In the five weeks between now and the 2017 NBA Draft, a lot can, and most likely will, change — particularly in the realm of opinions on the potential impact of the most sought-after incoming rookies.
For the moment, it seems the likeliest scenario for one-year Kansas star Josh Jackson is heading to Philadelphia as the No. 3 pick and teaming up with a young core built around one-time Jayhawks center Joel Embiid.
Most around The Association assume Washington’s Markelle Fultz will go No. 1 to Boston (or to some team that trades an all-star in exchange for that slot) and the Lakers will take UCLA point guard Lonzo Ball with the No. 2 pick. That leaves the 76ers, a team lacking in the productive guard department, with the choice between Jackson and what’s left of what is considered a great crop of point guards.
In a lottery reaction episode of The Vertical Podcast with Chris Mannix, Jonathan Givony of Draft Express was asked which player makes sense for Philadelphia if it’s not a lead guard.
“I think they really have to look at Josh Jackson,” Givony said, “and they have to bring him into their gym and figure out, ‘How far away is this guy from being a good shooter?’”
As those who followed KU’s 2016-17 season closely will recall, Jackson greatly improved his 3-point accuracy over the final few months of his brief time with the Jayhawks. The versatile 6-foot-8 forward from Detroit showed his biggest weakness wasn’t a completely lost cause by hitting 38.5% of his 3-pointers in January, 47.8% in February and 40% in March.
“If you can get him some good looks and you can continue to develop his stroke,” Givony said of why Jackson made sense for the Sixers, after referencing his late-season surge. “In the NBA not everybody comes in as a finished product.”
We have no way of knowing whether Philadelphia coach Brett Brown and his staff would take this route, but Givony wondered whether Jackson could be persuaded into changing up his shooting mechanics with the endgame of adding an effective NBA-range 3-point shot to his arsenal.
“People say great things about his work ethic. And he really does everything else,” Givony added. “He’s a phenomenal defender. He’s a great passer. He’s outstanding in transition. He can play a lot of different positions. You can play him off the ball — you can play him on the ball a little bit even. There’s a lot there with Josh Jackson. They need to look at him.”
Teams taking gambles in the NBA Draft is a June tradition, but selecting Jackson with the third overall pick wouldn’t qualify as a risk for the Sixers. The only unpredictability accompanying the 20-year-old prospect is his often-scrutinized jumper. No, it’s not a pure, fluid stroke — Jackson brings the ball down low and shows it a bit as he rises up on 3-pointers. But which is more likely: Jackson stinks from long range for his entire career or he works at it until it becomes a trusted part of his game?
Jackson is too competitive to take a complacent approach to owning a below-average 3-point shot, especially now that so many NBA teams value that real estate behind the arc more than ever. He’s not entering the league with a trustworthy 3-pointer, but I’d bet on him adapting into at least a serviceable long-distance threat sooner than later. Same goes for his 56.6% free-throw shooting as a college freshman.
Philadelphia would still have the ability via free agency or the trade market to go after the floor-balancing shooter it needs. No player available at No. 3 other than Jackson is entering the NBA with as complete a skill set. And a nucleus of Embiid, Ben Simmons, Dario Saric and Jackson with some to-be-determined guards (by the way: the Sixers get the Lakers’ pick next year, which is bound to be in the lottery) projects as one of the league’s up-and-coming teams, able to contend in the Eastern Conference for years to come.
The NBA Summer League just got a whole lot less interesting.
The July games, which are designed to give rookies, young pros and free agents a chance to put in some needed work and/or impress coaches and front offices, aren’t exactly the height of basketball entertainment. But catching an early glimpse of an incoming lottery pick or seeing how a young player buried on an NBA bench performs when he actually gets some minutes provides fans and those who follow The Association with some offseason intrigue.
Sure, this year’s summer action most likely will include top picks Ben Simmons (LSU) and Brandon Ingram (Duke). However, even though the Sixers will end up with one of those potential stars, it’s a top-three pick from two years ago that many in Philadelphia have been clamoring to see.
Some hope existed that a recovering Joel Embiid finally would make his 76ers debut this summer. After two completely missed seasons and a recurring foot injury, it seemed Embiid’s rehab had gone well enough of late that you couldn’t rule out a summer preview of the former Kansas center. Until now.
Speaking with NBA.com’s Scott Howard-Cooper on the state of the 76ers, Philadelphia’s new president of basketball operations, Bryan Colangelo, squashed the idea of the 7-footer running the floor in Las Vegas and reminding everyone why Embiid might have gone No. 1 overall — instead of KU teammate Andrew Wiggins — in the 2014 draft had he not suffered such a serious foot injury beforehand.
Colangelo told NBA.com “there’s no timeline” for Embiid’s return to five-on-five basketball. Next, he gave Philly fans a sliver of hope on the Embiid front before abruptly wheeling the other direction.
“But until I hear a doctor tell me, 'No summer league,' I will always say anything's open,” Colangelo began. “But the likelihood of him playing summer league is nil. I would only say that because of where he is in the progression right now.”
Although the team boss went on to concede if Embiid made enough progress and the doctors signed off on it, there would be no reason to keep the big man out of Summer League games, he went ahead and essentially shut the door on the matter.
“I would say it's a 99-percent chance, maybe a 100-percent chance, that he's not going to play,” Colangelo said. “We just don't want to put him in a situation where he hasn't been playing competitive basketball. We probably want to ease into that and that would mean sometime after Summer League. But if he is going to come into training camp you want him to have at least a little bit of flow and a little bit of rhythm and to be in a position where he could have tested the foot to the extent that he's ultimately going to be exposed in a training-camp environment."
Bummer. Still, this is actually good news for Embiid. The organization isn’t about to rush him back onto the court and risk the years and money they’ve already invested in a center they hope can play a starring role in the franchise’s turnaround.
So those of us who miss watching Embiid’s absurd agility and footwork in the paint will just have to wait until the regular season begins. Hopefully. I mean, the 22-year-old from Cameroon hasn’t played a game since the Jayhawks traveled to Oklahoma State in 2014.
In the meantime, there’s always Embiid’s hilarious Twitter account to keep us entertained.