After drafting yet another 6’10”-plus non-guard in the 2016 NBA Draft, Sixers General Manager Bryan Colangelo prioritized the signing of veteran 1’s and 2’s who would quicken the development of the trio young centers drafted by the team over the previous three drafts. Gerald Henderson was signed to a 2 year, $18 million deal and has been a notable upgrade at shooting guard, bringing a solid jump shot and reliable defense to Philly. Sergio Rodriguez, a 30 year-old Spaniard who hadn’t played in the NBA since 2010, was brought in to provide depth at the point while backing up the team’s “biggest” signing of the Summer, although “biggest” is a word used for the Kevin Durants and Dwayne Wades of this world. When Jerryd Bayless inked his 3 year, $27 million contract, his expectations were simple: when Ben Simmons is on the floor, stand in the corner and hit open three pointers; when Simmons is off the floor, take the ball up and pass it to Joel Embiid, Jahlil Okafor, or Nerlens Noel.

After Simmons underwent foot surgery at the beginning of October, the bar was set a little higher for Bayless, as he would be the primary ball handler and the general of the offense. However, the injury bug big Jerryd, who tore a ligament in his wrist later in October and missed the first month of the season. The team announced that he would not have surgery, and a one month rest was all that was necessary for full recovery. He returned after a month on the sidelines, played three games, and felt more discomfort in his wrist. Now, Bayless has had wrist surgery, and his 2016-17 season is over. $9 million well spent for his three games, as he averaged about 11 points and 4 assists per game.

Sergio Rodriguez and TJ McConnell now find themselves as the two point guards on a depleted Sixers roster. Coach Brett Brown said that Ben Simmons will run the 1 when he returns from his foot fracture, but not even Simmons himself knows when that will be. Colangelo will most likely search for another guard to add depth for the remaining of this season, but the move will likely be something along the lines of what Sam Hinkie did last season with Ish Smith: give up a couple of late picks for a replacement-level guard.

Until the move for another ball handler is made, all fans can do is look ahead to Simmons’s return… or to the draft, where there lies the deepest crop of point guards in recent memory. The 2017 draft is especially exciting for the Sixers due to the fact that there is a real possibility of landing two top-10 picks. Heading into Friday night’s game against the Lakers, the team is matched with the Mavericks for the worst record in the NBA at 6-19. If the lottery would be tonight, the odds would be in Philly’s favor for a second consecutive #1 overall pick. The Lakers, having lost 8 straight games after a 10-10 start to the season, still owe a first round pick to the Sixers from the Michael Carter-Williams trade. The pick is top-3 protected for 2017, but it is looking likely to convey.

Four point guards, all Freshmen, have set themselves apart from the crowd in the early draft rankings for 2017:

Markelle Fultz, Washington

Fultz, the consensus #1 pick, just about has it all for an 18 year-old NBA prospect. He is far and away the best player on a mediocre Washington Huskies team, which has gotten out to a 4-5 start to the young season. The spotlight has been shining on their young point guard, and he hasn’t shied away a bit. Fultz is averaging 22.8 points per game to go along with 6.9 rebounds and 6.1 assists. Standing at 6’4″ with a 6’9″ wingspan, he has had no problem going through defenders or even finishing over them.

gifs website

Fultz complements his length and athleticism with a knockdown outside jumper. He is shooting 49% from beyond the ark through his first 9 college games. As if being able to play above the rim and on the perimeter didn’t make Markelle hard enough to guard, he is also a big time playmaker who is smart about his passes. When taking into consideration how much this freshman has do to on the young Huskies, his 2-1 assist-to-turnover ration is an impressive stat, despite the fact that he averages 0ver 3 giveaways per contest.

On the defensive end, it gets even more exciting with Fultz. The athleticism and length translate just as well when closing out on shooters, grabbing rebounds, or making crazy chase-down blocks as they do when dunking on a helpless opponent in the lane or shooting over a defender on the perimeter. However, there is a concern with an aspect of Markelle. He often is caught ball watching on D, and laziness can be an issue at times. Although this obstacle is arguably more of a maturity thing than a red flag, it is difficult not to contemplate how he might handle losing a plethora of games as a rookie on the Sixers if they struggle.

 

gifs website
Markelle Fultz is the most exciting prospect in next Summer’s draft, and having a point guard who can do it all would perhaps be the final piece of The Process puzzle. But, let’s say the Sixers don’t end up with a high enough pick to draft him. No need to panic, there are plenty more guards.

De’Aaron Fox, Kentucky

Fox entered the season as the highly-touted point guard leading another great John Calipari recruiting class, and he has lived up to all expectations. Smaller than Fultz, Fox uses his quickness, not size, to beat defenders and make plays. He shoots 14% from three, so it is probably difficult to imagine how much of a freak this guy must be to be so effective on a team like the one that the Wildcats have. He averages 15.1 points per game with 5.4 rebounds and 6.9 assists. Coming into the season, he was not as hyped as Fultz as an NBA prospect, but has put his name on the radar in a big way. In fact, he outplayed another player on this list in their head-to-head matchup: Lonzo Ball. Ball’s UCLA won the game, but Fox stepped up in a big time fashion. His Wildcats are currently the 6th ranked team in the nation at 9-1 and are third in the nation is points scored per game.

