June 13, 2017, 9:45 am
Last week we considered the two leading candidates for the Sixers to select with the third overall pick, Malik Monk and Josh Jackson. A week is a long time when we are this close to the draft. Bryan Colangelo’s recent interview may shed new light on Philadelphia’s direction; he had announced that they were looking at “six to seven” players and that they were even willing to trade down. Simultaneously, they have been working on dates for workouts with two of the top point guard prospects in De’Aaron Fox and Lonzo Ball. Are these two of the “six to seven” Colangelo spoke of? Even if the Sixers see Ben Simmons as their primary ball handler, today’s NBA has seen an increasing number of two point guard sets.
It cannot be overstated; point guard strength is crucial in the today’s NBA and this year’s draft has a couple options that could potentially shape any franchise. De’Aaron Fox is one of those options that also fit Colangelo’s parameters of being able to trade down and still getting his target. Fox has continually been seen slotted lower than the third spot in most mock drafts.
Fox played last season for the habitually lottery-stocked Kentucky Wildcats. He orchestrated the offense for coach Calapari, with two other first-round prospects needing touches in Malik Monk and Bam Adebayo. Fox appeared as a real floor general who lead the SEC in assists per game, yet he was not afraid to call his own number as evidenced by his ability to average over 16 points as a freshman. His absurd speed makes him a one man fastbreak which will translate at the next level and would definitely fit into the Sixers’ offense which ranked fifth in pace last season.
Fox on the Sixers would give the team two very capable ball handlers in their starting lineup and a more traditional look which may help on defensive assignments. Fox’s individual defense has been inconsistent but he has regularly shown the effort and energy needed to be a good defender and owns the foot speed required to play high level perimeter defense. Experience in the league will plausibly make him more efficient and will keep him out of foul trouble. His foul trouble in his last collegiate game against North Carolina really hindered Kentucky’s offense, for example. This is why his teammate Malik Monk was sometimes placed on the opponent’s better perimeter player, and why Kentucky relied on team defense to slow down Lonzo Ball in the Sweet Sixteen. This allowed Fox to go off on the offensive side and score a career high 39 points in an impressive victory. The ability to fill up the stat sheet will make a GM overlook most defensive woes and make him a high lottery pick.
It appeared the two givens of this year’s draft were Markelle Fultz going first and Lonzo Ball going second, but this doesn’t appear to be a lock anymore. According to ESPN’s Chris Hayes, a workout between Ball and the 76ers is being discussed. Another report stated that the Lakers have promised to select Josh Jackson with their pick if he’s still on the board when the Lakers pick at number two. While that is nothing concrete it is a change from the original reports of Ball only working out for the Lakers and being a shoo-in as the Lakers’ selection. Ball being on the board when Philadelphia picks would be considered a slip but the distractions around him are to be considered by any team that selects him. Unfortunately the distractions around him were not self-created, but are they still enough to make a team go a different direction? Another concern is Ball’s quirky shot and whether or not it will it be as effective in the NBA. There is a hitch in his shot and it takes longer to get off when he is moving to his right. He must then bring the ball back to the left side of his body to get into his shooting motion. NBA defensive will be less forgiving and will make it harder to allow that transition.
Enough with the negatives though. There is a reason he is still a lock to be picked very high this year. His shot is peculiar, and it takes an extra moment to release it but once it is above his head it is consistent and reliable. He connected on above 41 percent of his threes and had an overall field goal percentage above 55 percent. Even with these incredible shooting statistics his scoring isn’t what has scouts and GM’s so interested. He plays basketball as a pure point guard, looking to make his teammates better and find the best shot for his team on each possession. He led the PAC-12 conference in assists and his assist-to-turnover ratio at 3.08 was substantially better then Fox’s despite considerably less talent on UCLA. This makes him a seamless fit on any team since every NBA player likes more touches. Standing at 6’6”, Ball’s length would give him physical advantages which would expedite his development and allow him to be comfortable switching in pick and roll situations though he doesn’t appear to have same the lateral quickness and foot speed that Fox does. The potential back court of Simmons and Ball would be taken advantage of by the majority of today’s offenses. This is the same issue the Lakers are looking at; pairing Ball with D’Angelo Russell’s defense would not be a step in the right direction for a team that ranked dead last in defensive rating.
If the current Sixers front office agrees with former Coach Larry Brown, or if they think the trend of playing two skilled ball handlers at the same time is the way of the future, there is a real chance they will be selecting a point guard this draft. The importance of an elite point guard has never been higher and if the Sixers want to make a large leap in the right direction, making the correct selection on draft night is crucial. Is Fox or Ball that selection, Colangelo is going to have to whittle down his “six or seven” players in the coming days.