With March Madness right around the corner, it is time to start taking a closer look at NBA prospects. For the fourth consecutive year, the Sixers are in a position to capitalize on a lottery pick or two. Former Sixers’ GM, Sam Hinkie, has left the franchise with a ton of assets to set them up for a very bright future.
Not only do the Sixers (20-34) have their own pick in the upcoming draft, but they have the option to swap picks with the Sacramento Kings (20-32). They also have the rights to the Los Angeles Lakers (19-37) pick which is top-three-protected. Hypothetically, the Sixers could end up with the first and fourth overall picks, in what is projected to be a very deep draft. Needless to say, the importance of this draft cannot be overstated. Click here to check out the latest draft odds.
With the NBA draft quickly approaching in just four short months, let’s take a look at some of the talent waiting to burst onto the NBA scene. I have ranked the top ten players in the draft the Sixers should be keeping an eye on. Many NBA scouts are considering this to be an outstanding draft class. Usually, I would want to take the best player available with a lottery pick, but given the depth of this draft and the congestion at the center position, they can afford to be a little bit picky. These rankings are based on talent assessment, as well as positional fit for the team:
10. De’Aaron Fox:
Freshman Point Guard- Kentucky
Ht: 6 ft. 4 in. Wt: 175 lbs
De’Aaron Fox has electrifying speed that would immediately make him one of the fastest players in the NBA. He is a strong ball-handler and has terrific vision which would fit perfectly into Brett Brown’s fast pace, get-out-and-run, transition scheme. He is very solid on the defensive side of the ball. The reason why Fox is only number ten on this list is due to his lack of shooting ability. He is shooting a pitiful 18.2% from behind the arc. No matter how hard I try to convince myself to move Fox up on the list, it is simply not happening until he shows drastic improvement in that category. The Sixers need players that can help stretch the floor for Simmons and Embiid. Hopefully, the Sixers land a higher pick than ten.
9. Frank Ntilikina
18 Year Old Point Guard- Strasbourg, France
Ht: 6 ft. 5 in. Wt: 170 lbs
Frank Ntilikina (Nee-lee-KEE-nah) is a true wild card and a nightmare for NBA scouts. I could see him developing into an all star or I could see him struggling at the NBA level similar to Australia’s Dante Exum. Ntilikina has had difficulty finding minutes for a competitive Strasbourg team that has a lot of veteran guards. Regardless, Ntilikina has shown flashes of NBA talent. He has great athleticism, ball-handling skills, vision, and is starting to develop a consistent jumpshot, both off the dribble and off the catch.
One of the things that has scouts fascinated with Ntilikina is his freakish seven foot wing span. His lateral quickness, tenacious defensive enthusiasm, and freakish wingspan gives him the tools to be an excellent NBA defender. Defense is something that is not talked about enough when making the jump to the NBA (i.e. Jahlil Okafor and Sergio Rodriguez). Facing players on a nightly basis such as John Wall and Kyrie Irving is no easy task, but Ntilikina has what it takes to make it a difficult night (or series) for them. Ntilikina would be a great fit for the Sixers if they are unable to land one of the top three point guards in the draft.
8. Jayson Tatum
Freshman Small Forward- Duke
Ht: 6 ft. 8 in. Wt: 205 lbs
Jayson Tatum is a really polished prospect. Tatum has great mechanics and footwork. He is a decent athlete that does a variety of things well. He has good NBA size and strength with a 6-11 wingspan. He can pull down a rebound and take it coast or score in the halfcourt through isolations. He can hit a pullup jumper but has struggled to show consistency with long range, shooting only 31.7% from three. Tatum is coming off a preseason injury to his foot so his slow start (if you want to call it that) is not a huge surprise. Tatum has all the physical tools you could ask for as a wing player. Someone with Tatum’s talent and skill set would usually go top three in the draft, but given the depth of this class, I have Tatum ranked as at eighth overall. The Sixers would be getting a very talented player that would immediately take Covington’s spot in the starting lineup.
