Going into the 2015 NBA Draft, it was clear who held the power. Teams already knew versatile Kentucky center Karl-Anthony Towns was destined for the first overall pick to Minnesota, so the Los Angeles Lakers were on the clock and decided to pick the savvy freshman from Ohio State, combo guard D’Angelo Russell with the second overall pick.
Choosing Russell above former Duke center phenom Jahlil Okafor wasn’t a forgone conclusion only five days ago, when Chad Ford reported the Lakers were 80-20 in favor of drafting Okafor. People around the league sensed a possible smokescreen by the Lakers in the moments leading up to the draft, but nevertheless Los Angeles took Russell with no regret, hoping he’ll be the face of the franchise once Kobe Bryant retires from the NBA.
Once Russell was determined to be the pick, the 76ers were on the clock, facing a major dilemma.
The Sixers had their eyes set on Russell at pick No. 3, but went best player available from a talent perspective drafting Duke center Jahlil Okafor, despite already having spent multiple lottery selections on other talented big men.
In 2014, the 76ers selected Joel Embiid, an extremely talented and and skilled big man out of Kansas, who would miss the entire season with a foot injury. Embiid might miss this whole season too. They also selected Croatian combo forward Dario Saric, who had two more years on his contract overseas before beginning his NBA career.
In 2013, the 76ers selected another talented center Nerlens Noel, who sat out the whole season with an ACL tear and finally made an appearance this past year. They also selected Michael Carter-Williams, a long, tall point guard who actually played his rookie year and won Rookie of the Year, only to be traded this past season.
It was frustrating for Philly fans that GM Sam Hinkie continued to pick prospects that were a waiting game. Even Carter-Williams was shipped off somewhat prematurely after one solid season of carrying a hapless 76ers squad. Now the 76ers have an abundance of size and potential up front with the addition of Okafor, but can all three big men coexist?
There’s reason to believe a healthy Embiid could probably coexist alongside Okafor, but what do they do with Noel, who happens to compliment both extremely well? This puts Philadelphia in a tough position, as Okafor is one of the most NBA-ready big men to come into the league in the past few years and should be a solid center from day one, pairing with an uber-athletic defensive frontcourt player in Noel.
It all comes down to health for Embiid, just like it did in both his college and professional career. Fans haven’t even seen what he can be at the NBA level, and if Embiid returns off the bench this year and puts up solid numbers, either Okafor or Embiid might feel pressure to be shipped off for the perimeter help Philadelphia desperately needs.
At least 76ers fans can be confident they’ll have an exciting front-court duo to watch next season. But until questions are answered about Embiid and his health, Philadelphia might be in constant rebuild for a few more years, looking for the perimeter help to push them to the top.