The Philadelphia 76ers are prepared to teach the NBA’s annual lesson in how bad NBA teams remain bad NBA teams.
They’re prepared to take LSU’s Ben Simmons with the No. 1 pick Thursday night over Duke’s Brandon Ingram, a classic example of an NBA team dazzled by potential when the obvious correct choice is right in front of it.
Simmons is unquestionably one of the two best players in the draft, but a team that’s been as bad as the Sixers have been for as long as the Sixers have been is obligated to get the right player, and Simmons is no sure thing. Ingram doesn’t have the same tools as Simmons, but he could very easily end up having a much better NBA career.
Simmons is a generational athlete with incomparable skills, a point guard in a power forward’s body, with one major flaw: He can’t shoot a lick. The modern NBA is built around shooting, so that’s more than a little inconvenient.
There’s actually a reasonably long list of negatives for the presumptive No. 1 overall pick. He played on an exceedingly mediocre team, where he compiled amazing individual numbers while going 11-7 in a very weak SEC.
Thanks to his top-pick status going into the season, ESPN obsessed over Simmons like CNN obsesses over Donald Trump. Long before the end it got more than a little absurd. Maybe it was too much to ask of Simmons to elevate that LSU team to any kind of greatness, but the overwhelming mediocrity doesn’t speak well of Simmons’ ability to improve his teammates.
He may be able to play point guard in the NBA, but if not, the entire offense will need to be structured around Simmons at forward. That’s not a big deal for the 76ers, who don’t exactly offer the template for NBA offense, but for a team that has been losing to add talent, it’s anyone’s guess whether that assembled talent will work alongside Simmons. It’s been hard enough for Sixers fans watching them struggle; imagine if it were all for nothing?
The list of negatives on Ingram is shorter: He needs to bulk up.
And that’s it. He’s a prototypical modern NBA player, a scorer with inside moves and outside range who with some muscle should be an All-Star small forward in the league for a dozen years. Often compared to Kevin Durant, Ingram is more wiry than Durant was coming out of Texas and has more work to do to catch up, but he’s got that kind of game and that kind of potential.
At this point in their careers, it’s a lot easier to add 30 pounds of muscle than it is to learn to shoot a 3-pointer. You can send Ingram into the weight room with a protein shake and be pretty sure he’s going to emerge at some point with a man’s body. No matter how much time Simmons puts in at the gym, there’s no guarantee he’ll ever be able to score consistently more than 10 feet from the rim – especially when you consider how much Ingram improved over the course of his freshman season and how little Simmons did.
So the Sixers will take Simmons and roll the dice, because that’s what bad NBA teams do: talk themselves into bad decisions. That’ll happen throughout the first round. Teams look at Skal Labissiere and Chieck Diallo and Thon Maker and see “basketball player” even if they’ve done nothing on the court to reinforce that. Meanwhile, the shooting of Buddy Hield and Jamal Murray will help non-playoff teams get into the playoffs and guys like Denzel Valentine and Malcolm Brogdon will fall late in the first round to teams that can use them in specific, effective roles. Smart teams that don’t need immediate help will grab European players who can make them better in two or three years.
That’s how the rich end up getting richer in the NBA draft, and it starts with the Sixers taking Simmons and letting Ingram fall to the Lakers.
Luke DeCock: 919-829-8947, email@example.com, @LukeDeCock