Sixers have five picks and several options in NBA draft; could they trade up for North Carolina star Cameron Johnson?
There appears to be a mutual interest. Johnson has been studying game film of the Sixers’ top shooters to give him an idea to how he’ll be utilized if drafted by the team.
What will the 76ers do in Thursday's NBA draft?
They could select 24th in the first round and figure out what to do with their four second-round selections at 33, 34, 42 and 54. They also could opt to trade their first pick and one of their second-rounders to move up a few spots to 20 or 21 to increase their chance of selecting a targeted player like Cameron Johnson.
The team recently put the former North Carolina swingman through a solo predraft workout at their practice facility, a source confirmed.
He’s had similar workouts for nine other NBA teams in addition to a June 7 workout arranged by his agent, Seth Cohen, that was attended by 24 teams.
“Having the five picks that gives us the optionality,” Sixers general manager Elton Brand said Tuesday. “If there is a player we are targeting and looks like they may be available, we could move up, we could move back, we could move out.”
Brand also said that selling a second-round pick to another team is a possibility.
“There are later picks teams will pay for,” he said. "And if we don’t have anybody on our draft board that we want to grow with the [Delaware] Blue Coats and come to the G League, that is a possibility.”
So Brand and his staff will be busy making and/or receiving phone calls with teams looking to make draft-day deals.
The Sixers’ main priority in this draft has been finding immediate help.
“We definitely are looking for players looking to compete for a spot to be in our top eight right now,” Brand said. "If there is a talent proposition that is so far off the charts, we will look at that, too. That is why having five picks is great. Having those options.”
Assuming the Sixers opt to keep their late first-round pick, Johnson would be their best option. He’s one of their targeted selections under that scenario.
However, there’s a chance he could be drafted before the 24th pick. He could go as high as 21st to the Oklahoma City Thunder.
The 6-foot-8½, 205-pounder is a lights-out shooter with great range.
Johnson shot a career-best 45.7 percent on three-pointers, which ranked seventh in the nation, and became the first Tar Heel to lead the conference in three-point shooting since Raymond Felton in 2005. He was at his best on the road in ACC games, averaging 20.8 points on 58.3 percent shooting, including 57.4 percent on three-pointers.
“I don’t want to get into individual players, but players that can shoot absolutely have a chance to develop and grow into NBA skill sets,” Brand said.
His defense could improve, but he is a great character guy with a great story.
The western Pennsylvania native began his career at Pitt, redshirting his freshman season after suffering a shoulder injury. But he was able to graduate from Pitt in three years with a communications degree, which made him eligible to transfer to North Carolina without sitting out a season. He had two seasons of eligibility at UNC.
The Sixers have scouted several of the 23-year-old’s games. They’re also satisfied with their background checks and consultations with his former coaches.
What they learned is that he’s a former three-star college prospect who has exceeded expectations on every level due to hard work.
And there appears to be a mutual interest. Johnson has been studying game film of the Sixers’ top shooters to give him an idea of how he would be utilized if drafted by the team.
Brand was asked Wednesday how much personality weighs into evaluation players.
“It weighs in a lot,” he said. “It is not the top thing because you are going to have to play. I need players who can play. High character, style, you mention two of our players [Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons] working now, they want to put in the work, want to grow, want to get better. When you are drafting athletes, that is important.”
Defense is one thing that Johnson will have to work on. And he had some health issues.
He suffered a torn meniscus during a practice at UNC in November 2017, sidelining him the first 11 games of the 2017-18 season. Then Johnson underwent arthroscopic hip surgery the following April to fix ailments he had since high school. His lateral quickness improved following the procedure. As a result, the Sixers aren’t concerned.
But as Brand points out, the team has options. While there’s a mutual interest, the Sixers have also been impressed with other players. And they haven’t ruled out trading the pick entirely for a can’t-refuse offer.
Carsen Edwards (Purdue), Louis King (Oregon), Eric Paschall (Villanova), Luka Samanic (Croatia), Grant Williams (Tennessee), Matisse Thybulle (Washington), and Dylan Windler (Belmont) could be other late first-round draft options.
Paschall’s stock is rising. The power forward could hear his name called in the early 20s. A couple of teams picking in that area have asked him to come in for second workouts.
Close to winning a title?
Brand was asked if seeing the Toronto Raptors win the NBA title this season makes him hungrier.
Kawhi Leonard’s buzzer-beating corner shot that bounced four times on the rim before going in lifted the Raptors to a 92-90 victory over the Sixers in Game 7 of their Eastern Conference semifinal series in Toronto. The Raptors went on to defeat the Golden State Warriors in six games to win the franchise first NBA title.
“Maybe [going to] overtime, and possibly being us [in the finals], but hats off to the champs,” Brand said of the Sixers being so close to winning a title, before adding Raptors president Masai Ujiri and general manager Bobby Webster "did a great job putting that team together, they did a great job coaching and then the players played. Hats off to the champs. ... It just shows me we were close, we are close.”
So, Brand’s goal this summer is to get better through the draft and free agency to be able to compete at that level.
“It definitely hurts,” he said of losing that heartbreaker to the eventual champions. “From the players, the coaches, my staff, we want to grow and get better.”