In 2015 the Sixers were about to enter their third year of their historic tanking endeavor. The team had already accrued some interesting young pieces in Michael Carter-Williams, Nerlens Noel, and future superstar Joel Embiid, now the team had another chance to land a star.
After finishing the season with the third worst record, the Sixers managed to hold on to the number three overall pick in the first round. The Sixers were in a perfect position, as most mocked the Sixers drafting either D’Angelo Russell or Kristaps Porziņģis. Russell would provide the team a scoring guard to lead the team while Porziņģis would provide a floor-stretching compliment to either Nerlens Noel or Joel Embiid.
The Los Angeles Lakers were expected to add Duke center Jahlil Okafor to be the next great Lakers big-man. All seemed set for the Sixers but then the unexpected happened, the Lakers drafted D’Angelo Russell instead. The Sixers were then left with a choice, draft Porziņģis or draft their third center in three years. Obviously the Sixers ended up drafting Okafor and obviously it was a mistake, but did they really have a choice?
Why the Sixers didn’t draft Porziņģis.
Leading up to the draft, Porziņģis made it clear that he wanted nothing to do with the Process and would do everything he could to prevent himself from going to Philly. Denying physicals, workouts, interviews; Porziņģis did all that he could to ensure the Sixers would not draft him.
This brings us back to the night of the draft. Without Porziņģis as a viable choice, the Sixers had to hope that Russell would fall, which he did not. With the three best prospects off the table (Anthony-Towns, Russell, Porziņģis), the Sixers had to draft best player available. What you also need to remember is that Joel Embiid had yet to play a minute of NBA action and Nerlens Noel had the body of Christian Bale in the Machinist. It may not have been the sexy move, but it made sense at the time.
Clearly it didn’t work out, partly due to Okafor’s lack of work ethic* and party due to the failures of the Sixers front office. The Sixers brought in Jerry Colangelo the same year Okafor was drafted and so began the coup to remove Process mastermind Same Hinkie. Once Hinkie was out of office the team started down a long road of dysfunction that didn’t help anyone.
But what if Porziņģis wasn’t so adamant about being passed over by the Sixers? What if he paired up with Joel Embiid to form a dominating front court?
*Since leaving the Sixers, Okafor has increased his work ethic and committed himself to getting in-shape.
The new look Sixers
Kristaps Porziņģis has often been described as the second coming of Dirk Nowitzki, so far he’s looked the part. He’s still got a long way to go but the potential is certainly there. Porziņģis would slot perfectly next to Joel Embiid, the size, the shooting, the shot blocking, the Sixers would have one of, if not THE, best front court in the NBA.
With Porziņģis in the lineup, the Sixers could focus on playing Embiid in the post where he is most dominant. Without having to carry the load of a team, Porziņģis could sure up his efficiency and provide the outside shooting the Sixers have been missing for what feels like ages.
The team would have their stars and would try and fill out from there. The Sixers would still have to move on from Nerlens Noel and the MCW experiment was always meant to end, but a foundation of Embiid and Porziņģis? I think anyone would take that combo.
The obvious concern of an Embiid-Porziņģis tandeem would be the frequent injuries. Both have missed significant time and even when it’s not a major injury, there’s a shoulder injury here, a meniscus injury there. The talent is clear but the lack of durability is troubling. If the Sixers managed to draft both, everything wouldn’t necessarily be sunshine and roses.
There is a chance that the addition of Porziņģis leads to the Sixers missing out on Ben Simmons but it may not be as high as you think. In 2015-2016, Kristaps Porziņģis finished the season with 4.4 win shares while Jahlil Okafor finished with 1.2 win shares for a net difference of roughly three. The Sixers were so bad that year that the difference between them and the next team was seven games. Even if the Sixers finished with four, five, or at most six more wins Porziņģis, the team would still have the highest odds of landing Simmons.
Now if the Sixers did land Simmons, the team would again boast incredible size and athleticism. If the Sixers picked anywhere after one they would have plenty of options, though none as exciting as Simmons. The Sixers could have drafted any of Brandon Ingram, Jaylen Brown, Buddy Hield, or Jamal Murray.
If you pair any of those players with Embiid and Porziņģis, you can clearly see the direction of the team taking shape. Shooting, athleticism, and youth. As much excitement as there is for this current roster, a team of Embiid, Porziņģis and lets say Brandon Ingram, plus the additions the team made like JJ Redick and Jimmy Butler could theoretically still occur, though Tobias Harris likely would never be a Sixer.
The Sixers may not have ended up with more talent on paper but the fit would be much cleaner than it currently is. Not only that, if the team never trades for Tobias Harris, they would still have future draft assets and Landry Shamet (or whomever they drafted instead).
The Sixers had a real chance to set their franchise up for long term success. If the team drafted Porziņģis over Okafor the team would have likely avoided some of the headaches they were destined to endure. The fact is, Porziņģis did not want to be a Sixer. Even if he did, the front office turmoil would have kept the end result the same.
Like he did with the Knicks, Porziņģis would force his way out after tiring of the incompetent front office. The Colangelos effectively ruined any chance the Process had of delivering on time. It would matter if the Sixers drafted Porziņģis over Okafor, because the front office would dwindle assets and destroy the image of the 76ers.
In a perfect world, Porziņģis becomes a Sixer, Simmons remains a Sixer, and the team is able to add the shooting and leadership an NBA contender needs. But this is clearly not a perfect world.
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