For the first time in recent memory, the Sixers were among the biggest stories in the NBA this week, thanks to their bold trade of Jrue Holiday, a young All-Star and the clear best player on the team, for the draft rights of Nerlens Noel and a 1st-Round pick in 2014.
Bold trades and headlines are nice, but not necessarily a good thing for the future of the franchise. Did the Sixers help themselves on Thursday night?
The NBA is unlike the NFL or MLB because, in any given year, there are far less teams that a have a legit chance of winning a championship than in the other leagues. We’ve seen 6-seeds make runs to Super Bowl wins and an 83-win Cardinals team win a World Series. But in the NBA, it’s considered a shocking upset when a team like the 2011 Mavs wins a title, even though they tied for the 4th-best record in the NBA that year, winning just under 70% of their games in the regular season.
My point is that, while there’s plenty of logic in trying to keep your team “afloat” and stay reasonably competitive in the other leagues (much like a current baseball team in the City of Brotherly Love), there’s not much point in being “decent” in the NBA. You have no chance of achieving the ultimate goal (a title) and not much chance of getting over the hump because you can’t get top draft picks or find the cap room to sign top free agents if you already have middling players taking up payroll.
New Sixers GM Sam Hinkie could’ve come in, looked at a Jrue Holiday and said, “Here’s a really good young player that will be a piece of the puzzle down the road. Now, I can make a run at re-signing Andrew Bynum and we have two major pieces to becoming a contender.”
I’m glad he didn’t make that choice. There were too many question marks with that plan, and if you got the wrong answers, there would be no way out. We know all too well how much a question there is surrounding Bynum, on multiple levels. And even if he’s able to play, with him and Holiday, the Sixers would probably be a 44-win team next year, finish 6th in the conference and be very lucky to sneak into the 2nd Round of the playoffs.
In the 12 seasons since the run to the Finals in 2001, the Sixers have a .471 win percentage. Since 2003, their best regular season finish was 6th in the conference. They’ve been the epitome of a team “stuck in the middle,” and heading into the next few years with Holiday and Bynum would’ve kept them there.
So, now where are they?
They’ll be bad next season. Probably REALLY bad. But that will net them, if all goes well with the Pelicans, two top 10 picks in a “loaded” draft.
And what of their two top picks in this year’s draft? There’s reason to worry about Noel, but let’s remember that he was, arguably, the top-rated player in his class out of high school and a guy that everyone had pegged as the #1 overall pick in this draft for basically the entire regular season and then up to the final week before the draft.
He’s an intriguing talent. He’ll probably never average more than 12-13 points a game but, ideally, he’ll become a Joakim Noah-type player. He’ll need to add a lot of muscle, but he has the potential to be a game-changer defensively and a really strong presence on the glass.
Michael Carter-Williams will also have a steep learning curve, with basically only one year of college ball under his belt, as well. Like Noel, he’ll probably never score a ton, but he has great size, length, and quickness, and he was an assist machine at Syracuse last year.
Neither one is a sure thing, but they both have the potential to be key pieces down the road. I don’t know if Hinkie has Evan Turner in his long range plans or not, but if you’re going to have Noel, Carter-Williams, and Turner in your starting line-up, the other two guys better be able to score, and hopefully both shoot it. The big piece, the superstar, is still missing, of course.
It should make the college basketball season that much more intriguing next year, because the Sixers will almost certainly be picking at the top of the draft, maybe twice, so Sixers fans will be scouting the top talents all season long.
Other thoughts on the draft:
- In all the college hoops I watched last year, there were two players that just looked like NBA players. Not like they had the potential to get there, but guys that, because of their body and skill-set, looked like current NBA players jumping into a college game. Those two were Anthony Bennett and Otto Porter. So, no surprise to see them go 1st and 3rd in the draft.
- I’m very often wrong about projecting college players to the NBA, but I cannot figure out how San Diego St.’s Jamaal Franklin fell all the way to the 41st pick. I get that he’s a shooting guard that can’t shoot but, last I checked, so was Dwyane Wade, and he just won his third ring. Franklin has prototypical size and off-the-charts athleticism. He’s an incredible defensive player and averaged 9.5 rebounds from his guard spot last year! I’m not saying he’s gonna be Wade or anything, but I can’t understand why an Archie Goodwin goes in the first round and Franklin doesn’t even get close. I mean, he can do this.
- Along the same lines, it’s hard to believe that C.J. Leslie wasn’t drafted at all. Again, the concerns are pretty obvious (mainly that he seemed to disappear from games way too often), but he was often mentioned as a lottery pick at one time. There just aren’t many 6-9 guys that can move and jump like him.
- One more that slipped: Ohio St.’s Deshaun Thomas. I guess the fact that the Spurs took him at 58 tells you right away: he should’ve gone higher. He’s a tweener and I really doubt he’ll ever be a starter, but he can flat-out score and he’ll come off the bench for teams and throw up 10 points in 4 minutes.