The Philadelphia 76ers are on the clock.Within a couple of weeks they have to answer the question: is the upside of Ben Simmons worth it? Or, should they select the more polished scorer Brandon Ingram, who just completed a workout for the Sixers?
For the 76ers, after three years of abject misery, they are finally where they want to be, at the precipice of something special. Ben Simmons, more than likely, will be in the City of Brother Love in 2016-17. But should he be? Is Simmons the 76ers ticket back to respectability?
The 6-10 Simmons is a talented athlete, explosive in a Blake Griffin way, a finisher at the rim, a passer extraordinaire, either from the wing or the post. He can run the break. He can finish the break. He can see the floor with three dimensional vision.
What he cannot do is make a jump shot. His scoring talent trends towards the mediocre. Near the basket, yes. Away from the basket, no. Scoring, however, can be taught. Blake Griffin wasn’t a good scorer when he came into the league. With the help of a shooting coach, Griffin has mastered that last obstacle that was hurting his game. And so Simmons, over time, can improve too.
But do the 76ers have time?
They have been the NBA’s running joke and embarrassment ever since Sam Hinkie took over and instituted his tanking strategy anointing it “The Process.” Hate Hinkie all you want. Say he ruined a historical franchise that Wilt Chamberlain and Dr. J. and Moses Malone and Allen Iverson built. But Hinkie knew that to be legitimate in the NBA you have to have an iconic player, an explosive athlete, a charismatic star. That is what all the tanking was about. Mortgage the present for the future and then have a star for the next 15 years. Someone like Simmons.
But is Simmons star worthy? Or is he hype?
No one can predict what happens in Simmons career, if he stays healthy or if he gets hurt, if he has soft hands and can finish consistently being defended by athletes, or if he doesn’t quite live up to the hype.
The biggest knock on Simmons, other than the scoring, is his motor and competitiveness, and that he doesn’t play hard and give everything, that he’s not the hardest of workers. But for an organization like the 76ers, Simmons can turn everything around in a short period of time. Immediately, the drafting of Simmons changes perception.
By most standards, the 76ers are a damaged franchise. By drafting Simmons he elevates the 76ers, not necessarily as winners, but as NBA relevant. He will sell tickets. He will wake up a depressed and asleep fan base. He will get the 76ers on the national network TV schedule. He will sell jerseys. His Nike contract guarantees he will sell shoes.
Brandon Ingram is a scorer who can space the floor, put the ball on the court and drive to the rim, finish through contact. He plays hard on every play. With an established star on the court, Ingram will get a lot of open shots he can make. He comes into the draft with a scoring skill similar to Kevin Durant, and maturity, and the only knock his thin size.
With Brandon Ingram as an option, you wonder if the 76ers are facing the same dilemma as the Blazers in 2007 when they had the first pick in the draft. The Blazers could have had Kevin Durant, the scorer, but they selected Greg Oden, the post player. Oden was never healthy and then had off the court problems. Kevin Durant became an All-Star, was a transformative player.
Are the top two players in this draft feast or famine, whereas one is going to be an All-Star and one is going to be a bust?
The Sixers need scoring. They need someone who can put the ball in the hole. They need someone who can drive the lane, change direction and sink a floater. They need to space the floor. They need a behind the arc scorer. They need an explosive athlete who can finish and then get to the line. They need talent. They need maturity. They need help. The Sixers need help.
They will probably draft Ben Simmons. They will count on his help. They will hope he matures. They are counting on Simmons to change his narrative as a lazy competitor who feels entitled because of his talent. They want Simmons to handle the NBA learning curve with intelligence and grace. And they are crossing their fingers this is not Blazers-Sonics revisited and their pick is not the wrong one.
The Sixers. can’t afford any more mistakes.
photo via llananba