The Five Players The Sixers Should Consider At #21
They cannot mess this up.
Mike O’Connor is the best O’Connor in basketball writing. Previously of The Athletic, you can find Mike on Twitter @MOConnor_NBA.
While they’ve made some great hires on the coaching and front office sides of things, let’s not lose sight of where the Sixers are as a franchise; they are in an incredibly difficult situation right now. They have a roster that makes zero sense, two of the very worst contracts in the NBA, and an absolutely devastating lack of shooting and perimeter shot creation -- and very, very few clear opportunities to alleviate those issues.
I say that not simply to bring your spirits down, but rather to point out that it is completely essential that they nail their picks during next week’s NBA draft. They have such a dire need for cheap, quality contributors, and so few avenues of acquiring those types of players, that it feels to me as if whiffing on this draft would be a disaster, even while it may be a relatively weak draft.
With that in mind, here are the five players I would zero in on for the 21st pick if I were the Sixers
Cole Anthony, 6-3, Point Guard, UNC
Anthony has a whole bunch of traits that make him an intriguing option at No. 21. He has potential to be a lights out shooter, he’s a capable ball handler, and has big time leaping ability. Prior to this season, Anthony projected as a top-5 pick, but an underwhelming season at UNC has knocked him down into the Sixers’ range.
But in spite of the allure of a shot-creating guard with potential that many once deemed top-5 pick worthy, I find myself feeling pessimistic about Anthony, at least compared to the rest of the players on this list. Aside from his shooting ability, I’m not sure where Anthony projects to be elite on the NBA level.
His pick and roll scoring ability is polished and tight, but he lacks the fluidity and burst to be a truly elite scorer in those situations. Without developing a herky-jerky, shifty off the dribble game, I don’t see how he ever becomes a reliable isolation scorer, either.
Throw in some major concerns about his passing ability, defense, and relationship with teammates, and I’m just not incredibly willing to bet on Anthony. If the Sixers take him, it’s a decent haul for the 21st overall pick, and I think he could contribute right away. But by my estimation, we’re looking at someone with a ceiling somewhere around Jordan Clarkson territory.
More pessimistically, I could easily see Anthony being the second coming of Jerryd Bayless -- a bouncy 6-3 shooting guard who lacks the ability to be a volume scorer, but instead sticks around in the league mostly due to shooting. Bayless, as much as Sixers fans hate him, was a useful player for many years, and wouldn’t be a terrible takeaway from the 21st pick. But if I’m the Sixers, I’m more intrigued by the other options.
Tyrese Maxey, 6-2, Combo guard, Kentucky
Maxey is lacking in one crucial area where Anthony is not -- shooting -- but I have him ranked ahead of Anthony because he’s superior in just about every other way.
Maxey is a dogged defender who takes every matchup personally. He’s an extremely high character kid who is beloved by teammates and coaches. He’s very shifty with the ball. He’s at least an average passer. And unlike Anthony, he has no major injury history to speak of.
Most scouts don’t seem to project Maxey as much of a scorer at the next level, but I think there’s untapped ability here that was hidden during last season, much like other guards of Kentucky’s past (Devin Booker, Tyler Herro, SGA). Maxey is incredibly crafty, plays at his own, herky-jerky pace, and has excellent balance, body control, and touch that allows him to be efficient around the rim. He understands how to initiate contact with big men extremely well, and I think his upside is as a second or third option at the next level.
Still; a big part of the reason I’m willing to bet on Maxey is because even if his scoring ability never flourishes, he still brings a lot to the table. I believe in the shot even if it has a long way to go -- mostly because I believe in his character and work ethic. I believe in his defense. And I believe in his willingness to buy into whatever role his team needs.
If he reaches his upside, I could see Maxey being a Mo Williams-level scoring guard. But on the more realistic side of things, I think we’re looking at a Tyler Johnson type player -- a tough, versatile guard who can impact the game in all kinds of ways.
Desmond Bane, 6-6, Wing, TCU
Bane is a very different mold from Maxey or Anthony, and doesn’t have the upside of either one of those guys. And ordinarily, I’d say that players of the Maxey/Anthony mold are the types the Sixers should be targeting. But Bane is too friggin’ good to ignore.
In his four-year career at TCU, Bane shot 43.3 percent from deep on almost 600 total attempts. Despite a truly bizarre shooting form, Bane is deadly accurate and has some ability to shoot on the move. He’s also an incredibly smart player with excellent live-dribble passing ability. And he’s a rock solid defender with a bulky frame that helps him guard multiple positions.
Simply put, Bane has all of the characteristics you could want in an NBA role player. Of all the players on this list, Bane is far and away the player who I’m most confident in making an impact right away. If that’s the Sixers’ priority, then they should look no further.
If Bane’s shooting -- particularly his off-screen shooting -- transfers, he could very easily be a Joe Harris-type player. Wes Matthews isn’t the worst name to consider, either.
Aleksej Pokusevski, 7-0, wing/center, Olympiacos B
Pokusevski is the ultimate wild card pick, not only for the Sixers but for any team that drafts him. He is a complete unknown, having not yet turned 19 and having spent last season playing in the Greece second division.
I don’t have the slightest clue of what to call Pokusevski positionally. He is a legitimate 7 feet with a solid handle, dazzling passing ability, and promising fluidity to his shooting stroke. He also is frighteningly skinny, somewhat heavy-footed on defense, and doesn’t generally have the mindset of a rim protector / anchor of a defense.
Pokusevski is so incredibly talented, yet so raw, that he fits Fran Fraschilla’s infamous “two years away from being two years away” descriptor perfectly. If the Sixers draft this kid, don’t expect him to be anything remotely resembling an NBA player in year one. But he’s so damn talented, I just might take a chance on him if Maxey and Bane were off the board.
In terms of a comparison, Bol Bol is the only one that seems fitting in my mind -- an incredibly skilled, gaunt seven-footer who plays whatever position you want him to. On the more negative potential outcomes, Dragan Bender and perhaps even Zhou Qi come to mind. Pokusevski doesn’t fit any of those comps perfectly, though. He is a species that the NBA has not yet discovered.
There is real risk here. Many foreign players with dazzling tape come to the NBA and are instant reminders that we can’t take every player who dominates foreign B-leagues seriously. Others, well, they win MVPs and make everyone who passed on them look like idiots (see: Antetokounmpo, Giannis).
Tyrell Terry, 6-2 point guard, Stanford
I’ll be brief on Terry since most of the latest mock drafts have him going off the board well before the Sixers pick.
He’s a lights out shooter who can hit off the catch, on the move, or off the dribble. He’s shot up boards recently after measuring at 6-foot-2 without shoes and reportedly adding on 15 pounds of muscle.
That’s great and all, and I’d support the Sixers drafting him at No. 21, but I can’t quite get the hype behind Terry potentially going in the lottery. His game is not interesting at all aside from the shooting, he doesn’t have the burst or handle of anywhere near, say, a Steph Curry that would allow him to cause major damage with the ball in his hands, and he’s clearly going to be a liability on defense for his entire career.
Players who can shoot like Terry almost always stick around in the league. He’s a useful player, don’t get me wrong, but I’m not convinced that his upside is anything greater than Bryn Forbes.