Sizing up the Sixers options with the 3rd pick

Updated: Thursday, May 21, 2015 08:26 AM
D'Angelo Russell

Ever since the Sixers ping pong ball combination came up with the #3 pick in Tuesday night’s NBA lottery, the general assumption has been that Ohio State’s D’Angelo Russell is the front-runner to be picked by the Sixers.

It’s an assumption that I don’t necessarily disagree with, as I think Russell makes logical sense, both as an “upside” pick but also as a “need” pick. When a player checks both boxes, it’s a logical conclusion.

But what I disagree with is that he’s a virtual lock. In fact, I think it’s far more up in the air than most do.

So what do I think are the options the Sixers have at #3? And what are the chances I think each one ends up being selected on June 25th? Here is my very unscientific, bound to change, guess.

Note #1: This is from a combination of my own evaluation, chatter I hear around the league, and inferring whatever little I can from the Sixers front office comments and recent history. If you think Sam Hinkie has shared his big board with me, you’re crazy.

Note #2: This is assuming Towns and Okafor are taken with the first 2 picks in the draft. While not necessarily a lock, we’ll explore the possibility that they aren’t in future columns.

1) D’Angelo Russell, PG, Ohio State

Probability: 30%

As I mentioned during the intro, I do think D’Angelo Russell is still the front-runner, just not necessarily the prohibitive favorite.

A lot of that has to do with Russell’s offensive fit with Joel Embiid. I do think if you’re looking for a Robin to Embiid’s Batman, fit has to be taken into consideration, and that makes shooting a priority.

And Russell is one of the best shooters in the draft. It’s not just the 41.1% from three Russell shot on over 6 attempts per game, but it’s how much of a threat Russell is to pull-up at any time. The quickness, and accuracy, of his release, almost regardless of where is on the court or what he’s doing — dribbling off of a pick, running off of a screen, driving towards the basket — puts an incredible amount of pressure on an opposing team’s defense.

And if Russell is putting pressure on a defense from 24′ out, that will naturally open things up Joel Embiid down low. If there was a public measurement of gravity in college basketball, D’Angelo Russell would be up there with the best of them. Add in an incredibly creative passer off the pick and roll with great court vision and Russell’s fit is virtually perfect.

So why isn’t this 100%? Two things.

First, and I’ve mentioned this before, but Russell’s struggles against good defenses are just a little bit concerning. Because Ohio State’s non-conference schedule was so weak last season (ranked 328th in the nation according to Ken Pomeroy), you tend to focus on Russell’s tough competition a little bit more closely. And the results weren’t very good. Against top-100 defenses, Russell shot 37.9% from the field and 34.8% from 3, and dished out only 4.4 assists per game, compared to 3 turnovers per contest.

Top 1008-935.617.737.9%34.8%40.4%4.43
Outside of top 10016-232.420.852.2%47.4%56.4%5.62.8
D'Angelo Russell's performance against top-100 defenses.

Now, if you’re asking me to determine “why”, I’d say I’m about 80% willing to throw those numbers away because of Ohio State’s general lack of offensive talent outside of Russell, a problem he won’t face with Joel Embiid attracting an immense amount of attention down low. Great team defenses can take away one man shows at the collegiate level, and Russell had very little offensive help at Ohio State.

Still, when you look at those numbers, and combine them with Russell’s average athleticism, it’s not something I can get 100% out of my mind, either. Am I going to go back and re-watch Russell’s games against Louisville, UNC, Illinois, Wisconsin, Michigan State, Arizona, et al to try to eliminate that 20% concern? No doubt.

The second concern I have with just penciling in Russell as a 76er is his defense. After this past trade deadline, Sam Hinkie talked about wanting 2-way stars, something that Russell right now just doesn’t fit. From a physical perspective, his lateral mobility is only average and he needs to add upper body strength.

The former he’s helped out with by his 6’9.7.5″ wingspan, which is excellent for a point guard. The latter he’s making progress on, having claimed to have gained 10 pounds during his time at Ohio State, something that seems plausible considering he’s up 17 pounds since when he was measured as the LeBron James camp in 2013.

