Recent Sixers' draft picks have been a mixed bag

Andre Iguodala will be playing for his fifth Sixers coach.
Andre Iguodala will be playing for his fifth Sixers coach.
Posted: June 23, 2010

THERE'S ALWAYS the back story. There's always the guy you didn't expect to be there when it was your turn to pick. There's always the guy who has played 3 or 4 years in college and you wonder, if he's so good, why did he stay so long? And there used to be the risk - and drama - of taking the high school kid and trying to explain to the fans and the media about the necessity of waiting for the kid to develop and mature.

There's always the back story, and there are lots of them in the 76ers' recent first-round draft history. Some have worked nicely, others have not. And they're still waiting for a couple to figure things out. These are some of the back stories of the last six drafts, from Andre Iguodala to Jrue Holiday:

Iguodala, 2004

Courtney Witte, the Sixers director of player personnel, recalls that, "We were sitting at No. 9 and there were seven players that we liked."

Witte, senior vice-president/assistant general manager Tony DiLeo and then-president/general manager Billy King worked the phones relentlessly. They needed to know what was most likely to happen directly in front of them. Finally, the Atlanta Hawks confirmed that they were focused on Josh Childress and the Toronto Raptors were keyed in on a big man, Rafael Araujo.

With Childress and Araujo out of the picture, the Sixers believed they had their guy. Never mind that Latvia's Andris Biedrins had been in town for roughly 6 weeks, training with the recently deceased John Hardnett. There was reason to believe that Biedrins could be the Sixers' guy.

As it turned out, the lithe, strong rebounding Biedrins, who went to the Golden State Warriors at No. 11, was their second choice.

"We had tried hard to move up, but we weren't able to get that done," Witte recalled.

Let the record show that Childress, a nice player, has most recently been playing in Greece. Araujo, a big, strong, supposedly late-blooming frontcourt player from Brigham Young, was a complete bust, unable to figure out the pro game.

"It reminds you that, as much effort, experience, energy and money as you put into the scouting and evaluating process, you never really know what's in a player's head or heart," Witte said.

Translation: It's not an exact science.

Still, being as careful and thorough as possible, the Sixers - without releasing the news to the media - brought in Iguodala for a second visit. They talked, they watched, they waited.

They hoped.

They got their guy, leading ESPN analyst Dick Vitale to immediately say they had made a mistake. There was also speculation that then-coach Jim O'Brien wanted no part of Iguodala. At the same time, King recalled that, "A minute after we gave Andre's name to the league office," then-Phoenix Suns GM Bryan Colangelo was on the phone, asking whether Iguodala would be available in a trade.

Iguodala has his fans and his detractors. He is an inconsistent shooter, he takes too many three-pointers, and it's hard to figure whether he is best served as a small forward or shooting guard. It's easy to say the roles are interchangeable, but they often involve different defensive assignments and shots from different areas of the floor. In Iguodala's defense, Doug Collins will be his fifth coach in seven seasons.

He seemed beaten down by this most recent season under Eddie Jordan. He had the mantle of leadership, the voice in the locker room, but he seemed to struggle mightily with the role. It is important to note that he was the first player on Collins' list for a face-to-face meeting designed to begin the process of rejuvenation.

You can find faults in any player's game, but it is also important to note that Iguodala is a fine defender and has played all 82 games in five of his six seasons; even during this 27-55 nightmare, he posted career highs of 6.5 rebounds and 5.8 assists

"I'm obviously biased," Witte said, "but he'll be rejuvenated. When you're around Doug Collins, you can't help but get excited."

Again, you can complain about Iguodala's development being somewhat stifled, but he was the right guy at the right time. What we've learned is, he's an outstanding complementary player, a second or third banana on a good team.

Draft Grade: B. And, if the rejuvenation process works the way Collins envisions it, you might look back and make that a B+.

2005, Louis Williams

With no first-round pick, the Sixers waited until No. 45 to choose Williams, then just 18, out of South Gwinnett High in Snellville, Ga. He was the national prep player of the year, a McDonald's All-American.

And when he didn't hear his name called in the first round, he was so disillusioned that he walked out of the Atlanta-area restaurant where he was the focal point of a draft party.

But the Sixers saw him with the skills of a young Tony Parker, a kid with speed, quickness and an innate ability to score.

It's a good thing the Sixers were patient. Williams didn't make his first NBA start until this just-completed season. He had gone 252 games as a backup, sometimes a deep, deep backup.

"Coming out of high school, Lou and [the Warriors'] Monta Ellis were 1A and 1B," Witte said. "Everyone knew Lou. Ideally, you'd like to have all college 4-year players, but those aren't the cards we're dealt right now."

Jordan tried to sell him as a point guard in a two-guard front in a Princeton-style offense that would feature passing, cutting, screen-setting, backdoor moves and a variety of open shots. What we learned is, he is far better suited as an effective off-the-bench energy guy, someone who can provide quick points and change the pace of a game. There's nothing wrong with that role.

