The NBA's worst will be on hand in Indianapolis this weekend to watch the NCAA's Final Four. That means the 76ers will be in attendance and paying close attention to the best players on the best teams in college basketball.
Like the NBA's other awful teams (the Knicks, Timberwolves, Lakers, etc.), the Sixers' scouts and numbers analysts will get one last in-game glimpse at the players they will make instant millionaires during the June draft. They will get a chance to see how the game's best freshmen handle the pressure of playing on a stage far bigger than they will ever play in the NBA.
And then the teams with the worst records in the NBA and the best chance of landing the first overall pick will wait to see how the Ping-Pong balls fall into place next month. The college kids, especially the youngest ones, cannot lose.
The last time a freshman was not selected with the first overall pick was 2009, when the Los Angeles Clippers took sophomore power forward Blake Griffin out of Oklahoma. Two big men - Kentucky's Karl-Anthony Towns and Duke's Jahlil Okafor - are the front-runners to keep the freshmen streak alive in 2015.
With the possibility of three picks in the top 19 of the draft, the 76ers should have more interest in this Final Four than anybody, but they also have a big-man dilemma. They have used first-round picks in the previous two drafts to land Nerlens Noel and Joel Embiid, and next season projects as the one in which they finally get both of them on the court together.
If you're drafting by need, which is something talent evaluators always insist they never do, then the 76ers would have to look for a shooter or a point guard with size even if they land one of the top two picks in the draft. The projected third and fourth overall picks - international star Emmanuel Mudiay and Ohio State freshman D'Angelo Russell - fit that need. Neither of those players is involved in this Final Four, but eight players projected to be selected in the first round will be on stage at Lucas Oil Stadium on Saturday night.
In addition to Towns and Okafor, there is Duke freshman shooting guard Justise Winslow, whose stock is on the rise since the start of the NCAA tournament. Willie Cauley-Stein is another Kentucky big man with three names and one nice game. He's a junior and is not likely to be around when the 76ers make what could be their second of a possible three first-round picks, which figure to be in the 11 to 19 range. (They could even get four first-rounders, although that is unlikely.)
The other projected first-rounders are Kentucky freshman forward Trey Lyles, Kentucky freshman guard Devin Booker, and Wisconsin forwards Frank Kaminsky and Sam Dekker.
One thing that makes the Kentucky players, especially their big men, difficult to evaluate is the fact that they are on the court only half the time. Towns, for instance, averaged just 20.8 minutes per game this season, while Cauley-Stein logged 25.8 per game. That's great for coach John Calipari and his unbeaten Kentucky machine, but wouldn't you prefer to see them on the court as often as Okafor, who averages 17.5 points and 8.7 rebounds in 30 minutes per game for Duke? NBA games are 48 minutes, and stamina is huge for a big man.
While most of the focus on the 76ers will revolve around their first selection, it will be just as fascinating to see what they do with their possible second and third picks in the first round. It's probably a good bet that at least one of them will be used in a trade, but it's possible Dekker or Kaminsky, two upperclassmen, draw their interest.
Kaminsky is a senior 7-footer who can launch three-pointers and drive to the basket. College seniors generally are not appreciated come draft time. The last senior to go first overall in the draft was Kenyon Martin in 2000. A total of eight seniors out of a possible 60 selections have gone in the first round the last two years. Kaminsky has been a special college player for coach Bo Ryan and it will be interesting to see how he performs against Kentucky's long and talented young players.
The same can be said about Dekker, a 6-foot-9 forward with great ballhandling skills. He has averaged a team-high 21.8 points per game in Wisconsin's four NCAA tournament wins while shooting 60 percent from the field and 48.1 percent from the three-point arc. Can that continue against Kentucky, and if it does, how much does it pique the interest of the Sixers?
The Sixers, of course, also have all the second-round picks in the NBA draft - all right, maybe it just seems that way - so they will also take long looks at players not projected to go in the first round. Maybe one of the seniors (Brandon Dawson, Denzel Valentine, and Travis Trice) from Michigan State will emerge as the diamond in the rough Sixers general manager Sam Hinkie is always searching for.