D'Angelo Russell's wingspan

PlayerWingspanMeasured at
D'Angelo Russell6'9.75"2015 combine
Michael Carter-Williams6'7.25"2013 combine
Jrue Holiday6'7"2009 combine
Emmanuel Mudiay6'8.5"2014 Nike Hoop Summit

Even more of a concern than the physical profile, though, is his technique. He’s rarely in a good defensive stance on the defensive end, frequently upright and with his arms by his side. He does a poor job of running through picks and screens, he doesn’t close out all that well on shooters, he can get bit by misdirections, and he gets lost off the ball.

None of that is to necessarily say that he can’t improve upon all of those, because they’re mostly mental lapses and technique concerns, but it’s not something I can absolutely pencil in, either.

2) Mario Hezonja, SG, FC Barcelona

Probability: 20%

The guy that I think people are sleeping on, both in Philadelphia and nationally, is Mario Hezonja. If Hezonja were feasting on weak college competition rather than trying to fit in on a deep, talented, Barcelona squad playing against grown men in the 2nd most talented basketball league in the world, he’d be a top-5 pick and I don’t think most would call this a 4 person draft.

The intrigue? 6’8″, elite athlete, elite shooter, and can play very good defense.

The concern: attitude, shot selection, inconsistent defense, low free throw rate.

Hezonja’s strengths are virtually unteachable. It’s not just that he’s a great shooter, but that he’s a great shooter stationed in the corner, a huge threat as a shooter coming off of screens, and good at pulling up off the dribble. That gravity score that I talked about with Russell is in play here, as I think Hezonja will have more impact on floor spacing than a guy like Justise Winslow.

And that athleticism opens up a world of potential for Hezonja. As of now it’s mostly realized in transition and off of cuts to the basket off the ball, where he’s a constant threat for lobs at the rim, but it shows up off the dribble at times as well. While Hezonja’s ball handling still needs a little bit of progress to catch up to his athleticism, it’s not terrible, either, and his first step gives indication that creating off the dribble is something he can improve upon down the line.

His weaknesses? Almost all correctable. Or, at the very least, manageable. His defense, when he’s engaged (which usually directly aligns with when he’s involved in the offense), can be very good. His lateral mobility and length are excellent, and Brett Brown would have a ton to work with. His shot selection over the past 12 months has improved, and having played as a role player on a deep Barcelona squad may have helped in this regard, as being the #1 option he almost certainly would have been on a college squad may have resulted in more freedom than he was ready for. His attitude, which ranges from confident to cocky, could be immaturity, or it could be the type of confidence that is a positive attribute if he actually develops into one of the best players on a team.

The biggest question may be his low free throw rate.

Part of this is that he needs to improve his ball handling to really take advantage of his athleticism, and part of this is his shot selection. But I do believe that part of this is situational as well. Barcelona plays a structured offense, and Hezonja’s playing time was, as a young player, in part based on his ability to play within this structure. More freelancing from Hezonja would have likely resulted in more time on the bench.

I believe there’s an immense amount of potential in Hezonja, with a skill set the Sixers desperately need, and the potential to be an impact player on both sides of the court. He also has the physical tools, advanced skill set, and professional experience where he could come over next season and contribute right away.

There would be riots in the streets of Philadelphia if Hinkie selected Hezonja 3rd overall, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it would be a bad decision.

3) Kristaps Porzingis, PF, Baloncesto Sevilla

Probability: 20%

This is likely where I lose a lot of people. I don’t necessarily disagree, as I think Porzingis would be a riskier selection than either Mudiay or Winslow. Far risker, in fact.

But I think the potential might be worth it.

I’ve spent a lot of time in this article talking about gravity and floor spacing, and Porzingis has the potential to be elite in that regard. At 7’1″ Porzingis shows incredible ability as a three point shooter, with an ability to hit shots coming off of a screen and off the dribble that 7’1 ” big men simply don’t have. There are very few 7 footers who could take a running one-footed jumper in traffic and you go “oh, that’s a good shot” and actually mean it. Porzingis is one of them.

That itself makes Porzingis an incredibly unique talent, and one that could potentially be a perfect fit on a team centered around Joel Embiid. What separates Porzingis even more, however, is some of the defensive tools that he has. Most big men who make their living stretching the floor are defensive sieves. Porzingis is not.