7. Lauri Markkanen
Freshman Power Forward- Arizona
Ht: 7 ft. Wt: 230 lbs
I know, I know, the Sixers already have multiple former lottery pick seven-footers riding the bench. I just can’t help myself. If you haven’t gotten the chance to watch Arizona play yet, make sure you tune in during the conference tournament. Markkanen can flat out shoot the rock. He is shooting a ridiculous 47.2% from behind the arc. Just to put that number into perspective, Markkanen is shooting better than Kentucky’s Malik Monk by an astounding 5.6% (not to mention he is nine inches taller). Surprisingly, he even has a quick release and can hit a step back off the dribble. Seven-footers that can shoot the lights out are tough to pass up on, regardless of what your bench looks like. With Okafor likely to be dealt at any moment and Noel becoming an unrestricted free agent, I think this pick actually makes a lot of sense. If he slides this far in the draft the Sixers would be wise to pick him.
6. Malik Monk
Freshman Shooting Guard- Kentucky
Ht: 6 ft. 3 in. Wt: 185 lbs
Malik Monk is an elite scorer. If you turn on a Kentucky game for a few minutes, you are almost guaranteed to see Monk erupt for a highlight dunk or hit a fadeaway three from Mars. He has taken over the role of Jamal Murray at Kentucky, shooting 41.6% from three (and that’s after his recent slump). The Sixers desperately need perimeter shooters to help alleviate some of the offensive pressure from Embiid. Monk and Simmons would be a perfect fit together on the court. Monk creates spacing with his range, which would allow for Simmons to get to the rack or kick the ball out if Monk’s defender tries to help.
At just 6 feet 3 inches, Monk is a little bit undersized at the shooting guard position, but his lightning quick release and explosive first step more than make up for that. NBA defenders will have a really difficult time trying to chase Monk around screens and contesting his shot from unlimited range. Monk loves to play under the bright lights and never shies away from taking a big shot with the game on the line. Monk would give the Sixers a true closer (no offense TJ and RoCo).
5. Jonathan Isaac
Freshman Power Forward- Florida State
Ht: 6 ft. 11 Wt: 205 lbs
NBA Comparison: Draymond Green
Florida State currently has one of its most talented teams in school history, and Jonathan Isaac is the main reason why. He always seems to be at the right place at the right time. Isaac does it all: scores, rebounds, defends, and if there is a 50/50 ball, you better believe Isaac is coming away with it. FSU does not run many plays directly through Isaac so he gets the majority of his points within the rhythm of the offense or by dominating the offensive glass.
Isaac doesn’t do any one thing great, but he does everything really well. At 6-11, that is very hard to come by. He is a gifted athlete with great feet. He defends well against the pick and roll and can switch off and guard perimeter guards if he has to. Offensively, Isaac has decent shooting range and can take it to the rack by exploiting defenders with his athleticism. One thing Isaac has to improve upon is his frame. He is extremely skinny, but going on the Simmons/Embiid workout plan should cure that. With the fifth overall pick, the Sixers would be getting a player with tremendous upside.
4. Josh Jackson
Freshman Small Forward- Kansas
Ht: 6 ft. 8 in. Wt: 205 lbs
Josh Jackson is the best athlete in this draft. He has very raw talent right now, but has as high of a ceiling as anybody on this list. It would not surprise me if he ends up going second or third overall. He is really unselfish on both the offensive and defensive sides of the ball. One thing the Philadelphia fan base is always looking for in a player is grit and you would be getting exactly that with Jackson. His length, athleticism, lateral quickness and competitiveness could make him an elite NBA defender. Every championship contending team needs an elite defensive player that can match up with players like Lebron James and Demar Derozen. Jackson would fill that void for the Sixers.
Jackson has above average ball handling skills and excels on the fast break. Simmons and Jackson running the fastbreak together would simply be unfair. The one and only glaring weakness in Jackson’s game is his jump shot. He is shooting just 35% from three point land. I would also like to see him put on about 15 pounds of muscle, but at just 19 years old, that should not be a problem. Overall, Jackson is a great talent, and if (and it is a big if) he is able to develop a consistent jump shot, he will likely have several NBA GMs wishing they had picked him. If he slips in the draft, the Sixers could be in a position to capitalize in a big way.
