BROOKLYN, N.Y. – The Process will live on, because the renovation of the 76ers remains incomplete and because marketing genius Joel Embiid probably still has a couple dozen promotions planned, but, really, it’s over.
It ended here Thursday night, inside Barclays Center, site of the draft, 100 miles northeast of Sixers HQ, as the final hours of a swirling and profitable four days that will go down as the final major installment on the rebuild. Based on projections of top prospects, with nothing else to go on in several cases, Philly is, as of now, down to needing roster tweaks, time and good health for a change.
Markelle Fultz with the No. 1 pick.
Anzejs Pasecniks with No. 25.
Jonah Bolden at No. 36.
Mathias Lessort at No. 50.
The 76ers needed a unique guard, someone who could run the point in place of Ben Simmons at times and also play off the ball with Simmons, with enough of a perimeter game to compensate for a Simmons weakness. Playing a non-shooter in the backcourt with a non-shooter would have been difficult. Fultz is an ideal fit.
The 76ers needed shooting in general, after finishing tied for 27th in field-goal percentage and tied for 24th in three-point accuracy. Fultz just shot 50.2 percent overall in his one-and-done at the University of Washington, and 41.3 percent behind the arc, even when defenses had little else to worry about on a weak Husky squad that missed the NCAA tournament. Front offices rate Pasecniks a poor man’s Kristaps Porzingis, a 7-footer with range and mobility, just not Porzingis’ talent level. (They were even teammates on a Latvian age-group national team, and Pasecniks followed the Porzingis line by playing in the strong competition of Spain’s Liga ACB before going into the draft.) Philly addressed a pressing concern in the first round, twice.
“When you’ve got a pass-first facilitator like Ben you’re going to look for people who can score the basketball around him,” Bryan Colangelo, the head of basketball operations, said Friday at the introductory press conference for the new picks. “That’s this guy (Fultz) right here. He can score in a variety of ways. We’re going to be a fun, energetic, entertaining team.”
Bolden has intriguing upside and received some consideration for late in the first round while Lessort is an energy guy who will bash around inside, but both internationals also come with the reality of bring second-rounders. Fultz and Pasecniks, though, even if the latter will especially need more time.
Adding Fultz, via a trade with the Celtics at the start of the week that shook up the order at the top of the draft, was the obvious big moment. The decision, once the 76ers had acquired the No. 1 pick, was just as clear, eliminating any internal debate over whether to take Jayson Tatum or Josh Jackson at No. 3, their spot before the swap, or trade down and grab Malik Monk to address the shooting woes. Philly liked Monk a lot, but was not going to reach at 3.
Any team built on the foundation of Embiid, Simmons, Fultz and Dario Saric has limitless potential, with several pieces in place for complementary roles. And that’s before going into free agency searching for leadership and more shooting, possibly a starter for the backcourt and possibly a backup.
“The first two things that come to my mind, in this order, is those young guys need nurturing,” coach Brett Brown said Friday when asked what he still wants to add to the roster. “They need veteran leadership. To think that you’re going to go into a season with a 19 year old (Fultz), a 20 year old (Simmons) and Joel Embiid, as much as we love him and see how special he is, the reality is those three players have played a cumulative 31 NBA games. There is going to be a level of patience from the coaching staff, from the city, from teammates that clearly we’re all going to have to go through. Holding a locker room, growing those guys, helping them navigate NBA life and NBA games, there’s a very powerful message when it comes from a player. Trying to identify veterans that have the ability to nurture and help those three especially is one of the main priorities.
“We will never go away from the need for shooters. When you look at Ben and you look at Joel and you look at Markelle, when you say, ‘What’s the common denominator that on the court can help them succeed best?’ it’s space. It’s clear. It’s space. With that comment, if you can have a hybrid of both worlds, you look at veteran shooters. People that can come in and provide that type of leadership. Brian and I have had hours of discussion leading up to this on what the next step is in regards to the formation of the team in free agency. I know he has shared with you the owner’s plan and our path that there is still a large part of this growth that will happen organically and not force-fed. Somewhere out there, without being reckless, are the formation of some of those qualities that we’re looking for to make up the rest of the team, that will be the next step.”
This week – the trade Monday and the picks Thursday – was part of that next step too. It was part of The Process. The end of it.
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