Nerlens Noel – Noel will be the best player from the 2013 draft, barring more significant injuries. There is no reason why this as-near-as-is 7 footer with wingspan, athleticism, instincts, anticipation, body control and hustle should not average 10 points and 3 blocks per game at his peak. The offensive end is less certain, as is the fit alongside Joel Embiid, but that’s all stuff that can be worked out down the right. As of right now, the Sixers landed the two best talents in back-to-back drafts without a number one overall pick to do so. And the fact that both have been injured sufficiently to keep the tank open is even better.
Casper Ware – Ware is signed through 2017 with the Sixers, although this being they, that does not mean much, as it is all fully unguaranteed from here on out. He squeaked into nine games with the team at the end of last season and did what he always does – score. He also defends well for his size, moving the feet well and being generally pesky, even when generally pesky. It is going to be a problem for Ware that the Sixers have obtained the draft rights to Pierre Jackson, because as good as Ware is for a 5’10 scorer with a merely adequate floor game, Jackson is a better. Ware, then, needs to win (or hold) his spot through this defensive pressure.
Ronald Roberts – Roberts was one of the best athletes in this draft, or indeed in any draft. He has a decent frame, decent wingspan and decent strength, terrific leaping ability, good speed, and a LONG first step. His athleticism is magnetic and tantalising, because few can impact a game through their ability to jump alone in the way he can.
There is a modicum of skill to go with it, but not as much as the athleticism. Roberts shoots a mid-range jump shot, but he shoots it flat and he does not shoot it very well, things both also true of his free throw stroke. He occasionally drops a hook shot, but is not asked to isolate down low often at all. Rather, he is a finisher on offence, not a creator. Roberts will clatter his way to the rim at times with that long first step of his, and draws plenty of fouls called on him as he is completely unafraid to take it at people, but the offence is a continued work in progress. The best part of his offensive game is the offensive rebounding, yet Roberts negates this by being a distinctly poor defensive rebounder, born out of a lack of desire to box out. He remains very much a project, then.
Defensively, things are going better. Through his speed alone, Roberts is a weak side presence and constant help defender, who plays tough. He moves around well – how could he not? – and generally plays hard without committing too many fouls, save for occasionally quitting when beaten. He projects well on this end, as long as he can clean the glass and develop the offence a bit. Roberts’s athleticism, speed, hands and transition game already translate, but he needs to develop his skills and cut down the mistakes. It will be interesting to see if this summer league spot is a precursor to a training camp contract on a small guarantee, itself a precursor to a season in the D-League, where the Sixers can monitor him, develop him, and be ready to pounce. In fact, I think I expect this.
Aaron Craft – Aaron Craft is the Derek Jeter of basketball, universally lauded by every broadcast team that ever took to the sport and universally loathed by everyone other than fans of his team precisely because of this undue love. He is lauded in his way basically for his effort, but also because of the perception of IQ this gives off. He ‘plays the game the right way’, ‘knows how to play the game’, and of course, he ‘does whatever it takes to win’. As long as whatever it takes to win is within his very limited skillset.
Craft is known for his physical, tenacious defence. He moves he feet well, uses his strength and bodies up everyone, with a terrific motor, good hands, good anticipation and the relentless desire to be an absolute pest. He is relentlessly aggressive and never seems to run out of energy and hustle, which is the guaranteed way to win the hearts and minds of observers disdainful of everyone who doesn’t do this. He gets away with things others never could in the process, and does dirty things at times, but it’s all a part of the package. It’s also pretty much all of the package, because offensively, Craft offers little. He is certainly a willing ball mover and a pass-first point, and boasts decent passing vision at times. But he is also thoroughly undynamic, rarely penetrates the first line of the defence, and is more steady than probing. And his own scoring skills are lacking – the unathletic and undersized Craft does very little in the paint, and is a poor shooter both off the dribble and off the catch.
