Sixers have to be happy

Posted: May 22, 2014

WELL, THAT could have worked out better, but it also could have been worse - considerably worse.

With the Cleveland Cavaliers beating the odds of a 1.7 percent chance to win last night's NBA draft lottery, the Sixers slipped down a spot to the No. 3 overall pick.

But while that wasn't an ideal outcome, it still keeps them in play for one of the three players who are the consensus as the top three picks: Kansas freshmen Joel Embiid and Andrew Wiggins and Duke freshman Jabari Parker.

When you consider the Sixers also get the 10th overall pick in the draft because the New Orleans Pelicans did not move into the top three, it was a good night for the next phase of the Sixers' rebuilding project.

The Sixers' lottery experience became a winner early when their logo was pulled out of the envelope for the 10th pick.

Although Sixers representative Julius Erving at first seemed a bit confused to see the Sixers' logo at that point in the draft, it meant that the pick of the Pelicans - who had top-five protection on the selection that was part of the 2013 draft-night trade that sent All-Star point guard Jrue Holiday from the Sixers to the Pelicans for the rights to Kentucky center Nerlens Noel - was coming to South Philadelphia.

The icing on the cake came when the envelope for the fourth overall pick contained the Orlando Magic logo, which meant the Sixers could do no worse than get the third and 10th picks.

Hoping they could hold at No. 2 was fair, but wishing they would jump the Milwaukee Bucks and move to first overall was being greedy.

Some fans are probably disappointed at not getting the top pick, but this played out well.

With the Sixers coming off a 19-win season and basically needing help everywhere, getting two top-10 selections in what is considered a deep draft is all they could ask for - even if they had slipped to No. 5, which would have been the worst position they could have had.

But staying in the top three was vital in their goal to acquire a prospect with franchise-altering superstar potential.

Embiid, Wiggins and Parker are the best bets in this draft.

The psychological relief of knowing what is in front of them has to be a relief to Sixers president/general manager Sam Hinkie, who orchestrated a massive tank job of the 2013-14 season specifically to make that happen.

Of course, the Sixers wanted the No. 1 because that would have removed any doubt they would get the player they most wanted to fit their needs.

But if they weren't going to win, having Cleveland leap-frog them and the Bucks isn't a bad thing.

If you go by the logic that a talented wing player who will be able to fill up the scoreboard is the most pressing of the Sixers' many needs, the smart money says that either Wiggins or Parker, the players who best fit that mold, is going to be there at 3.

Examining the roster of Cleveland, you can extrapolate that the Cavaliers are going to select Embiid, a legitimate 7-footer with high upside, at No. 1.

The Cavaliers have a score-first point guard in All-Star Kyrie Irving, whom they selected first overall in 2011. In his three seasons, Irving has averaged 20.7 points on about 17 shots a game.

And while small forward Anthony Bennett, whom Cleveland drafted first overall last year, averaged just 4.2 points in a horrible rookie season, it is way too early to give up on him.

The Cavs would get no value by trading Bennett because he hasn't shown that he is worth swapping a prime asset. Cleveland's best chance is to hope that Bennett, who is just 21, improves dramatically.

The Cavs also could make a play to keep free-agent All-Star small forward Luol Deng, whom they acquired from the Chicago Bulls for three draft picks.

So Cleveland has a franchise-type scorer in Irving; has invested a No. 1 overall pick in Bennett, who plays the same position as Wiggins and Parker; and might invest maximum dollars in Deng.

If you knew for sure that either Parker or Wiggins was going to be the next LeBron James, you'd draft him No. 1 and then see how the chips played out.

But since there are questions about both, Cleveland will take Embiid, who is touted as having the potential to develop into another Hakeem Olajuwon.

The Cavaliers' best returning front-court player is 31-year-old center Anderson Varejao.

Embiid makes too much sense for Cleveland not to draft him.

So then the Sixers will wait to see what Milwaukee does with the second pick.

With the Bucks posting fewer wins (15) than the Sixers, they actually have even more needs.

The Sixers have rookie of the year Michael Carter-Williams and will finally get to see what Noel - who was considered the top pick in 2013 before getting injured - can do at the NBA level.

Milwaukee has no marquee players, so I would say it will take Wiggins, unless the Canadian superstar who was earlier touted as the best prospect since James balks at going to a small market.

But for a team like the Bucks, the total package that is Wiggins, on and off the court, will be too attractive to pass on.

So that would leave the Sixers with Parker, who averaged 19.1 points and 8.7 rebounds in his one season at Duke.

This won't be a pick the village idiot could make, but Hinkie would have to severely outsmart himself to not take the best available talent who also fills your most pressing need.

We haven't gotten into the host of players possibly available to the Sixers at No. 10, or how they might be able to package some of their five second-round picks for another first-rounder.

Sure, the draft lottery could have gone better for the Sixers, but with the Nos. 3 and 10 picks as the reward, it's difficult to say it wasn't worth the tank job.


Email: smallwj@phillynews.com

Columns: ph.ly/Smallwood

Blog: ph.ly/DNL

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