Porzingis has the ability to alter shots at the rim, blocking 2.3 and 1.8 shots per 36 minutes over the past two seasons, despite playing quite a bit on the perimeter. He has excellent length at 7’1″ and is quick off his feet, a tantalizing combination.

Not just a shot blocker, though, Porzingis actually moves his feet very well for a guy his size, and uses his length on the perimeter well. In a game that increasingly revolves around pick and roll play, Porzingis ability to alter shots at the rim AND be a good pick and roll defender is immensely valuable, and also a rarity for a floor spacing big. Once again, with Joel Embiid playing down low, Porzingis’ potential to defend pick and rolls and perimeter oriented big men is huge.

Again, Porzingis carries some risk. If he doesn’t add significant bulk to his 220 pound frame, he’s going to get eaten alive. His rebounding, and post defense, suffer because of that. He isn’t of much use as a passer, either, something that would become an issue if he does grow into the #2 or #3 option on offense that being drafted this high almost necessitates. But for a 19 year old kid with a world of physical tools and a high skill level, there’s a lot to like.

Besides Porzingis being, stylistically, the right fit next to Embiid, the Sixers might also be the right fit for Porzingis. Kristaps is going to need a team that will let him play while he’s developing, and many teams will be unwilling to give him playing time while he’s getting pushed around and manhandled. The patience that the Sixers have shown with Joel Embiid and Nerlens Noel helps, as does having Joel Embiid on the roster to play next to Porzingis, thus limiting how much Porzingis is going to have to guard bruising big men. It also helps that the Sixers have a 1-1 affiliate with a D-League team, and could send Porzingis down to get playing time if necessary.

Note #1: I’ve been told that it’s a virtual lock that both Porzingis and Hezonja will come over next season. Now, Sam Hinkie could prefer one of them to stay overseas, although I don’t necessarily think that’s likely, but the option for them to come over will likely be there for the Sixers.

Note #2: I’ve heard from multiple sources that Hinkie has gone over to Sevilla personally multiple times to see Porzingis play and that he is a fan of the Latvian big man.

4) Emmanuel Mudiay, PG, Guangdong

Probability: 15%

Like Hezonja and Porzingis, few have seen Mudiay play of late, as Mudiay, a native of Congo who grew up in Texas, has spent the past year playing in China.

In addition to the relative anonymity that playing in China provides, Mudiay also only played 12 games overseas, limited by an ankle injury for much of the season. In news that I find utterly amazing, it’s reported that only one NBA general manager made it over to China to see Mudiay play in person. That GM is none other than the Sixers own Sam Hinkie.

I actually think Mudiay is a relatively safe pick, perhaps with a higher floor than Russell. While I think there’s some concern whether Russell can consistently get good shots off against NBA caliber size and athletes, Mudiay is extremely quick with the ball in his hands and should be able to get into the paint right off the bat. His size and strength makes him a threat to get to the line, he has a better defensive profile than Russell, and his point guard instincts are better than advertised. I see very little chance of Mudiay being a bust.

So why do I view him as being a relatively low chance to be a target by the Sixers?

That shooting is a huge question mark for me, especially on the 76ers. On my team-agnostic mock draft I’m much higher on Mudiay than I am on my Sixers big board, as I have Mudiay ranked 4th overall. But, as I’ve mentioned many times, I think shooting is a huge consideration when finding a long term partner with Joel Embiid, and I have significant questions about whether Mudiay can ever be a consistent shooter.

And, while many point guards of late have come in and excelled even with questionable shooting, they have largely been elite athletes at the point guard spot, guys like Derrick Rose, John Wall, or Russell Westbrook. This is the part of Mudiay’s game that I think gets mischaracterized the most. I think Mudiay is quick, strong, and a good athlete. I don’t not think he’s the athletic marvel that those guys are, though. And to be really effective as a partner next to Embiid, I think that jump shot is going to be key.

5) Justise Winslow, SF, Duke

Probability: 15%

I think Winslow is a fantastic prospect, and one with a really high floor. I think Winslow’s incredible defense and the progress he made as a catch-and-shoot option makes him almost a lock to be a good pro, and I love his ability to rebound, push the ball, and make plays in transition. I also think he has a lot of potential as a dribble-drive threat, especially because he’s left handed, even if he does still really need to develop his right hand more to take the next step.