3. Dennis Smith Jr.
Freshman Point Guard- N.C. State
Ht: 6 ft. 3 in. Wt: 195
Dennis Smith Jr. is a beast. There’s no other way to say it. He has some of the best highlight dunks you might ever see from a player at his size. The craziest part: he is overcoming an ACL tear that caused him to miss his entire senior season of high school. Smith Jr. recently put all his talents on display when he led N.C. State to an upset over Duke, playing hard-nosed defense, blowing past defenders for highlight dunks, splashing threes, and finding open teammates off the drive and kick. Smith Jr. looks like a man amongst boys every time he steps on the court. If the Sixers acquire him in the draft, look out. A Sixers team featuring Smith Jr., Ben Simmons, and Joel Embiid would be dominant. In order to compete against teams such as the Cavs and Warriors, you need at least three all-stars, and Smith Jr. would be that third piece to the puzzle.
2. Lonzo Ball
Freshman Point Guard- UCLA
Ht: 6 ft. 6 in. Wt: 190 lbs
NBA Comparison: Jason Kidd, Penny Hardaway
The more I watch Lonzo Ball, the more impressed I am with him. Comparisons to Jason Kidd seem legitimate. He is the best passer in this class, averaging 7.6 assists per game. Many of his assists come on transition where he is unstoppable with the ball in his hands. He regularly throws full court chest passes that hit players in stride for a dunk. Ball is the type of player that can have an off night offensively and still find ways to completely dominate the game. Not only is Ball the best passing player, but he is also one of the best shooters in this class, shooting 43% from behind the arc (and many of these are from four or five feet beyond the line). He has a really awkward release when he shoots, but it is hard to complain about it given his consistency. Ball’s impressive range is exactly what the Sixers need to stretch the floor to take some pressure off of Embiid in the post. Also, Ball has the size, length and quickness to become a good defender at the next level. He is the type of player that elevates everyone else’s game around him. Ball is the perfect fit for the Sixers, and who knows, maybe Lonzo’s brother Lamelo will join the Sixers in 2025.
1. Markelle Fultz
Freshman Point Guard- Washington
Ht: 6 ft. 4 in. Wt: 195
“My mindset is different from a lot of people. You ask people their goal and they’ll say to make it to the NBA. My goal isn’t just to make it there, it’s to be the best that ever played.” This quote is not coming from Michael Jordan, Lebron James, or Wilt Chamberlain. It is coming from 18 year old freshman, Markelle Fultz.
Markelle Fultz is far from being the greatest player ever, but he has separated himself as the greatest player in a very deep draft class (although Ball and Smith Jr. may disagree with that). Fultz has everything you could ask for in a point guard. His eye-popping numbers at Washington speak for themselves: 23.2 PPG, 6 APG, 6 RPG, 42% 3 pt. FG%, and 1.3 BPG. When Fultz decides he wants to take over a game, that is exactly what he does. He has incredible size, length, speed, and quickness that will translate very well to the next level.
Offensively, he can play both on and off the ball. If Simmons takes the primary ball handling duties, Fultz will have no problem taking on the role as a shooting guard. Where Fultz really excels, however, is when he has the ball in his hands. He is great at running the pick and roll and can pull up from anywhere on the court. Fultz can explode to the rim at any moment for a thunderous dunk or just as easily hit a step back from seventeen feet from the basket. Fultz has all the talent in the world and could very well end up being a generational type talent.
While Fultz comments about being the greatest player ever might be a bit extreme, it shows his commitment to be great. In today’s NBA, players are getting paid more than ever before. Often times, progress plateaus almost immediately after signing a mega deal. With Fultz, this scenario is very unlikely. If the Sixers happen to hit the lottery and land the first overall pick, Fultz, along with Simmons, and Embiid, have a tremendous opportunity to lead Philadelphia to a championship.