The Thinking Behind the 76ers Draft Strategy
Second straight year taking an injured center
Last season the 76ers made a trade that had the New Orleans Pelicans select Nerlens Noel for them with the sixth pick in the first round of the draft. This was significant because Noel was recovering from ACL surgery and his recovery time ended up causing him to miss all of the following season. When the news of Joel Embiid's injury broke recently, the Cleveland Cavaliers and Milwaukee Bucks management teams quickly decided that they were going to pass on the star center. With the 76ers having the third pick in the draft, they drafted Joel Embiid with that pick. This left their fans wondering when they would ever see a center drafted by the 76ers on the court playing for them in the regular season. After suffering through a 19 win season last year, 76ers fans are losing patience with their favorite team, and they wanted to see a player drafted who could make an impact right away. 76ers management understands how necessary it is to completely and thoroughly rebuild the team, and their strategy so far has included many of the right decisions. The fans find the strategy confusing so far, because they want to see players that they can be excited about right now.
Quantity of quality that others pass on
Part of the strategy that is hard for the fans to grasp, is that the 76ers are bringing in players that other teams either do not want or do not have a place for. This does not mean that any of these players do not belong at the NBA level, but rather that the 76ers are not drafting for need at specific positions. The rebuilding effort in Philadelphia is not yet to the point where they are going to target a player that fits into a specific role. Instead they are targeting a quantity of the best athletes available. The 76ers philosophy is that freakish athleticism is not something that can be developed, but shooting and passing skills are something that can be taught at the NBA level. They made great progress last season with developing Michael Carter-Williams game as a distributing point guard, and Nerlens Noel was able to learn many things that will be useful to him at the NBA level without ever playing in a regular season game. Joel Embiid can now learn some of the same things from his place as an inactive player in the coming season while Noel is able to get firsthand experience by finally getting into action on the court. KJ McDaniels and Jerami Grant are both players that need to improve their jump shooting in order to become great NBA players. Both however possess superior athleticism that can't be taught, and they have the skills to impact games in ways that most of the other draft picks this year are unable to.
Developing wing players
The 76ers were unable to get the most athletic wing player in the draft, but in the second round they were able to get the next best thing. Both KJ McDaniels and Jerami Grant possess elite level athleticism, but they will need significant development time in order to reach their star potential. KJ McDaniels attempted 138 three point shots last season and made 38 of them for a 30.4 percent conversion rate. This shows that while McDaniels is comfortable taking shots from range, he still needs to work on his jump shot to allow him to hit at a higher rate. Last season Jerami Grant attempted six three point shots and made none of them, as he currently is not comfortable with his shot from range. At Syracuse, Grant was asked to play the power forward position, so working on a perimeter game was not something they wanted him to do. Grant has shown a very smooth mid range jump shot, so that along with his high conversion rate near the basket allowed him to shoot nearly 49 percent from the field last season at Syracuse. In Grant's freshmen season at Syracuse he took 15 three point shots and made six of them, which suggests he has some ability from range that he was not able to put on display last season.
The athletic ability that both Grant and McDaniels possess, is something that the 76ers player development staff believes they can work with. As of right now, both players are very good defenders with the ability to leap and finish strong near the hoop on dunks along with layups. In order to properly space the floor as wing players however, they will need to develop some consistency from range. The 76ers staff was able to help Evan Turner do this last year, but now he is gone and more athletic players are being developed. KJ McDaniels as a player who is six feet and six inches tall, led the ACC in blocked shots last season. His outstanding defensive positioning, leaping ability and overall explosive athleticism are what allowed him to do this. McDaniels may not be quite as highly touted as the elite athletes at the top of the draft like Parker and Wiggins, but he was a huge steal in the second round for the 76ers. Jerami Grant and KJ McDaniels will continue to be project players for the 76ers in coming years as their ability to wow the crowd is put on display with dunks before they improve their perimeter game. Playing above the rim will always be a part of the games of these two extremely athletic players, but when full developed they should have a large assortment of ways that they create their own shot on the perimeter.
Does quantity ultimately work for the 76ers?
By bringing in so many players with elite athleticism, the 76ers give themselves room for margin of error. While there are examples of elite athletes failing at the highest level of the sport they play, when a team puts together a collection of these elite athletes, the chances of one or more of them becoming a star, increase dramatically. For the 76ers, KJ McDaniels and Jerami Grant have already shown signs of becoming the star basketball players. Dario Saric's ability is less known than any other player that the 76ers have brought in recently, but he is also a player that shown some star potential within the setting of the league in which he plays. Joel Embiid has the elite athleticism that the 76ers covet, but his injury presents another issue. There is a chance that only one of Embiid and Noel turn out to be star big men for the 76ers, but the ideal situation would be for both of them to have healthy and productive NBA careers. The 76ers are willing to take a chance on these multi-dimensional players with elite athleticism, because when some of them pan out, they will have much more of an impact on the game than certain one dimensional role players that were also taken in the first round this year.
Even though the fans may be getting impatient with the 76ers rebuilding strategy, at some point it should prove to be right strategy. The 76ers will likely be in position for another lottery pick next year, but with a legitimate starting five they should give their fan base some moments to enjoy in the 2014-2015 season. After seeing the positive strides that Michael Carter-Williams made last season, the fans are likely to see it happen again with KJ McDaniels and Jerami Grant. Ultimately the 76ers are in a very good spot moving forward with the group of players that they have the rights to, and their starting lineup will have a chance to grow together in the coming season.