By moving his feet quickly and being really annoying to his opponents, Craft has won over the very types of people who make the sort of decisions he is now faced with. But the NBA has mostly moved on from its Eric Snow, Kevin Ollie and Rick Brunson days. Craft is too small, slow, unathletic and undynamic to make it as an NBA defensive specialist point guard. You have to be Patrick Beverley to do that now. And Aaron Craft is no Patrick Beverley.
Isaiah Sykes – Sykes is a quirky player who lef UCF in pretty much every category, with one big drawback. A ball dominant lefty shooting guard, Sykes’s game is hindered by a lack of jump shot. He hits a few mid range shots, but takes much more than a few, and lacks three point range. Given his established lack of jump shot and proven driving game, he is always given the jump shot if he wants it, and he almost always takes it, with a long and slow release that doesn’t even disguise it. This does not work out. And it follows logically that he is also a poor foul shooter.
Sykes makes up for it elsewhere on offence by doing it all. He is always looking for the drive, and gets there with craft rather than explosion. He has a very solid handle of the ball for an off guard, can drive both ways (albeit always finishing left), shoots bankers, and makes enough contested ones from midrange. Sykes was asked to be UCF’s option every trip down, and while this slowed the game up and he was guilty of stopping the ball at times, he was also their best option in the halfcourt, demonstrating good vision whilst carrying much of the scoring load. He will make mistakes at times, and is not efficient because of the lack of shot, but he will push the ball and rebound the glass, going coast to coast at times. He consistently makes tough ones and he consistently had to. Defensively, he needs to improve his rotations and help defence, but with his size and decent athleticism he can keep an opponent out of the paint, as well as crash the glass.
Ultimately, the profile and projection is all hindered by the lack of a shot. With it, his inefficient game would be a lot more efficient. But even with it, Sykes is sufficiently ball dominant that it’s a mystery how he would fit alongside a point guard of some calibre. He can’t be the primary playmaker if the team is to be any good, for he is too inefficient and mistake prone. So it is tough to project a fit for Sykes.
Hollis Thompson – Thompson played 1,742 minutes as a Sixer last year, getting 41 starts. He showed some signs of being a three-and-D role player, hitting 40.1% of his threes on the season. It was a very low number of shots, though, making one three pointer every 26 minutes, and was somehow still the majority of his offensive game. Thompson barely troubled the glass, did not create for himself or others, and really was quite limited in his role – he shot the ball if he was open, either moved it on or never caught it in the first place if he didn’t. On the defensive end, he was athletic and keen, much keener than the rest of the backcourt he was playing with, and certainly an improvement upon them. He was heady and disciplined, contesting without fouling or overplaying, moving his feet and rarely quitting on any plays. But he wasn’t exactly locking anyone down either. And so while his presence last year was refreshing in light of the deliberately poor situation he was put in, Thompson is one of the very players the deliberate losing seeks to seriously upgrade. He could stick as a role player, but he’s going to have to shoot more, because this is not Bruce Bowen.
Travis Bader – Bader is a very good shooter with a quick release, plenty of action off of screens, and the ability to go straight up, quickly. He is of course consciousless from three, willing to take any look he is given, yet he does not take poor ones often, always willing until he has a little bit of space. And he only needs a little bit of space. Bader is a very hardy soul, playing almost every minutes of every game, and is in constant motion in that time, trying to get free. Should he not get entirely free, he can hit when contested, and can shoot off the move with a decent change of speed. Bader is not entirely limited to the three, either – he can step in for a two, step back for a tough two, and very occasionally barrel into the trees off a curl if the defence overplays for the jump shot.
Scoring, though, is all Bader does. He does not rebound, he rarely handles, and as much as he tries on defence, he is not big or fast and has no great gifts with his hands. He only gets to the line the decent amount that he does because he is the team’s designated foul shooter, so even the ridiculously good free throw percentage does not add much value as he rarely takes them. He looks to have little passing vision, and is not a playmaker for anyone other than himself. He is in only to score, and even that is almost always a jump shot. Said jump shots come around screens and off catches, not off the bounce, and he is only as good as the looks he is given. If they are not there, nor is he. Bader, then, is very very one dimensional. He’s not Ethan Wragge out there, yet there’s mot as much in it as you might hope. And Wragge is at least bigger.
