By John Wetzel (@John___Wetzel)
Now that the lottery process is over, we finally know where the Sixers will be picking and, likely, who will be available to them. But before we get into that decision, let’s take a look at the Sixers’ core players right now.
In my mind, the only players I have penciled into the Sixers roster for years to come are Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons, Dario Saric, and Robert Covington. If they had to take the floor today, they would all be in the starting lineup with Simmons at the point, RoCo at small forward, Saric at power forward, and Embiid at center. However, down the road, I think the starting positions will be very fluid and we should see a lot of different lineup arrangements.
The Sixers seem to want to give Simmons a try at point guard this season, but I think they also need to look for a more traditional true point guard to let Simmons play some forward as well. That way, they can get the ball in Simmons’ hands a lot, while still running the offense through the point guard as needed. The Cavaliers and Spurs have laid the blueprint for that style with LeBron James and Kawhi Leonard.
So looking ahead to the next contending team in Philadelphia, you would have a frontcourt composed of Simmons and Embiid, with Saric also seeing a lot of minutes, and Covington on the wing. The two main holes to fill would appear to be a true point guard and a shooter/combo guard.
With Markelle Fultz being the consensus number one pick, and Lonzo Ball being linked to the Lakers at number two, the Sixers are looking at a choice between Josh Jackson, Jayson Tatum, De’Aaron Fox, Malik Monk, and Jonathan Isaac. In my opinion, one of those names stands out from the rest.
Josh Jackson would be the best player available based on talent, and while he doesn’t directly address those holes I mentioned, I think he would also fit into the Sixers’ long-term plans. Standing at 6’8″ and around 205 pounds, the former Jayhawk played primarily small forward at Kansas, but has the frame and quickness to potentially play anywhere from the two through four positions.
Jackson has the potential to be the best two-way player in the draft, showing defensive skills in college that exceeded Fultz or Ball with the potential to be a dynamic scorer on offense. He’s an explosive finisher in the paint who also happened to shoot 38% from three (34-90) last season. Jackson does have some problems with consistently exhibiting proper shooting form, evidenced by his 57% mark from the free throws. While it’s a cause for concern for some, I have a lot of faith in him to improve upon that area of weakness.
Another possible red flag involves some off-the-court issues last year at college. Jackson was involved in an altercation outside a bar where he yelled at a women’s basketball player and kicked her car, causing damage. Jackson later issued an apology and was suspended for a game. Recently, as part of a diversion program, it was determined he has to complete an anger management course, write a letter of apology, and perform community service. I don’t think this incident will be enough for the Sixers to move Jackson down their board, but they’ll have to do some extra homework on him to find out if they need to worry about any extra character issues.
Still, despite those things, I like the idea of adding Jackson to the core we mentioned earlier. One trait I especially like from that group is their height, as Jackson would be the shortest at 6’8″. If Brett Brown were to put a lineup on the floor featuring Simmons, Jackson, Covington, Saric, and Embiid, other teams would either have to sub out their undersized guards, or take their chances that they would be able to hang in with these bigger players.
I also look at that group and see amazing defense and positional flexibility. Embiid would function as an elite rim protector. Covington showed last season he can guard perimeter shooters; Jackson could help fill a similar role and function as a stopper against big-bodied isolation players.
Offensively, you would probably see a lot of pick-and-rolls with Simmons and Embiid. Jackson would be doing a lot of catch-and-shoot or driving into the paint as a secondary ball-handler off the kick-out. Jackson and Simmons would also make for a terrific duo on the fast break.
Drafting Jackson would still leave a hole at point guard, but the Sixers have the assets to fill that need within the next two year. The team and Kyle Lowry have been rumored to have mutual interest in a Philadelphia homecoming for the city native, the Sixers also have the unprotected 2018 Lakers and 2019 Kings first round picks.
You could argue that the Sixers also need a sniper-type, three-point shooter, but I view that as a luxury pick and the Sixers aren’t in position to do that at this point at third overall. The team should be able to find shooting at some point. Maybe it will come from Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot, who stepped up his game at the end of last season and will likely see an increase in playing time this year to see if he can handle the role. Free agent J.J. Redick has also been floated as a possible name for Philadelphia.
The bottom line is that Jackson would improve the Sixers more than any of the other possible picks. He won’t slingshot them into the finals, but he’ll get them one step closer.