One of the biggest priorities for the 76ers is to keep Joel Embiid healthy throughout the season and ready once the postseason rolls around. In order to do that, the Sixers are going to need to add a serviceable big man.
Too many of the Sixers’ roster spots were taken up last season by centers who were not playable. This time, there’s no way around it. Embiid needs someone to relieve him of his duties for 12-18 minutes a game, and the Sixers need that someone to be reliable enough to start in Embiid’s place when the franchise star takes the night off.
Lastly, the backup center has to be someone who can play a handful of playoff minutes in the event Embiid needs a breather.
With draft pick Nos. 24, 33, 34, 42, and 54, if the Sixers decide to fill the role of reserve center through the draft, they will have pretty viable options even though they are lacking a lottery pick.
1. Nic Claxton, 6-11, Georgia, sophomore
If rim protection and natural defensive instincts are what you’re looking for from a young big man, Claxton is an excellent choice. He comes with a uniquely diversified skill package as a center since he often initiated offense and handled the ball with regularity in his two seasons at Georgia. He finished his sophomore season averaging 13 points, 8.6 rebounds, 2.5 blocks per game. Claxton will definitely want to continue to work on developing his body as well as his shooting, but he is one of the more mature players at center in his age range.
2. Bol Bol, 7-2, Oregon, freshman
At just 19 years old, Bol shot 52 percent from three-point range, 75.7 percent from the free-throw line, and did so in his first collegiate season, which lasted just nine games because of a foot injury. His shooting ability along with his size and instincts around the rim on defense make him an incredibly tempting choice for teams looking for a center. What could bring him down to the latter part of the first round are concerns about his physicality, decision-making, speed, and effort.
3. Luka Samanic, 6-11, Croatia
One of the prospects the Sixers worked out in-house, the 19-year-old Samanic’s stock has risen recently with teams being able to see him up close. He has an impressive jump shot, is a skilled passer, is very quick and athletic with an awareness on how to use his body to create and use space, and he is really good off the dribble at his size. As Sixers senior vice president of player personnel Marc Eversley put it, “I’m not sure if he’s ready to play in playoff games right now, but he’s definitely ready to make a roster.” The question is, could he be ready for playoff contribution by next April?
4. Daniel Gafford, 6-11, Arkansas, sophomore
Footwork, explosiveness, competitiveness, and his offensive decision-making are what make Gafford an attractive rookie selection. Despite clearly still developing on both sides of the ball, he tends to make good decisions on the offensive end and takes care of the ball even in pressure situations, which shows a maturity that exceeds his age. His youth shines through a little more on the defensive end, where he tends to foul and is sometimes a step late. But because he shows a high motor and the ability to make the right decision, he could be someone who picks up on NBA schemes quickly.
5. Bruno Fernando, 6-10, Maryland, sophomore
The upside to Fernando is that he is a physically imposing player who is incredibly athletic. With a 7-3 wingspan, at 240 pounds and 5.4 percent body fat, Fernando was able to dominate defensively in college. The questions around Fernando involve whether his game will translate to the modern NBA and if his instincts are good. He made a huge leap between his freshman and sophomore seasons, cutting down on fouls, passing with more precision, and not losing his way in defensive rotations. On one hand, you could say he is a quick learner; on the other, you could point to just a single season of solid basketball.
If the Sixers see rookie centers as too much of a project, there will be options on the free-agent market at varying costs. With the way the Sixers are hoping their roster will take form next season, money is going to be tight, so these are some of the more reasonable options.
1. Dewayne Dedmon, 7-foot
Coming off two straight years of marked improvement with the Atlanta Hawks, Dedmon (who played 11 games for the Sixers as a rookie in 2013-14) has not only expanded his game to the perimeter (shooting 38.2 percent from three last season) but he has ramped up his defensive effort and shown that he has the ability to hang with some of the more dominant big men in the league. He’s coming off his best year on a $7.2 million contract and will likely get paid somewhere in the $9 million-$11 million range next season.
2. Ed Davis, 6-10
The Sixers were able to see a lot of Davis this past year, not only with regular-season matchups, but in their playoff series against the Brooklyn Nets. Davis has moved around the league a lot, but he has played solidly in pretty much every stop along the way and has made his money proving to be a very serviceable reserve center. His $4.45 million contract with the Nets was a step down from what he’d made previously with the Portland Trail Blazers, but he could probably be brought in for $6 million or less.
3. DeMarcus Cousins, 6-11
On a one-year, $5.3 million deal with the Warriors after an Achilles injury, Cousins proved in 2019 that he can still play and be a meaningful contributor on a contending team. Having an opportunity to sign Cousins will completely depend on the market. If there are multiple bidders, his new salary could rocket back up to more than $10 million. But if the market is a little quiet with lingering concerns about Cousins’ injury history, the Sixers might be able to get him with the full mid-level exception ($9.2 million) or less if they’re lucky.
4. Joakim Noah, 6-11
After years of awful basketball on terrible teams, Noah seemed to breathe life back into his career with the Grizzlies last season after the Knicks decided to part ways with him. At 34, Noah is well past the years of big-ticket contracts and the Knicks will still be paying him over the next few years (after buying him out and stretching the rest of his contract). Projecting salaries is always difficult in the NBA, but especially for a guy who went from making $18 million a year to just over $1.7 million last season. But, if the Sixers could get the former defensive player of the year in on a small contract (somewhere between $3 million and $5 million), his do-anything-to-win attitude and ageless motor would be a welcome addition.
5. JaVale McGee, 7-foot