John Smallwood: Sixers should select local product Ellington with No. 17 pick in NBA draft

Associated Press
Associated Press
Posted: June 25, 2009

YOUR NEW 76ERS with the old-school look need a guard - a savvy point or a sharp-shooting two, either will do.

The good news about tonight's NBA draft is that it is top-heavy with guards - point guards, shooting guards, combo guards, crossing guards.

The bad news is that the draft is so top-heavy with guards that only a handful of big men are projected to be picked in the top 20.

That means that with 17th pick, the Sixers are still probably going to have to pick from the fourth- or fifth-rated point, shooting or combo guard.

The good news for the Sixers is that there isn't a lot of difference between any of these guards.

In the long run, a highly rated prospect like Spanish point guard Ricky Rubio might not turn out to be any better than a lower-rated one like Ty Lawson, of North Carolina, or Eric Maynor, from Virginia Commonwealth.

The opportunity for the Sixers to pull a diamond out of a bag of emeralds should be there at 17.

If president/general manager Ed Stefanski and his scouting crew - led by vice president Tony DiLeo and director of player personnel Courtney Witte - have done their job well, the Sixers could emerge with a player who doesn't just fill a need, but has the potential to become something special.

Just remember, Kobe Bryant was picked 13th by the Charlotte Hornets, and then traded.

And some recent selections at 17 include Indiana Pacers All-Star Danny Granger in 2005 and rising Atlanta Hawks star Josh Smith in 2004.

Players like Tony Parker, Tayshaun Prince, David West, Jameer Nelson and Rajon Rondo were all drafted later than the Sixers pick tonight.

"I'm looking, along with our scouting staff, to find the best player with our 17th pick," Witte said earlier. "We have a plethora of perimeter players sitting there at the 17 spot."

That means it could be a crazy night in the Sixers' war room as they wait for the draft to shake out.

The only given in this draft is that Oklahoma forward and consensus national player of the year Blake Griffin is going to be the first pick - by the Los Angeles Clippers, who presumably intend to keep him.

After that, anything can happen as players move up and down the draft board.

Obviously, a player like Rubio or Davidson's lights-out shooter Stephen Curry isn't going slip to the Sixers at 17. But this draft is volatile enough that a player like UCLA freshman point guard Jrue Holiday or high-school phenom but Italian-league flop Brandon Jennings could fall out of the lottery and to the Sixers.

But that would just add more intrigue.

For the sake of sanity, let's assume that the draft actually does play out to consensus projections. I'd say the Sixers, if they do indeed stick with their commitment to a perimeter player, are going to make a choice from among three players - Lawson, Maynor and UNC shooting guard Wayne Ellington, the Episcopal Academy product.

From the most practical standpoint, the Sixers' greater need is for a point guard.

Even if unrestricted free-agent point guard Andre Miller does re-sign with the Sixers, he will be 33 when the season starts, with a decade of NBA pounding already on his body.

At the worst, the Sixers will need a replacement for Miller. Even if he stays, it's still a good time to begin grooming a young point guard who will be ready when young players like Andre Iguodala, Thaddeus Young and Marreese Speights reach their prime.

Lawson has the pedigree. Not only did he play at one of college basketball's Mount Rushmore programs, he directed the Tar Heels to the 2009 NCAA championship.

He's quick and strong. He shot 53 percent from the floor and 47.2 percent (51-of-108) on three-pointers last year.

Maynor started 120 of his final 121 games at VCU. At 6-3, he has ideal point-guard height in today's NBA. He's a good but not great shooter. A true point who is mature and understands the game.

Lawson and Maynor both are low-risk picks at 17.

On the other hand, the Sixers were one of the worst-shooting teams in the NBA last year. They didn't have a single player who was a reliable shot-maker outside of 13 feet. Their three-point shooting was pathetic at its worst and erratic at best.

A sweet shooter like Ellington would address the Sixers' most glaring weakness.

The entire theme of this column is that there are great players who fall to the middle of the draft.

Ellington, who started 112 of 115 games at UNC and was named Most Outstanding Player of the 2009 Final Four, is one of those players.

Ellington, who made 85 of 204 three-pointers last season, averaged 14.7 points in a 3-year career playing with Lawson and Tyler Hansbrough - who also will be first-round picks tonight.

He might have averaged 10 more points at a program where he was the primary option and not just another talented cog in a juggernaut.

Compared to Lawson and Maynor, Ellington is the best bet to become much more than we've already seen.

The Sixers want to draft a guard with the 17th pick. They should take Wayne Ellington. *

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