The history of the NBA Draft is littered with decisions that looked good at the time, and were utterly defensible, but which eventually became disappointments because entrance into the NBA is such an unpredictable leap for any player.
When the June 22 draft arrives, the 76ers are going to have one of those difficult decisions as they sort among a handful of backcourt prospects — we assume — all of whom are just one competitive season removed from high school. Other teams are in the same boat, which doesn’t make their own any less leaky, and the only sure thing to eventually emerge is that, among Markelle Fultz, Lonzo Ball, Josh Jackson, De’Aaron Fox and Malik Monk, at least one of them will be a huge, fat bust. So, good luck avoiding the trap door.
There is little argument that what the Sixers most lack as they attempt to build a truly competitive roster is perimeter shooting. Not just decent perimeter shooting, but drop-dead shooting from range that will force opponents to play honest defense in the half-court and open the passing and driving lanes for Ben Simmons, whom they see as their primary ball-handler.
We’ll leave aside for the moment whether that vision will work. If it doesn’t, Simmons will have to go to the wing and a lot of other things will have to be reconsidered. For now, having had him in the gym for a full year, let’s assume Brett Brown is correct and Simmons will be on the ball.
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Among the draft candidates listed above, there are players with better size (Jackson, Ball) and players with better quickness (Fox, Fultz), but only one shooter, and that would be Malik Monk of Kentucky. He has a pure, beautiful stroke, the kind that can’t really be taught. He is also my pick for the Sixers, regardless of whether everyone in the world thinks that’s a reach with the third selection.
Sometimes, actually more than sometimes, it is very possible to overthink these things, and see more than is actually there. Jackson is a great defender. Imagine having that, too, if he develops a consistent shot. (The man was 57 percent at the free-throw line, by the way.) Fox is ridiculously fast. Imagine layering that skill next to Simmons. (Overlooking Fox’s 25 percent shooting on three-pointers, of course.) And on and on.
We don’t know which players will be available when the Sixers pick at No. 3 — or even if they will stay with that selection — but the fact is that Ball, Jackson and Fox, all of whom are extremely talented, also all have flawed shots that are not necessarily NBA caliber. It’s easy to say that shots can be fixed with good coaching and repetition, but that isn’t always the case. In fact, it’s the worst kind of wishful hubris that an organization can have.
Let’s put it very simply. If you really, really need toothpaste, don’t buy shampoo because it can do other things and declare that you can develop it into toothpaste. Buy the damn toothpaste.
That’s why I draft Monk. He can shoot better than the other guys. The Sixers need shooting more than they need anything else. Don’t overthink this.
I believe this logic would be more acceptable to others if the Sixers had come away from the lottery with the fifth pick instead of the third pick. Everyone appears to be hung up on whether taking Monk at No. 3 would be overvaluing him. Well, that could be and we’ll know in about three or four years. There is no way to know that now.
Within just the last 10 years, there was a draft in which O.J. Mayo was taken with the third pick and Kevin Love was taken with the fifth. At the time, the choice was logical enough, and the two actually exchanged hands between Memphis and Minnesota in a draft-day trade involving other players. In retrospect, it was a bad mistake for Memphis (which also could have sat still and taken Russell Westbrook at No. 4, but that’s another matter).
Also recently, there was a draft in which Derrick Favors was the No. 3 pick, and he’s had a decent career, but not better than the No. 5 pick, DeMarcus Cousins. Again, at the time, few said the Nets blew the pick or that Sacramento came out incredibly lucky to get Boogie. With the benefit of hindsight, however, the Nets don’t take Favors. In the years after this upcoming draft, there will be some retrospect going around, too, and the Sixers just have to hope the regrets aren’t theirs.
Even though the streets are full of experts with their own expert opinions, there’s no way to reliably predict which college freshman becomes a complete NBA player and which doesn’t. So, the smart thing to do is go for the area of greatest need and the surest player to provide that. We can argue all day about which guy will be better for the team in the future — with little on which to base the arguments — but here in the cold, logical present tense, the pick is Malik Monk.