Fox, an ineffective outside shooter, uses his quickness and handles to get to the rim. He is 8th in the country with 6 assists, and his 2.88 assist to turnover ratio also ranks amongst the best in college basketball. His lack of length would limit his abilities to finish over taller defenders; he has a 6’4.5″ wingspan, which could also leave him with less room for error on close-outs.

gifs website

When it comes to fit on the Sixers, Fox would not be the best. Although his ball handling and playmaking ability would free up the perimeter players, he and Ben Simmons have very similar styles, which would most likely clash if forced to play together (much like Okafor and Noel). However, if the opportunity presents itself to draft Fox with a late-lottery pick, there are worse things in the world than drafting a freak athlete who can run a second unit filled with shooters.

While Fox’s length will make it more difficult for him to play defense in the pros, his lateral quickness will give him a significant advantage against guards such as Damian Lillard and Russell Westbrook, who use handles and speed to blow past just about anybody. Now, I’m not saying that De’Aaron Fox could slip into a Sixers uniform tomorrow and shut down Dame and Russ, but he has a solid foundation to build upon that could lead into his becoming an elite defender.

gifs website

If the Sixers end up with a top-5 pick, which seems likely at this point in the still-early season, Fox won’t be an option. However, if they Lakers pick conveys within the 8th-12th overall area, which also is seeming likely to happen, he could be a solid pick for a guard-depleted roster.

Dennis Smith, Jr., NC State

Before the beginning of the NCAA season, Smith sat atop draft boards along with Markelle Fultz. After a slow start to his college career, however, he slipped a bit; the slip was nothing too significant, but he was talked about less and less as a top-3 prospect. As of late Smith has been redeeming himself in a big way, and his averages through 10 college games are 18.7 points, 3.5 rebounds, and 5.1 assists per game on a Wolfpack team that is currently 8-2. Although Smith’s 3-point percentage is lower than expected (27.5%), he has used his athleticism and ball handling skills to get to the basket and either finish with a layup or get to the charity stripe for two free throws, where he is shooting nearly 80%. He leads NC State in free throw attempts per game by 28, with nearly 8 attempts in 35 minutes per game. Russell Westbrook averages 10.74 free throw attempts per 36 minutes played.

gifs website

Smith’s main concern is his struggles from beyond the ark. Now, the numbers aren’t quite De’Aaron Fox bad, but they aren’t anything to get excited about. His form doesn’t seem to be the issue, but he has not found the success that was expected of him entering college. 27.5% isn’t horrendous, and if the Sixers can morph Joel Embiid into an effective three-point shooter, then I’m confident that Smith will improve if he finds his way to Philly. In fact, Smith will improve regardless of whether or not he becomes a Sixer.

Unlike his counterparts, Fultz and Fox, Smith does not have the long arms that can bail him out of tough defensive assignments. He has been measured at a 6’3″ wingspan, which is about the same as his height. He is not as speedy as Fox, but his quickness will have to be his main asset in the NBA when defending longer guards. Smith also has a history of injuries; in August of 2015, he tore his meniscus and ACL at a camp and missed his entire senior season. For a player who relies on athleticism as much as he does, a devastating knee injury like a torn ACL could be a worry for scouts. However, it has not seemed to bother him so far in the 2016-17 season.

Here’s Smith with a little strip of Victor Oladipo:

gifs website
Lonzo Ball, UCLA

Perhaps the biggest riser of any 2017 draft prospect, point guards aside, is Lonzo Ball. He has simply dominated in his short tenure at UCLA, and the Bruins are the second ranked team in the country at 11-0. Ball has been the leader of the evolution is Los Angeles, as he is second in the country in assists per game and is shooting 46% from three point land. The 6’6″ Ball uses his large frame and athletic ability to create space for outside shots, find teammates in transition, and get to the rim at will.

gifs website
He also uses his 6’9″ wingspan to make things that much more difficult for opponents. Defense comes naturally to players with awareness, quickness, and his freaky length. Fellow top-10 draft prospect Malik Monk just had no chance here:

gifs website

There is one negative in Ball’s game that completely turns me off to him when considering possible top-3 picks for the Sixers: his shooting mechanics.

gifs website

Beginning his shooting motion at the hip, Ball sacrifices much of the advantage that his size would buy him with a traditional motion. At this stage of his career, it would be difficult to change the entire shot, even if he wanted to. In a post game interview, when Ball was asked about his unorthodox motion, he said “[i]f it’s going in, why does it matter?” Not being able to shoot over a defender does not plummet his draft stock, but it would limit his potential to a lights-out catch-and-shoot NBA guard. Philly needs a franchise point guard that can shoot with a hand in his face to spread the floor for whichever bigs are still here for the future of the team.

I love just about everything else about Lonzo’s game, but the shot could be a deciding factor in which player to draft with what will almost certainly be another high lottery pick.

There you have it. It is a solid bet that one (or more) of these point guards will be wearing a Sixers jersey next season, but which one is still up for debate. Expect to here plenty more about these guys leading up to June’s draft, as they compete for the title of best point guard in college basketball. But anticipation of a player who won’t be on the team until the Summer shouldn’t steal attention to the current team, which has more than half of the wins that they had all of last season. So enjoy a Joel Embiid gif:

gifs website

No goaltend was called.

Comments are closed.

Check Also

Chik-Fil-A 780,928, Sixers 105.

Did the Sixers Season Turn on Chicken Nuggets?Well, it’s official. The 76ers are in …