by: Ryan Waldis
You are never supposed to burn your bridges, or so the saying goes. The Philadelphia 76ers failed to heed this advice, opting to burn their Bridges last night during the 2018 NBA Draft. The team, currently led by head coach Brett Brown as the search for a new GM continues following the Bryan Colangelo Burner-gate fiasco, made a trade with the Phoenix Suns that (not surprisingly) divided the fanbase.
In what was seemingly a last minute decision, the Sixers traded the draft rights of Villanova wing Mikal Bridges, who was selected by the team with the 10th overall pick roughly one hour earlier. In return, the Suns traded the draft rights of Texas Tech wing Zhaire Smith, who was selected 16th overall, and an unprotected 2021 first round pick via Miami, which was acquired in the 2015 Goran Dragic deal.
The Sixers also drafted a pair of intriguing players with the 26th and 54th overall picks of the draft in Wichita State’s Landry Shamet and SMU’s Shake Milton, respectively. With all of this in mind, let’s take a closer look at the 2018 Sixers draft.
The Suns Trade
In the red corner, you have the fans who love the tantalizing upside of Zhaire Smith. These fans also applaud Brett Brown and the rest of the front office for maintaining a long-term view for the franchise by acquiring that 2021 Miami pick. In the blue corner, you have the fans who simply can’t comprehend why you would trade the local 3-and-D kid whose mother works for the team in exchange for some guy that can’t shoot and a pick that won’t matter. I understand both perspectives, as I have been on both sides since the deal was announced.
When you look a trade like this, you have to be able to take emotion completely out of the equation. During his post-draft press conference, Brett made a point that, “On our notes, on our big board, we had 1a and 1b,” referring to Bridges and Smith. Now, whether you take anything that Brown says at face value or not is up to you. Having said that, if Brown and the rest of the front office truly believed that Bridges and Smith were similar enough in value to essentially have them both at number one on their board, this is a trade you make every day of the week and twice on Sunday. The Sixers got the player they wanted AND an extremely valuable future asset.
That 2021 Miami pick is a phenomenal grab for a number of reasons:
- Miami is essentially capped out for the next two seasons, and while they’ll finally have money to burn entering the 2020 offseason, the projected free agent crop doesn’t look particularly appealing. The top names will most likely include Draymond Green (who will be 30 years old), Kyle Lowry (34), Paul Millsap (35), and Kevin Love (31). There’s a good chance that Miami is a lottery team in 2021.
- The 2021 draft is also important because it will supposedly be the first to allow high school players to be selected since 2005. It’s impossible to predict how good a draft class will be that far in advance, but the class will be intriguing nonetheless as it will feature the last crop of one-and-done prospects as well as the top high school talent in the country.
So, the Sixers will have a lottery pick to use at a time when they’ll likely be contending for a title OR an incredible asset to use in a trade for a star, one that not many other teams can offer. At a time when most picks of this caliber have protections added to them, it was shocking to hear that the pick was unprotected.
The Sixers front office will definitely continue to deal with naysayers, especially if Smith starts off slow and Bridges looks like a bona fide 3-and-D wing early on. The common argument I’ve seen is something along the lines of “This is a Process move, and the Process is over. This team has talent, and it’s time to win now.” It’s more than fair to have a point of view similar to that one, but you need to understand that the Process wasn’t a five-year plan that would culminate as soon as the Sixers made the playoffs. The Process hasn’t ended; rather, it’s still ongoing. The point of the process was to become an elite team for as long as possible, and the trade that was made last night helps the Sixers immensely in this regard.
My Grade: A+
In that aforementioned press conference, Brown stated, “We believe entirely, in time, he has the ability to be incredibly unique, maybe even great.” Later on, it was revealed that Brown compared Smith to Kawhi Leonard, who the coach was able to work with for a couple of years before heading to Philadelphia. Could Zhaire become the next Kawhi? Maybe. Is it fair to expect that to happen? No. Kawhi, when healthy, is one of the best players in basketball. It’d be hard to match what he can do out on the court. Still, Zhaire has tantalizing upside and it’s easy to see why Brown and the rest of the Sixers front office wanted him.
Smith’s main selling points are his athleticism, defensive prowess, and room to grow. The Sixers will be able to comfortably plug him into the rotation and see immediate contributions. He won’t he won’t be getting 28-plus minutes a night right from the jump, but that’s okay. Zhaire is an extremely versatile defender, and plays bigger than he actually is. He can play on or off the ball, and his top-tier quickness and reaction time will allow him to keep both smaller guards and bigger wings in front of him. He has solid anticipation, and as he gets stronger he’ll only become more versatile on the defensive end. Zhaire is also a reliable rebounder on both the offensive and defensive glass. The main question mark stems from his offensive ability. At the present time, Smith can definitely cut, drive, and screen fairly well, but his shot is a major question mark and the one thing preventing him from being a true 3-and-D wing.
If Smith’s shot becomes consistent, he’s going to be a star in this league. Elite athleticism, lockdown defense, and the ability to hit the three? That’s a deadly combination. If he remains an inconsistent shooter? Well, role players are still useful.
My Grade: A-
I initially wasn’t thrilled with the Shamet pick. A limited upside guard who has had surgery on both his left and right foot over the past three years? Leaving Robert Williams (and other talented players) on the board, especially when one of your needs is a reliable back-up center? No thank you. I’m still not incredible thrilled with it, but Shamet does fill a need and should be able to carve out a role with this team.
Shamet can shoot the ball at a solid clip. This past season, he shot 44% on six three point attempts per game and 82% from the charity stripe. He can shoot off a screen or spot-up (his 1.521 points per possession in spot-up scenarios placed him the 100th percentile), and can be a good contributor in pick-and-roll situations. He always hustles on defense, which is nice to see. However, that’s essentially where Shamet’s upside is capped. He’s not extremely athletic, and he won’t be able to defend the faster guards and wings around the league. He’s not yet strong enough to finish at the rim as consistently as he did in college, and durability will always be a major question mark.
If the Sixers got Shamet in the second round, I don’t think I’d be as upset as I am. I understand that teams are always looking for players that can hit the three and shoot well from the free throw line, but there were better players with higher upside on the board at 26 that I would have liked to see the Sixers take.
My Grade: C
Milton has a lot more upside than Shamet. I was very surprised to see the SMU Mustang fall all the way to 54, but I’m certainly not complaining. Second round picks in the NBA are so hard to get right as it is, so you might as well take a shot on a high-upside guard as opposed to someone who might be deemed “safer.”
Similar to Smith, one of Milton’s selling points is his versatility on defense. He won’t be nearly as effective on that end as Smith will be, but Milton can certainly hold his own against most players in the league due in part to his 7’0.75″ wingspan. He shot 43% from deep and 85% from the line last season, but his release point is a little lower than you’d like it to be, which could prove to be an issue. Depending on the situation he could run the offense, but you’d much more prefer him to play off the ball.
Milton will likely be another role player, but does have the potential to be something more. If nothing else, back-up 3-and-D players are always useful.
My Grade: B
A draft haul consisting of Smith, Shamet, and Milton is pretty solid. There are a lot of ifs with this trio, but the upside is undeniable. Combine that with the other assets that were acquired–the 2021 Miami pick, a 2019 2nd round pick from Chicago, and two future second round picks from Detroit–and it’s easy to be happy with the position the Sixers find themselves in.
My Grade: A-