Is it enough to get to the next level anyway? Yes, possibly. But this is not a Kyle Korver level of shooter right here. Not yet, at least. Given a smaller offensive responsibility, maybe we will start to see that he is.
Jerami Grant – Grant fell down boards, despite his athletic prowess, on account of not having one go-to facet of his game. His biggest virtue is looking the part – very athletic, long and wiry strong, he has what would be an ideal small forward’s body type. But as it is, he’s a power forward through and through.
Grant is a very poor shooter who also displays little handle on the ball. He has body control and likes a spin move, but the ball doesn’t always come with him when he performs it. A long way short of being a small forward, Grant is not even close to being a regularly effective face-up power forward at this stage. Nor indeed are his skills as a traditional paint power forward all that much more advanced. Grant rarely posts and looks unready when he does, and offensively is a finisher at best.
What he does however bring are the unmissable physical tools, and an idea of how to use them regardless of the limitations of his skill set. Grant runs the floor on offence and finishes well at the rim, and also cuts to the rim in timely fashion to finish without having to handle too much. He can sneak through gaps with great body control, and also can do the one or two dribbles necessary to get to the rim past slow or overplaying defenders, where again he can finish explosively. The defensive end is the one where he is set to thrive – disruptive and committed, Grant can stay in front of wing players and does a fairly good job of bodying up opposing power forwards like himself. He needs some more weight, but that will come.
Grant looks a pro, and surely will be. There’s a long way to go yet, but then again, what rush were Philadelphia ever in?
JaKarr Sampson – Sampson is one of the best athletes on the list. A really tremendous leaper with length and great size for the position, on physical tools alone, he is the template you would draw a small forward from if such a small forward template service was available. The skills are less templatey, though.
Sampson is old for a sophomore, having turned 21 in March, and there is a lot of work to do. Some of it is in the frame – thin and wiry, Sampson can be muscled off the spot when driving and on the glass, two areas which need to be mainstays of his game. He will not attack a shot-blocker despite his leaping ability as he struggles to take the contact, But some of it is just a lack of skill. Sampson’s dribbling ability is entirely with his right hand – it’s a high dribble which he cannot seem to change direction from, and he cannot normally stop once he’s started. He barrels in blind and makes bad decisions once there, that bad decision normally being one that involves continuing to barrel in. There exists the occasional pull-up jump shot, but the form on that and any jump shot is really rather ugly and snatchy, and Sampson lacks any range because of it. He is also a poor foul shooter and rarely gets there due to his lack of handle and strength, which when combined with his absence of a three point stroke, makes for quite the inefficient dunking machine.
Mind you, the athleticism cures these ills pretty well. The handle is not great, as explained above, but Sampson can go from the arc to the rim in one power dribble, so often times he doesn’t need much more than that. Sampson can dunk everything, from out of nowhere at times, and is always a threat for a lob play. Furthermore, his length is a defensive deterrent – his defensive focus and effort are not consistent, but so long and bouncy is he that he can recover quickly and shut off driving lanes just by sticking his arms out. He runs the court well and sometimes hustles off the ball for looks. But like the rebounding, he needs to do those things more than he does.
This is the issue with Sampson. He does some things well, and some things badly, yet he won’t stick to that which he does well enough. The athleticism is tantalising, but it doesn’t take long to look beyond.
