What if the Sixers had valued Villanova players? | Mike Jensen
The Sixers could have taken most of the Villanova players who led the 2016 and 2018 NCAA champions.
It's easy to say now, but it should be said now. Drafts are judged in retrospect. From this close distance, the 76ers would be a heck of a lot closer to a championship outfit if they had valued the college players who were spending a lot of time playing in the Sixers' own home arena.
No, the Sixers brass didn't have to leave their building to watch the 2016 and 2018 NCAA champions in action. And if you think Villanova won NCAA titles with overachieving guys whom nobody expected to be future pros, you didn't know what you were watching. You need future pros, the winning kind, to win NCAA titles. (I remember somebody emailing me once saying how a Marquette player was being overvalued because his team had reached the Final Four. The Marquette player was Dwyane Wade).
The fact is, the Sixers had the opportunity to easily make Josh Hart, Ryan Arcidiacono, Omari Spellman and either Mikal Bridges or Donte DiVincenzo their current bench guys. They presumably kicked the tires on all those guys — and, of course, drafted Bridges earlier this year and traded him on draft night.
Let's go back to 2016. Villanova had just pulled off its March Madness triumph. Sam Hinkie had just left the Sixers. That change to the Colangelo regime could have suggested Villanova guys would draw more interest, since Jerry Colangelo ran USA Basketball and Villanova coach Jay Wright is a USA Basketball stalwart. That link didn't turn out to mean much.
You could obviously include Jalen Brunson in this discussion, subbing him for Spellman, but it seems like the Sixers have point guard covered, although Brunson has already proven in Dallas he who you thought he was: a legit NBA player.
So, as it now turns out, is Arcidiacono. Wednesday night, playing for the Chicago Bulls, Arcidiacono had 22 points, 5 three-pointers, 5 rebounds, 5 steals, 4 assists. I'm not blaming the Sixers for not drafting him in 2016. I missed on him, too. I thought he'd make a lot of money for a lot of years in Europe.
But the San Antonio Spurs valued him, signing him as an undrafted free agent in 2016, sending him to what is now the G League. The Bulls saw enough to sign him to a two-way contract last year and now are reaping benefits. Even if you forgive the Sixers for rating Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot higher, they could have conjured up a second-round pick or signed Arcidiacono as a free agent and let him develop as the Spurs and Bulls did.
That's a forgivable miss. What about Hart, though? Here's a guy averaging more than 9 points in less than 25 minutes a game for the Lakers. He goes down as one of the steals of the 2017 draft, taken 30th by the Lakers. The Sixers? They'd grabbed Anzejs Pasecniks with the 25th pick. How's he doing? Now 22, the Latvian big man averages 8.3 points off the bench in the Spanish League.
Fine if you want to argue the Sixers wanted a sign-and-stash with that pick, except Pasecniks stayed stashed while Hart was a player from the jump. Go back and watch the NCAA Tournament semifinal against Oklahoma and ask how anyone didn't think Hart would do just fine at the next level.
That takes us to the 2018 draft. I was all right with trading Bridges after the Sixers took him 10th since they got two first-rounders for him. But under this scenario, they'd have Hart and Bridges as their bench wing guys. That means instead of taking Landry Shamet with the 26th pick — so far, not a bad pick at all — they could have taken Spellman and they'd have the inside-out big man off the bench they still need, and more defensive help on the wing.
You didn't think Spellman was worth a first-rounder? You weren't watching him closely enough, or talking to him, seeing there's an intellectual curiosity to Spellman. So far, he's averaging 6.6 points and 4.8 rebounds in 18.9 minutes off Atlanta's bench.
So let's add it all up. Would you trade Zhaire Smith (and the 2021 Miami pick) and Landry Shamet for Hart, Arcidiacono, Bridges and Spellman? (If you want to keep the 2021 pick and take DiVincenzo as your bench guy instead of Bridges, that also works in this should have taken 'Nova guys scenario since Smith went one spot ahead of DiVincenzo.)
That question isn't a hypothetical. There is a wrong answer, and the Sixers supplied it. They'd have given up no current starters, and only one active player, to have that Villanova group adding depth.
It would have taken incredible foresight to have taken all those guys. But taking none of them seems the opposite of foresight.