THE MOST exciting time for this 76ers team is coming up over the next 6 weeks or so.
This week in Chicago, general manager Sam Hinkie and company will oversee the rookie combine; May 20 is the draft lottery; June 26 is the NBA draft.
Not since the Sixers had the first overall pick in 1997 has there been so much buzz surrounding the team's selection. After finishing with the second-worst overall record this past season, the Sixers could wind up with the top pick again, or could fall to No. 5. They also will most likely end up with the 10th pick, which they obtained from the New Orleans Pelicans last draft night when they sent Jrue Holiday to NOLA.
Coach Brett Brown has repeatedly said his preference is to take the best player on the board, regardless of position (isn't that what Eagles coach Chip Kelly tried to sell, also?). Of course, with such a limited roster, that seems to be a no-brainer, although one of the top five picks could be point guard Dante Exum. The Sixers would seem already to be set at the point with rookie of the year Michael Carter-Williams, but Brown has ties with the Australian, and Hinkie has showed that no move is out of consideration.
With that, here's a look at what five scouts around the league had to say about the probable top-five picks who could be available to the Sixers. (An interesting side note: I asked the scouts to give me their first five picks in order. Four said they would take Joel Embiid first.)
* Andrew Wiggins (Kansas, shooting guard/small forward; 19 years old; 6-8, 197 pounds): "He's an elite athlete with good length. He has the potential to be a good defender and right now is a very good transition player. Right now, his skill level is not that high. He's a streaky shoother, but is improving. His ballhandling skills are not that good. Has a high upside. Maybe he turns out to be a really good player in the league, maybe he is just a good player. There was a lot of pressure on him with all the hype going into this season and he started slow but ended up better. Everybody talking about him being the next franchise player had to be a lot to handle, and I don't see him being a franchise player in the NBA."
* Jabari Parker (Duke, small forward/power forward; 19; 6-8, 241): "Probably the most ready to step into NBA. He is a very skilled player, and he has a scoring mentality and is very competitive. Those are the positives. The negatives: I don't know what position he plays in the NBA. He'll have a problem defending 'threes,' and he is not big enough right now to defend 'fours.' I think he could get in a little better shape, and I think he'll get there in the NBA. He has heavy legs, so his lateral quickness is not as good as it needs to be. He'll be better at the 'four,' because he'll be able to find mismatches there, and also because he'll have trouble defending the small forwards."
* Joel Embiid (Kansas, center; 20; 7-feet, 240): "He has the biggest upside, but also is the biggest risk [because of a back injury]. He is a big guy who is athletic and can create space, and is so intriguing, because he has skills and hasn't been playing the game of basketball all that long. He just has so much upside. He can be a major force on the defensive end, and on the offensive end he can be a low-post scorer who also has the ability to step out a little bit. He is the complete package at 7-foot, but is also a question mark because of the back issue. He is the one player in this draft that I see has a chance to truly be a franchise player. The other guys in this draft are not franchise players."
* Dante Exum (Australia, point guard/shooting guard; 18; 6-6, 188): "Haven't seen a lot of him, but he certainly has good size and good athleticism. Not a great shooter right now, probably his weakest point. But being so young, he can certainly improve on that. He has got a great feel for the game. Hasn't played against the competition the others have. He has the whole package and he has a great amount of potential. A lot like Michael Carter-Williams in that he is a bigger point guard. I see him being an NBA point guard, not a 'two' guard, as many have said he might be."
* Julius Randle (Kentucky, power forward; 19; 6-9, 248): "A very aggressive player who works hard and can score around the basket. Length gives him a problem. He's a good rebounder. If he can show that he can hit an outside shot, then he'll be a good player. He's a little undersized; that's why he had trouble scoring over length. But he is very aggressive and he can handle the basketball a little bit. He's lefthanded and I think lefthanders just have a better feel for the game sometimes. He's another guy that you worry about what position he might be able to play in the league. You have to love his tenaciousness going after the ball."
