The Sixers should draft Jonathan Isaac. Please do not hold me to this take. Earlier this week, I tweeted that I would like the Sixers to draft DeAaron Fox rather than Josh Jackson. I love Fox’s competitive streak, athleticism, and defensive potential. I still believe that if the Sixers take him third, he will be the steal of the draft if he can grow into a reliable three point shooter. However, I recalled that Brett Brown plans to play Ben Simmons at point guard next season. Fox excels most when he has space to penetrate and kick out to open shooters or finish at the rim. Drafting Fox and deploying him as a spot up shooter would waste his talents. I love you DeAaron, but the timing is not right for you and Philadelphia. Anyway, I could reverse my stance on Isaac at any time, so bear with me.
Bryan Colangelo and his staff are in an enviable yet difficult position at third in the draft order. Markelle Fultz and Lonzo Ball (or Fox?) will likely be taken with the first two picks, leaving the Sixers to choose between about five other players, all of whom have at least one significant downside. Jackson’s and Fox’s jumpers are… progressing, to put it nicely. Jayson Tatum is a maestro of the midrange, a shot that is becoming more obsolete each day. Malik Monk is a subpar defender. Isaac resembles a beanpole and lacks the refined offensive skills of Monk and Tatum. Dennis Smith Jr. is too ball dominant to mesh with Simmons. With such a large number of realistic choices, the Sixers could easily overthink the decision. Drafting Jackson, the consensus third best prospect, would be a defensible choice.
Writers release mock drafts so early in the college basketball season, and those early mock drafts control the narrative throughout the draft process. I have been hearing people say things like, “taking Monk at three is a reach,” or “Three is probably too early for Isaac,” when those players could easily be the third best player in the class. The pick would only considered a reach because of the projections. Draft position does not affect performance once the season begins in October. Every year, quality starters are picked outside the top 10. Sometimes, teams luck into a borderline or actual star. I wish I could unsee the mock drafts I have read since December. In that case, I could truly evaluate players without preconceived rankings in my conscience. One of my favorite takes I have seen about this year’s draft came from Michael Levin of the Rights To Ricky Sanchez Podcast. He tweeted, “woops donovan mitchell is in my top 5.” That is certainly a hot take, but he is forming his own opinions based on his own research. In summary, the Sixers should not lock themselves into drafting only Tatum or Jackson because of mock drafts and public opinion.
During the Sam Hinkie era, the Sixers employed a “best player available” draft strategy. For better or worse, the Sixers ended up with three centers in three consecutive drafts. None of those three centers, however, hamper roster construction as much as the player drafted first overall after Hinkie was canned. Yes, the Sixers are learning that building a team around Ben Simmons is a difficult process. Simmons requires shooters around him to balance out his absence of a reliable jump shot. When too many non-shooters are jammed into one lineup, drives into the paint are met with early and exaggerated help. My fear about Jackson is that he will not provide the necessary spacing to run a modern NBA offense. Defenders will not respect the jumpers of Simmons or Jackson at all, and the Sixers do not exactly have snipers filling out the rest of the lineup. Opposing centers often let Embiid shoot threes unless he started to heat up. Luwawu’s shot is still a work in progress as well. Brett Brown might have to start Stauskas if only for spacing. By all accounts, Jackson has a hitch in his release, which will not be a quick fix. His free throw percentage of 56 is no cause for celebration either. Jackson could turn into a long-term bench player if his lack of shooting clogs Simmons’ lanes.
Isaac, on the other hand, is approximately as talented as Jackson, and it is hard envision Isaac being a bad fit on this basketball team. Defensively, at 6’10 with a 7’1 wingspan, he has the potential to switch every screen. Offensively, he can hit spot up threes, attack closeouts to make plays at the rim, and make smart, off-ball cuts for easy baskets. He may not develop into a go-to scorer, but the Sixers do not need him to be. Embiid and Simmons are in Philadelphia. They are the guys. An elite defender and competent offensive player with potential will put Simmons and Embiid in a position to maximize their own skills Overall, Isaac’s potential to grow into a proficient shooter makes me optimistic about his future in Philadelphia. By being a threat from behind the arc, he will be able to stay on the floor and impact the game in so many other ways.
If Colangelo would rather not absorb the public relations blow from drafting Isaac third, he could trade down and pick up another valuable asset. Specifically, the Sixers could trade the 3rd pick to Sacramento for the 5th pick and the 10th pick, essentially reversing Hinkie’s pick swap in exchange for the 10th pick in a loaded lottery. The Kings should do this trade because they need a franchise cornerstone to build around, and they are more likely to find that player with a higher pick. Theoretically, the Sixers could get their guy in Isaac and add another valuable prospect like Frank Ntilikina or Donovan Mitchell. A lineup of Ntilikina-Covington-Isaac-Simmons-Embiid would be unfair defensively. If we eliminate the possibility of somehow drafting Fultz, trading down for Isaac and Ntilikina is the ideal draft outcome for the Sixers. Both players fit with Simmons, which has been a stumbling block for many proposed personnel moves. Here’s hoping the Sixers can ravage the Kings in one more trade.
Andrew Sharp of Sports Illustrated made a good point about Markelle Fultz on this week’s Open Floor podcast. Sharp compared Fultz to Karl-Anthony Towns as a draft prospect in that neither of them have glaring weaknesses. Outside of Fultz, Isaac has the least severe weaknesses of any lottery-projected player. Isaac is highly likely to develop into an impactful NBA player. I trust that he is the right choice for Bryan Colangelo and the Sixers.