But, I think that with the number of options available to Hinkie who could form a legitimate 1-2 threat with Joel Embiid and form the nucleus of a squad, I think Hinkie will ultimately go in another direction. For as much as I like Winslow, I’m not sure I see him becoming the focal point offensively on the perimeter, and I think getting that outside threat to go with Embiid’s inside threat is a tough position to fill. And, with the Sixers having the ability to fill that this year, I think they’ll go that route.

It’s not that I think Winslow will be a bad player or a bad fit, and I think that an analytically (and defensive) minded GM like Hinkie probably loves Winslow.

It’s just that I think getting a guy like Russell has the potential to become, especially if the Sixers start improving with Embiid and the 2015 pick on the court, is tough to do, and this year presents a real opportunity to do so.


Derek Bodner

Derek Bodner is a credentialed reporter covering the Philadelphia 76ers independently for He is also a college basketball scout for, and an NBA contributor for The Ringer. Contact Information: / @DerekBodnerNBA

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  • Great article Derek. Just one question. If Hezonja/Porzingis is the man that Hinkie wants, what do you think are the chances that the Sixers trade down? and who do you think is a good partner for this hypothetical trade?

  • Josemas

    I also really like the article, and also really wonder if we should be trading down if there are really 5 guys that we like at this spot? Why not get another pick to trade back with the Kings and take the best available at 6 who is still on this list?

    I think my personal preference might be to take Kristaps, then ask him to play in Europe for another year, just to see the press reaction How is his fit with Noel?

    • It takes two to trade, the kings might not want to move or they might do something dramatic (people in LA think a #2 for cousins deal is a good move for the lakers if the kings would do it).

  • Josemas

    Also, have we seen splits like De’Angelo’s before? Wouldn’t most of Steph Curry’s numbers also have been racked up against bad teams?

    • The contrast is that Steph Curry played in a ‘bad’ (for lack of a better term) D-1 conference whereas Russell played against a higher level of competition in the Big 10.

      • The Big 10 was pretty bad this year. Russell put up 45/40/74 shooting splits a line of 23/7/6 per 40 minutes in 18 games in conference play.

        • I would think even a bad big 10 this year would still have a higher average level of competition than the southern conference almost any year.

          And as a Wisconsin alumni I take slight umbrage 🙂

          • SJexpatriate

            Curry put up monster scoring numbers for Davidson, but he did it not only against conference teams but also against non-conference teams in March Madness. Curry’s performance in the 2008 tournament was magical. So no, Curry’s numbers aren’t good for comparing to Russell’s struggles against better defenses because no one could stop Curry in college.

            • tk76

              To be fair, Curry played 3 seasons at Davidson. I’m guessing Russell would be even mire dominant against college competition in 2 years.

              • Derek Bodner

                Yeah. Curry played a few games against good non-conferences teams during his freshman season (Michigan, Missouri, Duke, Maryland). I’ll try to find boxes and run the stats.

  • tk76

    This would have been a great year to get that #6 pick. Winslow of Mario would have been great options there, and I expect one will drop out of the top 5. If Mario slides past I expect Hinkle will try and make Andrade, but I doubt he pulls it off.

    As for the PG’s… that position is so deep in the NBA that I’d be wary of using a #3 pick unless you have a great chance at hitting on a superstar. Mudiay’s poor FT shooting scares me, because that is a red flag for his long term shooting prospects. While Russell’s saving grace would be the ability to play him in a 2 guard line-up. That way you still could add another great PG to the team if one comes available as a FA.

    • tk76

      Sorry, not great with my onscreen keyboard and a bit lazy.

    • I’m not really understanding this thinking – i heard it on the lakers radio station as well – how #2 doesn’t have as much value in this draft as say 5 or 6. Seriously folks, rookies are vastly underpaid (most of the time) if they don’t bust. The higher the pick the more the options. If you feel winslow or mario are better – take them at 3 – though maybe taking the player that’s better than both of them and having the option to makes more sense?

      I would be surprised to see any trade made that causes the sixers to have less assets (unless said assets are any number of second round picks). Getting #6 for instance would probably cost the lakers pick – which I wouldn’t trade just yet – the lakers just aren’t likely to be good next year

      • tk76

        Sorry, I meant getting the additional pick from the Lakers at #6 had the lottery worked out… Not dropping to #6.

