Looking back on last Thursday’s NBA Draft, it is easy to become dismayed as a Sixers fan. Just when it seemed like a lead guard was going to fall into our laps, the Lakers snapped him up. As a result, the draft was perceived as a failure by those who had honed in on D’Angelo Russell as a future Sixer. Has the Sixers’ rebuild really stalled due to missing out on Russell?
In the months leading up to the big night, many Sixers fans keyed in on Russell as the team’s target. For some, this desire to bring the Ohio State guard to Philly developed into a belief that getting him was a necessary next step in the Sixers’ plan because of his position and skillset. Then, when the Lakers picked Russell at #2, these Philly fans were sent into a frenzy.
The Sixers, under the leadership of President of Basketball Operations and General Manager Sam Hinkie, view the draft solely as an opportunity to acquire talent. The team is not yet at a point where it tries to find players with a specific skillset or at a particular position to fit in with the current roster. To do so through the draft would be foolish for any team, in fact. In addition, it is not as though the Sixers backcourt is locked in as is for the foreseeable future. Moving forward, the team will have tons of cap space and a cupboard stocked full of draft picks to use in acquiring perimeter talent. The draft is not the only way to find starting-caliber talent, but it is the easiest way for a team like the Sixers to find elite players.
Bearing in mind that the team abides by the “best player available” strategy, it may have been a stroke of good fortune that the Lakers took D’Angelo Russell since in doing so they allowed Jahlil Okafor, perhaps the best player in the draft, to fall to the Sixers. Okafor had been considered the top player in this class since before he entered high school; it is only over the last half-year or so that Karl-Anthony Towns edged him out. Moreover, most draft experts consider Okafor a better pro prospect than Russell. I do not claim to know the Sixers’ draft board, but it is hard to imagine they viewed Russell as much more valuable than Okafor, if at all.
Landing Jahlil Okafor instead of D’Angelo Russell make it less certain who the Sixers’ starting point guard is moving forward. It also makes it less certain who the team’s starting center will be. We should not confuse this increased uncertainty for a lack of progress, however. As nice as it would be to set these starting spots in stone, a smart rebuild is not straightforward in this way. The names of every Sixer should be written in pencil until the team is a true title contender. Instead of defining the Sixers’ night as a failure based on the decision of another team, we should mark it as a success because of the acquisition of another potential game changer, Jahlil Okafor.