When you look at the process that the Sixers have applied to the pre-draft process this year versus years past, it is hard to ignore the stark differences. Since 2013, the theme of draft night has been long term upside over short term contribution. But this year, Vince Rozman, Marc Eversley, and today Elton Brand spoke frankly and openly of the need for immediate contribution.
When discussing this year’s approach, Elton said Tuesday, “Five picks, a lot of options, a lot of optionality. So, we definitely are looking for players that can compete for a spot to be in our top 8 right now. But if there’s a talent proposition that’s just so far off the charts, we’re gonna look at that too, and that’s why having five picks is great. Having those options.”
For a team that hopes to bring back the core in the #runitback scenario, the team has repeatedly stressed the need for contributing players on cheap value contracts. With the assumption (hope?) that Jimmy Butler and Tobias Harris elect to re-sign in Philly, the Sixers will be operating as an over the cap team. When you add JJ Redick and a potential Mid-Level Exception contract, plus Mike Scott and possibly James Ennis, the more players the Sixers can find in the draft, the more cost controls they can apply to avoid the luxury and repeater tax.
Last year, the Sixers drafted Zhaire Smith, a 19 year old with athletic and defensive upside, in the lottery. But late in the first, they used their own pick to select Landry Shamet, who at 21 years old, had an immediate impact on the team. Shamet helped both in his play early on and in his ability to become arguably the centerpiece of the trade for Tobias Harris, Boban Marjanovic, and Mike Scott. “You’re looking for a guy who can contribute right now,” said Brand, on expectations of the #24 pick. “[That] starts with a specific skill that Coach can look down, Brett can look down that bench and say, ‘I need defense, I trust him. I need some shot making.'” So the focus late in the first is specialists versus swiss army knife type star-potential players.
Elton Brand Transcription
Elton: It’s such a wide range, ya know, such a wide range. We’re very prepared. Vince Rosman and his staff did a great job doing deeper dives, so I’m prepared to go see X Y & Z like I did. Sat through different tournaments, and I was keyed on certain players that we felt could help us. Not just play defense or space the court, but also their character. That intel piece is great for our organization and for our city. Adding high character individuals is important to me.
On the difference between selecting high and late
Elton: Yeah, so top 5, you’re shooting for potential. A guy that may not be ready right now but in two, three, fours years, they’re gonna be in your top 7 at least. That’s what you’re hoping for. At our picks, we’re looking for someone that can contribute, and we’re trying to find how they contribute with our team and where our team’s projected to be.
On Personality Types
Q: You’ve got Shake (Milton) and TJ (McConnell) in the gym right now, two very different personalities. How much does personality style weigh into an evaluation with these young guys?
Elton: It weighs in a lot. It’s not the top thing, ’cause you’re gonna have to play. You need players that can play. But high character, style, you mentioned two of our players in here working now, they wanna put in the work, they wanna grow, they wanna be better. When you’re drafting young athletes that’s important.
Speaking of the Blue Coats, how much input does that coaching staff get in this? [For example,] saying, “Yeah, this is guy we can work with, this is a guy we can develop.”
Elton: Yeah, the Blue Coats’ staff, GM Matt Lilly, Coach Connor Johnson, they have some say until I make the decision to say, “Forget about what you’re saying, I need this guy.” I was in that position last year, I had my board ready, I put input for the NBA guys, ya know Landry and our draft picks last year, but when it came down to it, it’s what’s best for the Sixers right now. But we will use that for development purposes, and if there’s a player that we can have on a two-way or down in the G-League, we’ll definitely look at that.
On looking for a guy who can contribute right now
Elton: Right, so you’re looking for a guy who can contribute right now, which starts with a specific skill that Coach can look down, Brett can look down that bench and say, “I need defense, I trust him. I need some shot making. The defense might not be there or something else may not be there, but I know I can get this from this rookie.” Just something that they can contribute right away, they might not be elite at it, but they’ll be good at it.
On having the final say
Elton: First thing I learned is making a recommendation versus making the call; there’s a big difference. I was with Bryan (Colangelo) just like, “Oh yeah, that sounds good, I think we should.” But now I’m making the call; that’s a big difference. A lot of posturing going on. You talk to a team about future picks, and it’s like “no, we don’t wanna give up futures,” but now as the draft comes along, I’m getting calls like “hey, would you consider….” So it’s similar to the trade deadline, very similar to the trade deadline, with everyone trying to get an angle and trying to get an advantage for their organization and their team.
I know last year you weren’t “the guy,” but how much did that help you going into this year?
Elton: Absolutely, because Brett (Brown) was the president and the interim GM or whatever term he was, and we had all the access, and I think the term was ‘collaborative.’ We were a part of it, like we were a part of that draft.
Q: When you saw the way this season ended, with the Raptors hoisting that trophy, did that make you taste it even more? You guys were literally an Embiid virus and a crazy shot away from maybe it being you guys?