      • tk76

        This year does have a bit of a 2012 (ET draft) feel. Like John Wall, KAT is the clear #1, and will become an elite player given 3-4 years o develop. While 2-7 are very much an open question and the 5-7 guys could very well outperform the 2-4 picks. I have less reservations about Justise and Mario than I do about Russell and Mudiay, even though I would still pick Russell at #3.

        • Ah, sorry, misunderstood the pick think.

          In that year John Wall went #1 – the wrong player went #2 and a lot of folks knew it at the time (and this year he made 2nd team all nba)

          It’s funny – lakers fans are terrified of having the #2 pick because they went back 11 years and looked at the #2 pick…like it establishes any sort of valid evidence. There’s reservations about every draft pick, usually you’re making a huge bet on 19/20 year olds, and there are very few sure things honestly. The last sure thing in the NBA draft to my way of thinking was Lebron James

    • bebopdeluxe

      Agree with your position about using the #3 pick on a PG…given how many good PG’s there are in the league – and given how they seem to be valued by many in the league (it would be interesting to get Hinkie’s take on where PG’s fit on his “value tree”) – if you are going to use the number 3 pick on a PG, it should mean that 1) there isn’t a game-changing big or potential perimeter closer on the board there, and 2) the PG you pick has the chance to be a CP/Westbrook level guy.

      Trading down and getting Mario (with additional assets) feels very Hinkie-ish to me…but it takes two to tango….and this is too valuable a pick to fuck up.

      • tk76

        It is almost like PG’s are what running backs have become during the NFL draft.

  • Great article Derek. I read basically everything you write and one thing has been standing out to me recently; you keep talking about a person’s fit with Joel Embiid. I am absolutely with you on Embiid. I think he could be a huge superstar in this league. If there’s a flaw in his game, I haven’t seen it. But I think you and I think about it with an optimistic lens and I just don’t think Sam Hinkie is there yet. He is the realist of realists. He will make every decision logically, and I don’t think drafting a guy based on his fit with a player who hasn’t even played a semi-meaningful game of 5 on 5 yet is logical. I think fit is the last thing Sam Hinkie values. Sam values things like talent, potential, value, and correctable flaws. He picked guys like Embiid and Saric, despite their lack of a fit, because of their talent and the value he got on each one of those picks. That’s why I’m doubting the Russell pick like you are, but I think Sam is a lot more interested in Mudiay than you think.

    When it comes to talent, I think Mudiay is up there with Towns. He’s a two-way player like Sam wants, and was a more highly recruited player out of high school than Russell was. When you watch film on him he looks like he’s just toying with the players in the CBA. He excelled in his, granted, limited action, but he was playing against professionals, including current and former NBA guys. If he had an average jump shot, I think he goes number one. He is extremely talented and I think Sam will like that.

    When it comes to value he has good things and bad things going for him. The bad is his position. Sam understands how deep the point guard market is. You can get a good point guard almost anywhere. Look at how well Ish Smith played after being waived by the Thunder. Point guards in the top five are like running backs in the NFL. They don’t present great value, but Mudiay has star potential and I think Sam is still just looking for stars. The good thing going for him is that he didn’t play in America. Mudiay is underrated because he played in China. Had he put up those kinds of numbers in the NCAA, not only would he be rated higher, but he could’ve wone Player of the Year. Scouts don’t know how to guage what he did in China, because they don’t scout the CBA as much as the NCAA. If they watched him against elite competition in the NCAA, he would be rated higher. This presents value for Sam Hinkie. We have a guy with #1 potential, but is being underrated because of the league he played in. Getting a #1 talent at #3 is value that Hinkie likes.

    Lastly, both Hinkie and Coach Brown have said that shooting is a correctable flaw. Mudiay’s shot can be corrected. It might not be, but it’s possible. You can’t teach Russell to be a better athlete. If you’re looking for a superstar, you want to see the guy who can fix a flaw to take that next step. Mudiay’s flaw is more correctable than Russell’s.

