaring for the 2021 draft. Hurt is a gifted scorer for someone his height. The efficiency numbers just jump right off the page, and when you factor in the fact that he's operating at such a high volume, it is impossible to ignore. He's got as complete of a scoring package someone his height and position could have. He's a potent low-post threat, showing off both a repertoire for moves around the rim and one using finesse moves, most notably fadeaways and step-backs. He proved to be a roller in pick and roll sets, as well as a pick and popper with limited frequency. Although he wasn't a playmaker, he showed some nice passing vision at times and took good care of the basketball. But his biggest area of appeal in the modern NBA would undoubtedly be his ability to space the floor. Shooting upwards of 44% from range on well over 5 attempts a game at 6'9" is something a lot of teams should be taking interest in. Even though I don't believe that clip is sustainable, I think he lives in the 37-39 range. Unfortunately for Hurt, the writing is on the wall for the rest of his game. He is not a good defensive player. I wouldn't go as far to say he's terrible, but he isn't a rim protector, and he's not nimble enough to be defending in space. His overall athleticism is lacking, and coupled with below average length for his size, that doesn't bode well from a developmental outlook. He also wasn't a very big rebounding threat relative to his minutes played, and a big man who isn't helping his team on the glass or protecting the rim will have a hard time finding a long-term role unless they are elite elsewhere. For the Sixers, I wouldn't be in love with this selection in the second round, but I would be okay with it. Hurt is a very talented offensive player, and because Doc Rivers loves to turn to his exclusively bench lineups so frequently, adding another punch of offense could be quite useful, as well as a stretch big to space the floor alongside their stars. The issues, however, arise on the other end of the court. As a subpar rebounder and overall poor defender, he probably won't ever be able to be played for long stretches without getting exposed on switches out on the perimeter. At 21 years old, I think the player he is right now is largely what he will look like throughout the rest of his career. NBA comparison: DJ Wilson

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