Williams averaged a career-high 14 points, making 38 starts in a season that included having his jaw broken.

Grade: B. Remember, he was the No. 45 pick and really young. And who knows what he really learned - good and bad - sitting behind Allen Iverson.

2006, Rodney Carney

A hush fell over the media covering the draft when the Sixers announced that, with the No. 13 pick, they had taken Thabo Sefolosha, of Belgium.

Who? Why?

As it turned out, their real target was Memphis' Rodney Carney, who went No. 16 to the Chicago Bulls. The teams immediately swapped picks.

You should hope for more with a top 16 pick, but Carney - despite elite athleticism and an effective jump shot in a fine 4-year college career - has never really blossomed. He has shown splashes of ability at both ends of the court but hasn't been able to find a true niche in two stints with the Sixers and a shorter time with the Minnesota Timberwolves.

Again, it's not an exact science. Let the record show that Rajon Rondo, now the Boston Celtics' rising young point guard, went No. 21.

"He was in the top three to five as an athlete in that draft," Witte said. "He had speed, he had shown he was a nice spot-up shooter. He was a late bloomer. What we've seen is, he's not going to be a creator."

Grade: C-minus. He was good enough to make the team and to sometimes play in the rotation, but that's all.

2007, Thaddeus Young

There was a clamor for the Sixers to take Florida's Al Thornton, a 4-year college player, the scoring small forward the team desperately needed.

But Thaddeus Young, after one season at Georgia Tech, forced himself into the thinking of the scouts and personnel people. Young, they decided, had a much greater upside. He was the one player who showed more than they anticipated in his predraft workout.

He became the surprise pick at No. 12.

"There's depth to him," Witte said. "He has a very good attitude, extreme quickness, but he needs to work on his ballhandling and his shooting."

In a season of confusion about what Jordan was trying to accomplish, Young, Williams and forward Marreese Speights suffered the most. At a time when the Sixers were looking for development, these three noticeably regressed.

"Thad is much better than he showed," Witte said. "He doesn't want to be just good, he wants to be great."

Grade: B. Take out this season of disappointment, and you can visualize a guy who can compete as a shooting guard but seems better as an undersized small forward.

2007, Jason Smith

The Sixers had a second first-round pick, and they used it at No. 21 on Ohio State's Daequan Cook, immediately sending Cook to the Miami Heat for Colorado State's Jason Smith, a strapping near 7-footer who had been selected one spot earlier. There had been a moment in Smith's predraft workout that probably solidified him as a Sixers' target. In a one-on-one drill, he took the ball hard to the basket, sending defender Glen "Big Baby" Davis sprawling on his back across the end line.

Smith, though, remains a work in progress. He tore his left Achilles tendon during a skills camp in Las Vegas in August 2008 and missed the entire season. He was back for 56 games this season, averaging 3.4 points and 2.4 rebounds.

The Sixers like to refer to him as an energy guy who can help with rebounding and an improving perimeter shot.

But 3.4 and 2.4 don't seem like nearly enough. It's time to find out whether Smith, now 2 years removed from his injury, has more to offer.

(The Sixers had a third pick at No. 30, the last of the first round. They used it on Euro Petteri Koponen, but it was for delivery to the Portland Trail Blazers.)

Grade: C-minus.

2008, Marreese Speights

North Carolina State's J.J. Hickson went No. 19, California shooting forward Ryan Anderson went No. 21, Western Kentucky guard Courtney Lee went No. 22 to Orlando and big man Serge Ibaka jumped from C.B. L'Hospitalet in Spain to the Oklahoma City Thunder.

But the Sixers believed they saw something special in the 6-10 Speights, taking him at No. 16.

He averaged 7.7 points, 3.7 rebounds and 50.2 percent shooting from the floor as a rookie. And even though his numbers improved this season to 8.6 rebounds and 4.1 rebounds, his shooting dropped to 47.7 percent.

His overall game dropped even more, hampered in part by a left knee injury that kept him out for 14 games.

Most critically, he has to force himself to improve as a defender and passer. He's already a solid scoring threat, but he depends far too much on his jumper.

The question is, does he know what it will take for him to be better, if not great?

Grade: C. The Sixers were gleeful after his rookie season. The glee, though, has turned to skepticism and hope.

2009, Jrue Holiday

The Sixers have a philosophy that includes trying to identify who they believe will be the best player in 5 years.

In this case, at No. 17, they took 19-year-old Jrue Holiday, who would become the only player in the league to have been born in the 1990s. He had played a year out of position at UCLA, sharing the backcourt with Darren Collison.

Holiday had been the Gatorade Player of the Year at Campbell Hall in North Hollywood.

He emerged as the gem of the Sixers' season, even though it took a while for Jordan to insert him in the lineup. He can shoot, he can create, he can get to the rim. The only lingering question: Is he really a good player, or did he shine because he was one of the better players on a not-very-good team?

There is a better than reasonable chance that the latter is more likely.

Grade: For now, a solid B.

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