Here is how a look at how the scouts viewed five players who could be in the Sixers' sights with their second pick in the first round:
* Doug McDermott (Creighton, small forward/power forward; 22; 6-8, 223): "He's an elite offensive player. The thing that I marvel about was that he played on a nice college team, but not a great team, meaning there weren't secondary players. I don't think they have another NBA player; I don't know if they have D-League players. They didn't have secondary players who could hurt you, and he averaged 26 a game. The fact that he could score like that when everyone else knew he was getting all the shots is outstanding. He's nonstop movement, difficult to defend. He's like [John] Havlicek, an old throwback who just wears you out. I saw him in a game this year and he has an amazing will to win. He plays pickup games in September and plays like he does in a Big East game in January. Never stops moving. I get he has holes in his game [defensively], but at the other end, you have to account for him. He's smart. He'll figure it out. If he was perfect, we'd be talking about him in the top five. I'm a fan."
* Rodney Hood (Duke, small forward/shooting guard; 21; 6-8, 201): "I like him. He has size, length and is a good athlete. Not obscene, but good. He's not a great ballhandler, but has a middle game. He can one-bounce and pull up. He isn't great at navigating to the basket. Not one who can defensive rebound and lead the break for you. Don't see him as that kind of player. But he can guard a 'two' and a 'three' in the NBA, which is good. He has range. Nice blend player. Depends who your other four players are. Not sure if he's a starter or an off-the-bench guy. On a finished product team, not sure if sixth man or starting wing. For Sixers, an ascending team, sure he could be a starter. Doesn't make a lot of plays. Ten might be a little rich for me."
* Nik Stauskas (Michigan, shooting guard; 20; 6-6, 205): "I like him a lot. Reminds me of Gordon Hayward [Utah Jazz]. Not quite as tall and not the athlete. He's got some real pop to him. Big at 6-6 and can really pass. This kid is a better shooter [than Hayward]. I love his range, and I love his confidence. I'm huge on secondary ballhandlers. [Evan] Turner can handle the ball and is best with the ball. The Sixers missed someone like that. When you have multiple guys who can handle the ball and pass, that is big. And the fact that he can shoot with size makes him that much more intriguing. A gym rat, high IQ, tougher than you think. He addresses the Sixers' need for a shooter, for sure."
* Noah Vonleh (Indiana, power forward/center; 18; 6-10, 242): "Really young, so there's that. He's really, really big and thick. Big [butt], big hands, big trunk. Kind of Elton Brand type of body. Not an elite athlete. Not that second-jump kind of guy. Pretty skilled. The fact that he can stretch the floor and make 'threes' at this age is very intriguing for our league. Big enough and powerful enough to roam around the basket. Has upside. Some limitations because he's not that chip-on-the-shoulder athlete. Brand never got to the three-point line, but was a great mid-range shooter. Might not even get to No. 10 [pick]. Biggest thing is his youth. If he was thin and not athletic but could shoot, he might not be as sexy. But I could see him with weights and then being like Karl Malone. His future is ahead of him."
* Jusuf Nurkic (Croatian League,center; 19; 6-11, 280): "The best comparison to him is [Minnesota's Nikola] Pekovic. Not a great athlete. He's that big, that strong with incredible hands and can score. Has deficiencies. Not that fast, running and jumping manic. In the open court, you can throw him the ball. You throw it to this guy and you have to address him. I think someone is going to get him, and most people will be saying, 'Who is this guy?' In 3 years, you can say, 'Man, we missed on this guy.' People just don't know. In 3 years, you could have a starting center who is as big as a house. If the Sixers have Wiggins and Carter-Williams and Thaddeus Young and Nerlens Noel and all those athletes, do you want to draft a plodder? Why not get someone who rides the theme? He's not that. But he's a low-post presence that if you go with Noel next to him, it's interesting. Pat Riley said that you run with four and wait for one. He'd be the one you wait for."
On Twitter: @BobCooney76