The first text I got from a Villanova fan Thursday night was full of exhilaration. Mikal Bridges to the Sixers. The stars had aligned.
Until they fell out of the sky. Bridges to Phoenix for Suns first-round pick Zhaire Smith out of Texas Tech and a 2021 first-rounder. The next text I got was from another Villanova alum: W-T-[add your own initial]!!!
It wasn't just Villanova fans who were hot. Bridges seemed to fill a hole. Smith? Villanova fans had seen him, too. The last time he had played a meaningful game, his team was getting waxed by Villanova in the NCAA tournament. Texas Tech played big-time defense in Boston but Smith shot 3 for 8, had 7 points. No, I did not walk out of there thinking, there's your future Sixer.
"They'll be doing damage in their marketing dept over Bridges for years,'' texted the Villanova alum.
My take: This is why maybe it's better for Bridges that he isn't a Sixer. The expectations for Bridges would have been too high. He's ready to be a fine rotation player. A future starter? Hard to say. Expecting more sets everyone up for disappointment.
The trade itself? It will take more time with Smith but the Sixers got two first-rounders for Bridges. Villanova fans (and anti-Processers) might never see it this way, but it was a heist.
Other thoughts from Thursday night:
Mock drafts missed on Omari Spellman. I did not get why most comprehensive mocks didn't have Villanova's Omari Spellman as better than a mid-to-late second rounder. My guess: They didn't have the advantage of interviewing Spellman like teams did. Even if they understood Spellman had worked like crazy to get in better shape for this past NCAA championship season, they wouldn't necessarily have seen that Spellman has the kind of mind you want on your team, in your locker room, on your court. He showed skills that changed everything for Villanova and translate to the NBA, rebounding and outside shooting. Bang it up inside, play the modern game at the other end.
Spellman's basketball IQ is high, maybe off the charts. The Atlanta Hawks recognized it with the last pick of the first round. The draft graders probably give that like a D-plus or something since grades are usually based on how the mock drafters see things going in the first place. Good luck getting them to admit they were wrong. Spellman will have a robust NBA career.
Jalen Brunson in the second round. My take on Jalen Brunson's NBA future has been consistent for several years. I had no idea whether he would go first round or second round, just that he would be a pro, because he's a pro. The Sixers apparently preferred Landry Shamet because he's three or four inches taller, a better perimeter defender, which fills a dire need. Both are fine outside shooters. Will Shamet be a better NBA guard than Brunson? Let's monitor that one. I'll slide to the homer side of this one, agreeing with former Villanova star Josh Hart, now with the Lakers, who jumped on Twitter right away Thursday night to congratulate Brunson: "MY GUY!!!!!! … he's going to make a lot of teams look stupid."
Donte DiVincenzo goes 17th. Which means Donte DiVincenzo read the tea leaves perfectly on leaving Villanova after his 31-point NCAA title game tour de force. When the NBA tells you it's time, it's time. Going 17th to the Bucks shows that starting in college isn't the only way to showcase yourself. Jay Wright will be able to use that forever when there is grousing about playing time. (Interesting side note: The Sixers preferred Smith to DiVincenzo.)
Let's look back. Not to this year's NCAA champs, who obviously were loaded with pros, but to 2016. There were articles about how Villanova won that year a different way, without NBA players. It was a crock then and now proven to be a complete misread. That '16 team had four starters who would either play NBA games or be drafted in the top 33 (Hart, Brunson, Daniel Ochefu, Ryan Arcidiacono) plus a future lottery pick in Bridges as sixth man.
No B.J. Johnson? No surprise that the former La Salle star will have to take a longer path. Maybe even a more lucrative one. It's hard to say how close Johnson is to the NBA but there is serious money to be made overseas and Johnson is built to make some right away.
Tony Carr went 51st to the New Orleans Pelicans. The first time I saw Carr play for Roman Catholic High, I thought he was a pro. You saw him against Lonnie Walker and a big-time mid-state team at the Donofrio in Conshohocken? You thought so too. I'll admit to wavering on that opinion at times over the years but the former Penn State star now gets to prove it true.
Mo Bamba sixth to Orlando. The former Westtown School big man will either be a workable defensive piece and good locker room addition or a transcendent star from this draft, depending on how his offense comes along. Not a bad bet for the Magic.