It’s been two weeks since the Philadelphia 76ers found out they’d draft third in this year’s draft. There have been a handful of players to work out for the 76ers since the lottery, but mostly guys projected in the second round or undrafted. The next few weeks leading up to the draft will be when the big time prospects visit the teams with the top picks. This isn’t as easy as last year, even though many believe that Philly will end with D’Angelo Russell.
Last year, it made 100 percent sense for the 76ers to take Joel Embiid after Cleveland and Milwaukee passed on the 7-footer. I know Sam Hinkie isn’t afraid to trade anyone, but I think if the 76ers do draft a guard at third overall Nerlens Noel’s here to stay. We haven’t seen him play with Embiid, but there’s no reason why it wouldn’t work. The spacing can work, even with two non-shooters. Philly’s far away from the postseason, where maybe they couldn’t play Noel and Embiid together, but that’s why Dario Saric is such an important player for the future because he can play the four along Noel and Embiid in small-ball line-ups.
Anyway, it’s impossible to describe this third pick in the 2015 NBA draft as anything but enormous. I really like all three players that it feels like the 76ers target. The aforementioned Russell, Emmanuel Mudiay and Croatian Mario Hezonja. Russell’s the popular pick. People call him the Next James Harden. Maybe he’ll be an All-NBA guy, but that’s high praise for a 19 year old to eventually be just as good as a top-6 NBA player. Harden was selected third overall by the team that traded him to Houston. They both shoot lefty. Both are labeled as “OK” athletes. Russell’s knocked for his defense. There are like 10 videos on YouTube showing (or not showing) Harden’s defense. Both have good handles and can really pass the ball. Russell surrounded with top talent is really attractive, too. He didn’t have that in Ohio State. He’ll have Embiid and decent shooters Robert Covington and Hollis Thompson, along with playmaking Tony Wroten surrounding him in Philadelphia, plus eventually Saric. He has the feel of a player that just makes everyone around him better. He’s cocky, but I think that’s his confidence. I wouldn’t be mad if Philly selected any of these three players. I think they all have their strengths and their weaknesses. I do believe Mudiay is a guy to really watch. Mudiay has that elite athleticism that has made Russell Westbrook one of the best playmakers in the NBA. He can’t shoot, but he doesn’t have a broken jumper like MCW. He makes other players better, too. He has a great first-step, which is vital for an attacking guard in today’s NBA. Getting to the basket to create open shots has become increasingly important, and Mudiay probably ranks best out of all eligible draftees. He also has lots of potential on defense. He’s lightning fast with great reaction. Mudiay probably ranks third out of these three guards in whom I’d like Philly to select. It’s nothing against his style because I know it works in today’s NBA, but Russell and Hezonja can each shoot the basketball at an effective, and efficient, rate. Each projects to work well both off and with the ball. Russell can handle the ball, but he’s not going to be the point guard. He is, however, a primary ball handler in the future; similar to Harden, Kobe Bryant, Manu Ginobili and Monta Ellis are shooting guards who heed responsibilities as lead ball handlers in certain situations. Hezonja projects more as a two/three combo because of his six-foot-eight frame. I really like Hezonja, and I wouldn’t be upset at all if he’s the guy they select at third overall. I just know he isn’t supposed to be a top-6 pick, so trading back could be a good move, or trading for another top-10 pick would suffice. The 76ers, however, don’t have any moveable player assets. They could trade future picks, but most teams in the top-10 would rather have an actual NBA player who could actual play this season. Hezonja can’t dribble as well as Russell but, again, he’s a small forward with fantastic athletic ability. He has to improve his dribbling and driving ability, but just look at his highlights. He has a real chance to be a very good shooter and tremendous dunker in the NBA.
So many rumors, just like last year, will be around from now until draft night. I remember how many people reported that 76ers would do “whatever it takes” to get Andrew Wiggins last season. That didn’t happen. Hinkie will keep his hand very close. He’ll talk to other teams about trading players and picks, but ultimately I think he’ll select one of Russell, Mudiay and Hezonja, and I don’t think he can go wrong.