History Shows Draft Picks Come in All Shapes, Sizes

by @SixersHistory's Curtis Harris

This year, in all likelihood, the draft will be a little bit different for the 76ers. For the first time since 2012, the team enters the night without a lottery pick in hand.  

Even with this change in dynamic, the evening's importance can’t be overstated. The Sixers are seeking players who have the potential to quickly contribute at the NBA level, and help fill out the club’s rotation.  

With the Sixers set to hold a league-high tying five selections Thursday (nos. 24, 33, 34, 42, 54), @SixersHistory goes back in time, and reminds us that on draft day, acquisitions can come in all shapes and sizes.  

The No-Brainer, Consensus Pick

Perhaps the easiest way to win draft night is to win the lottery the same year a generational talent declares for the NBA. That happened in 1996, when the Sixers selected the University of Georgetown’s Allen Iverson as the no. 1 overall pick.  

As we know, Iverson was an immediate sensation, winning Rookie of the Year for the 1996-97 season after averaging 23.5 points and 7.5 assists per game.  

By the 1999 the Sixers were back in the playoffs for the first time since 1991. By 2001, the team made the Finals for the first time since 1983.

“The Answer” certainly gave the franchise a boost.

Digging Deep

After appearing in the 1977 Finals and losing a hard-fought Eastern Conference Semifinals series in 1978, the Sixers needed a further injection of talent, particularly in the backcourt. But all that winning meant they also weren’t going to waltz into the 1978 draft with a chance to grab highly coveted guards like Phil Ford or Reggie Theus.

In fact, the Sixers’ first pick in the draft wouldn’t be until the second round, at the 36th slot.  

Thanks to some heads-up scouting, though, the Sixers set their sights on a little-known guard out of West Texas State. With lips tightly sealed, the Sixers patiently waited, and pounced on Maurice Cheeks when the time arrived.  

There proved to be several great guards in the 1978 draft, but none wound up matching Cheeks’ career. Furthermore, he was the precise player the Sixers needed. Three trips to the Finals with Cheeks as starting point guard illustrate that point.

The Draft Day Trade

The 1987 draft class was heavy on sought-after big men. And since the Sixers already possessed Charles Barkley, the team was receptive to trade offers that leveraged the frontcourt frenzy.

Together with the LA Clippers, the Sixers came up with a plan. With the third overall pick, the Sixers would select power forward Charles Smith. In return, the Clippers would use the sixth overall pick to take shooting guard Hersey Hawkins. To sweeten the deal, LA also offered a 1989 first rounder to the Sixers.

The deal was swung and through the late 1980s and early 1990s, Hawkins was a superlative shooter and secondary scorer. Alongside Barkley, the Hawk quickly helped the Sixers resume their winning ways, and left his mark as one of the franchise’s best shooting guards.

Draft and Wait

Nowadays, the main reason teams have to wait on drafted players to join the NBA is because of overseas obligations. Back in the 1970s, though, the main culprit for delays was the rivalry between the NBA and ABA. A player would often be drafted by both leagues, have to choose one, then leave the other waiting.

The Sixers were caught in that bind in 1973 when they selected Caldwell Jones 32nd overall, but the center wound up with the Wilt Chamberlain-coached San Diego Conquistadors.

Not until 1976, following the NBA-ABA merger, did Jones join the Sixers. He was worth the wait, bringing a stoic presence that complemented the “Chocolate Thunder” pyrotechnics of Darryl Dawkins, while also anchoring the team’s interior defense for half-a-decade.

As history shows, there’s plenty of ways to make the most out of draft night. Sometimes the payoff is immediate and obvious. Other times, it might take a bit of maneuvering and time to see the benefits come to fruition.

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