Elton: Yeah, maybe overtime and then possibly being us, but hats off to the champs. Masai, Bobby, they did a great job putting that team together. Nick did a great job coaching, and the players, they played. So, hats off to the champs, but it just shows me that were close. We are close. So my goal this summer is to get better through the draft, through free agency, what we have to do to be able to compete again at that level. It definitely hurts, it definitely hurts, and from the players to the coaches to my staff, we wanna grow and we wanna get better.
Q: What would you say the depth of talent is, at least what’s projected to be, in the mid 20’s, how would you assess the talent?
Elton: When I talk to other GM’s around the league, it’s like that first round, at like 27 or 28, it’s where they see ‘I can pick there, I can get talent there.’ So there’s players that can be drafted that can help an NBA franchise.
More depth on Optionality
Q: What’s the scenario look like that you might move up if someone starts to fall that maybe you didn’t have in here but that you really like?
Elton: Yeah, we touched most of the players. We either had them in, or we’ve seen them or went to their agent workouts. But that scenario, I’m trying not to target one individual player, but if there’s one with the five picks that gives us options. So that’s what it would look like, it’s like, “Okay, this guy’s falling, let’s move up and he can add to our roster right now.”
Q: Elton, knowing that you guys are trying to compete right now, how willing are you if you have to wait on somebody, whether that’s somebody who’s maybe injured or maybe a Euro guy overseas, are you willing to wait if the value is there?
Elton: That’s a great question. So with the five picks, it depends on where. Later in the second round, one of those picks, the value proposition is there, and you’re like, “Okay he has to rehab and get better,” you think of that. In two years, we’re gonna need talent, we’re gonna need talent. But the appetite to wait, it’s all gonna be determined on the clock and who the player is.
Q: Is that what happened with Zhaire last year? You drafted Mikal Bridges, kind of a ready-made player, and then you draft kind of more of a project. Is that more of an example like that?
Elton: That’s an example. And then you’re on the clock, and you can get a first round pick unprotected that turns into Tobias (Harris), so on the clock, you look at that.
On Shake Milton
Q: Is Shake (Milton) another example of that, where he had an injury and probably fell quite a bit because of it?
Elton: Yeah, Shake, we drafted him in the 50’s. We see what kind of talent he is, so yes, same example.
Q: Does he have a shot this year to crack the rotation?
Elton: That’s my hope. We believe in Shake. Great time developing in our G-League; kudos to our G-League program and development staff for developing him there. In the NBA, like a young player’s gonna have had some struggles, but we’re counting on him to grow and keep getting better.
Q: Is he gonna play Summer League?
Elton: He can’t wait. Yes, he’s gonna play Summer League, and I haven’t seen a player so excited to play Summer League. I don’t know why but…
Q: Is he a 1 or a 2?
Elton: I think he can be both. I don’t wanna give our scouting report out, but he’ll play some backup 1 this summer league for sure.
On Draft night memories
Q: Do you have stories from your own draft night that still stick with you? What do you relate to what these guys are going through?
Elton: Yeah, when I talk to them after most of the workouts, I say, “I sat in your same seat 20 years ago. Just having your family there, having your name called, you work so hard, seeing it come to fruition, just having that dream come true. It was a blur, it was a blur, it’s all happening so fast.”
Q: You were talking about the character component of this, what’s the profile, what’s in the DNA of a 76ers player?
Elton: Tough, hard-nosed, respectful, wants to get better, treat your teammates with respect. Younger player, we like a high IQ. Guy that knows how to play, play defense, make the right pass, take the shot when warranted, and a competitor. We want tough competitors that can think the game.
Q: You talked about how close you guys are, and you’re close, does that make there be really little to no room for error on draft night?
Elton: Of course I’m gonna say that, no, I’ve gotta give myself some wiggle room. Like there’s other ways besides the draft to hopefully get us over that hump, but I definitely wanna get it right.
On Tobias Harris
Q: Elton, you brought up Tobias, how do you feel like you guys are prepared for the talks with Tobias and Jimmy and the other free agents?
Elton: I won’t get into specifics ’cause it’s a little early for that, but when the time’s right, I look forward to those discussions.
Q: What can you tell us about what Ben and Joel have been able to get to to this point in the offseason?
Elton: A lot of promises, vows, it’s raw, it hurts. We’re passionate. I can’t believe we lost like that. They’ve been in the gym, they’ve been rehabbing, they’ve been working hard. So the goal is just to keep the momentum. Just, how do we take that into the summer. But they’ve been executing their plans, they’re still hungry, they still feel that pain to lose how they lost. As tough as it was losing like that, we’re gonna get better from it.
Q: What is your process to get to know the character of these players? How often do you talk to them, who do you talk to, and do you feel like you get answers to all the questions you have?
Elton: I don’t wanna give too much intel, we talk to people that pick up their laundry even. It’s a whole range of people. Of course their coaches, their moms, their family. But we get specific intel. When we meet with them, it’s different, it’s more like an interview, so you’re on your best behavior. So we try to get to know them the best we can. Know their personalities, talk to middle school coaches, high school coaches, just to be clear on what kind of person they are.