Ed Daniel – Daniel was with the Hawks last year in summer league following his senior season at Murray State in which he was a nightly double double. In the time hence, he has been in Italy with Pistoia, averaging 8.7 points, 7.6 rebounds, 3.2 fouls and 2.2 turnovers in 26 minutes per game. He is an athlete and a very good athlete at that, a hectic player who crashes the glass, attacks anyone in his path both offensively and defensively, and plays with a lot of energy. He uses his physical tools to win possessions, posts on occasion, plays physical and drives into contact willingly, whilst also swatting and deflecting some shots and passes in the painted area. Unfortunately for Daniel, he is a power forward in a small forward’s 6’7 frame. And for all the small adjustments he is making to his game to try and become more of a perimeter forward, he still is best around the basket and surely always will be. Damion James is a similar sort of player who has managed a few NBA seasons with a similar skill set, but he is slightly bigger, slightly better with the handle and the shot, slightly better on perimeter defence and a much better passer. And James has never exactly stuck himself. Daniel, then, is up against it.
Seems the Sixers are really targeting their athletes right here, by the way.
Jamelle Hagins – Hagins was in summer league last season with the Nets, but that was as good as his first professional season got. He started the season with Roanne in France, but averaged only 3.4 points and 4.8 rebounds in 9 games (taking one foul shot in that time), then returned to America and joined the D-League’s Rio Grande Valley Vipers, where he averaged 5.5 points, 4.2 rebounds, 1.3 blocks and 3.0 fouls in 16 minutes of 22 games. Hagins has developed a fairly solid frame over time that he still chooses not to use on offence, settling for mid-range jump shots and moving screens, and while his main virtue comes from his defence and rim protection, he cannot seem to do it without fouling. At 6’9 and 235, Hagins has the right frame for a power forward, has clearly defined strengths and weaknesses, and is certainly a talented and willing shot blocker. But he needs more discipline for it to be worth anything.
Melvin Ejim – Ejim scored a lot of points as a senior, including his 48 point outing versus TCU that got so much publicity. He is an explosive athlete who catches and finishes, spots up, finishes with authority, runs the floor and dunks as much as he can. He finishes high percentage looks, utilises a runner when driving and makes them appear through his physical tools. Ejim creates little in the post, utilising only fairly rudimentary footwork and having no touch, but he can always go over and finish with authority given half a yard.
Inadvertently, however, that 48 point outing also highlighted some of the flaws in his game. Ejim shot 20-24 from that night, which is brilliant, but there were only two three point attempts and six foul shoots on the way. It mattered not on that night, obviously, but he needs more of those and fewer twos. Ejim recognises this and is developing the three point stroke, hitting 34.7% of them last season in his first year of taking quite a lot of them and it needs to continue.
If it does, Ejim has a chance of making it as a small forward. At 6’6 and 220, this is how it’s going to have to be. As of right now, Ejim is more of a face-up four, a very good rebounder for height but with little handle, high turnovers born out of his attempts to handle it anyway, and still working on his perimeter instincts. He runs some pick-and-roll, which is helpful, but through body type alone, small forward is the best bit. His rebounding will be a big advantage at that position, and while his perimeter defence is largely untested, he demonstrated a good motor that ought combine with his physical tools that make him projectable on that end. Can he further improve the shot, manage what Marcus Landry never quite did and stick around? Possibly. Maybe he ought go to the D-League and prove it.
Pierre Jackson – The Sixers acquiired Jackson’s draft rights on draft night for those of Russ Smith, which is odd, because Jackson is better. Last season in the D-League, he proved he was hardy, fearless and extremely productive, averaging 29.1 points per game (second only to Manny Harris) alongside 6.2 assists in 40.9 minutes a game. He showed he could shoot over anyone, get to the rim against anyone, make tough ones, create his own shot, and change a game with his offensive output. And yes, of course he is small. That doesn’t change what he did and doesn’t change what he could go on to do as much as we might think. He’s a scorer, and he can do that anywhere. Anyone who tries to change his game so as to shore up his 6.2/4.0 assist to turnover ratio runs the significant risk of taking Jackson away from his strengths. He’s a scorer and he’s 5’10. Come to peace with them both because he cannot change either.