NEW YORK - For a team that has done little in the past year besides lose players and games, the Sixers today find themselves in a position where they simply can't lose.
Sometimes, the NBA draft is, in the moment, a shallow puddle of obvious talent. Consider the 2010 edition, when the Sixers used their No. 2 overall pick on college basketball's best player, experienced combination guard Evan Turner, while superstar talent Paul George stayed around until No. 10.
Sure, the Sixers could have drafted George, but no team projected George to develop into one of the NBA's young cornerstones. That's why he went 10th.
This year, the pool is deep.
Two-lifeguards deep; buddy-system deep.
It's so good that even the Sixers cannot make a mistake. They pick third and 10th overall tonight, assuming they don't package those picks and move, or package some of their five second-round picks and move, or trade veteran forward Thaddeus Young . . . or some combination of the above.
As long as they emerge from the evening with two living, breathing basketball players, they cannot be faulted.
This draft will "rank up there as one of the best ones," said Doug McDermott, the game's latest Larry Bird wannabe. "Up there with LeBron and Melo [in 2003]."
There might not exactly be a LeBron James or Carmelo Anthony in this draft. Kansas stud Andrew Wiggins, expected to be the first overall pick by Cleveland, reminds you more of George; though Duke's Jabari Parker (who said he expects to go second to Milwaukee) shares an offense-heavy, defense-light profile with Melo.
There might be no LeBron, Melo or Kobe, but the draft is so deep that McDermott, who ranks fifth all-time in NCAA scoring and was the consensus player of the year, doesn't expect to be heard from right away during tonight's broadcast (7 p.m., ESPN).
"I think I'll go between eighth and 15th," he said. "But who knows? I could slide even farther."
Dougie McBuckets is typical of this remarkable class, in that he is well-presented, well-spoken and comfortable with himself.
He is atypical in that he is the only projected top-10 pick who can legally celebrate by buying some champagne. He's a senior who returned to Creighton for one last NCAA ride.
Wiggins never figured to stay at Kansas past his freshman season. He likely would have gone No. 1 overall last year if the NBA still allowed prospects to be drafted out of high school.
"I still want to go number one," said Wiggins; indeed, Cleveland likely will be his home for the next 4 years.
Milwaukee apparently loves Parker, the most dynamic offensive talent in the draft, so he should be gone when the Sixers pick.
That should be fine.
Australian combination guard Dante Exum would be a fine tandem fit with Michael Carter-Williams. So would Oklahoma State guard Marcus Smart. In fact, Kansas center Joel Embiid wouldn't be a bad gamble, despite his back and foot issues.
After all, Embiid is going to take a while to develop as an NBA player. A converted volleyball player from Cameroon, he picked up basketball just 3 years ago and wasn't good enough to crack Kansas' starting lineup at the beginning of the season. Embiid is out until Christmas or beyond with the stress fracture in his foot, but the Sixers weren't going to contend for a title this season, anyway. Taking a player who might be the next Hakeen Olajuwon as low as No. 3 overall would be a dream come true for most franchises.
Really, this draft is so tantalizing that holding the 10th overall pick itself might be a difference-maker for most franchises. The Sixers acquired that pick a year ago, when they traded All-Star point guard Jrue Holiday to New Orleans for the sixth pick of that draft and what turned out to be the 10th pick in this one.
McDermott might be around at 10. He will be an instant-impact shooter, and, if he gains a little weight, he could be a post presence, too. What if he puts on 20 pounds and turns out to be like David Lee of the Warriors, but with range?
"Just because I played for 4 years," McDermott said, "doesn't mean I've stopped developing."
By taking injured Kentucky forward Nerlens Noel with the Pelicans' sixth overall pick last year, the Sixers have shown a capacity for patience; Noel, who was drafted while recovering from a knee injury, did not play this season. The Sixers could develop McDermott . . . or wait 2 years for Croation sensation Dario Saric to finish percolating in the Adriatic League.
A 6-10, 225-pound forward, Saric, only 20, has a grown man's body and an all-around game developed among other grown men the past two seasons. He was the MVP of the Adriatic League, in which he led charter member Cibona to its first title.
"I have had so much experience playing in the senior Adriatic League, and the Adriatic League is better than college," Saric said. "Many of my friends in college have told me that. The international game is harder, to me. I have a good body right now, but I have to [improve] my body."
Saric, who recently agreed to a contract to play in Turkey, with an opt-out after 2 years, could be available when the Sixers pick 10th.
So could Duke sophomore wing Rodney Hood, who said he shined at his workout with the Sixers. He hit 42 percent of his three-pointers last season after transferring from Mississippi State and sitting out a year. He is 21 and a bit more physically developed than many in the draft class.
So is Aaron Gordon, a freshman forward who doesn't shoot particularly well but whose chiseled physique, placid demeanor and defensive talents recall Andre Iguodala, a fellow Arizona Wildcat whose has counseled Gordon the past few months to stay calm through the process. Gordon did not visit Philadelphia, but he should be gone by the 10th pick.
McDermott didn't visit, either . . . though the Sixers got an eyeful of him at Creighton, which they scouted extensively both in Omaha and in Philadelphia.
In the past three seasons McDermott visited Philadelphia five times, and played three times at the Wells Fargo Center. In those five visits McDermott hit 36 of 74 field goals (48.6 percent), 14 of 23 three-pointers (56 percent) and averaged 23.6 points.
"I really like the city of Philadelphia," McDermott said. "The fans are great. I think the team's on the rise."
After this draft, no matter who they pick, that certainly will be true.
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