    I go back and forth between the two, and right now I still prefer Russell, but I think Mudiay has a greater than 15% chance of being a Sixer because of the things Sam Hinkie values. I think if Sam had seen Joel play for a year, I think fit comes more into play, but i don’t think Sam views drafting the Robin to Joel’s Batman to be logical because we don’t know if Embiid’s Batman yet. I don’t think Sam has a Big Board and a Sixer’s Big Board like you do. I think he’s still in the “pick the best player and see what happens” phase. I might be wrong (who really knows what Sam is thinking), but I just wanted to post the thought to you and see what you think. BTW I think positional value bumps Hezonja and Winslow up on Hinkie’s big board… just another thought. I have no idea who the pick will be, and that’s part of the excitement of being a Sixers fan.

    • tk76

      What makes it really tricky is that you have to gauge where these guys project not only compared to each other, but against the entire NBA. It is not simply BPA with this type of high pick.

      Say for agreements sake Mudiay is a tiny bit higher than Russell on a pure rating scale. That would make him the BPA… but it depends on what level you are talking about. If this is a strong draft and we are talking them both maxing out as superstars… then you take the best. But if this is weaker draft, and they both project just a quality starters… then I would take the slightly less player who can be slotted in as SG (or PG) over the guy who only plays PG. Because a solid starter at PG has less value to a team than the equivalent at SG(or at least you are in less of a hurry to replace the solid SG, as opposed to shipping outa PG.)

      • tk76

        And in Russell’s case, I’d take the solid starter who gives you minutes at SG and PG over the slightly better player that can only play PG.

        That said, I can’t really say who is the better player. I just feel more comfortable with some of the later picks, who have well defined floors as wings.

  • If the Sixers go with Hezonja with their pick, what do they do about the point guard spot? Who do you see the Sixers going after in the 2nd round or moving up into the late 1st to pick up? I can see the Sixers taking a flyer on George de Paula, but we’d need to do more than that since he’s not capable of starting at the moment. He should be there in the 2nd round. What about Andrew Harrison (Kentucky)? Another draft site has got Danilo Fuzaro (Brazil) as our guy at #35. Since the MCW trade, I was set on Mudiay, but I think I have been sold on Hezonja. Yet I don’t want to go into the season relying on the group we had last season (Wroten, Canaan, and Ish Smith…if he re-signs).

    • bebopdeluxe

      We can always take a shot next year with our two likely lottery picks (ours and LAL), as well as the MIA and/or OKC picks.

      We are not going to be done the rebuild this summer.

      And in the meantime, we can probably figure out a way to get an upgrade to Canaan/Smith for next season…just to keep the rebuild moving in the right direction. Don’t laugh…but for the right $$$, I would consider Jeremy Lin on a two-year deal…he can be the starter next year…the backup to the guy we take in next summer’s draft…and by then perhaps Micic can take over as our backup.

      • I am somewhat of a fan of Jeremy Lin…I don’t think he is a bum at all. I don’t see the Sixers going that way, though. I don’t think he is what we look for defensively. I don’t see the Sixers going after veteran free agents; as you said, the rebuild is not complete so plugging a guy like him in only makes sense if we want to make the playoffs. I’d prefer to make the playoffs on the backs of our young guys.

        With that in mind, that’s the reason for my question: what young guy(s) we could obtain to play point guard that would make sense in the 2nd round of this draft. I don’t watch college ball so I don’t have anyone in mind. I would prefer a bigger guard that has the attributes we like. Derek has only mentioned forwards when he has talked 2nd round, I believe. I’d like to go into next season with someone young to give minutes to at PG.

        • tk76

          I’d stick with Ish… not long term, but until they acquire a long term answer. Ish has the right skill set to help the other players develop. I’m not sure Lin fits that bill… at least as your starter. I guess Lin can shoot and run the P&R, but he does not put pressure on a defense like Ish to where the bigs get easy looks near the rim.

          Just because Ish broke out last year, does not mean he is a fringe NBA player. He is just too small to be a long term answer as a starter if winning is the priority. But a perfect guy to stabilize the team and help everyone grow in their roles.

          • bebopdeluxe

            I understand that Lin is no staunch defender…butmit is not like either ish or Canaan are either. I was thnking that Lin’s shooting ability and ability to run the PnR would help our bigs…and – relative to the FA crop he seemed pretty decent (the only other guy who jumped out at me was CJ Watson).