Before the 2017 draft, the Philadelphia 76ers executed a trade with the Boston Celtics to move up from the third pick to the first; with the cost being Sacramento’s top-1 protected 2019 pick. This pick ended up being the last pick of the 2019 lottery, and it turned into Romeo Langford. The 76ers drafted Markelle Fultz with the first pick in 2017, and Boston took Jayson Tatum with the third pick. We all know how crazy the Markelle Fultz saga was, but you cannot blame Philly for making the trade. Assuming one cannot predict everything that would happen with Fultz, the value on the trade was not that bad.
Imagine how different things would be in Philly if they would have never made this move. For the sake of argument, I’ll assume they would have made the same picks as Boston. Jayson Tatum, next to Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid, would be insane, especially considering how good of a glue guy Tatum was his rookie year. Romeo Langford is a project but he is a high upside three-level scorer who could have potentially filled Philly’s constant hole of a dynamic guard who can put pressure on a defense.
But the purpose of this article isn’t to shit on the 76ers for not predicting that Markelle Fultz would forget how to shoot, the purpose of this article is to discuss the repercussions of the 2018 draft.
First, to back track a little, we all remember how Kawhi Leonard and the Toronto Raptors ended the the 76ers 2018-2019 season in the Eastern Conference Semifinals. It was the four bounces that were heard around the world. That series went to seven games and the Raptors won with a buzzer beater. Philadelphia played all five of their starters 40+ minutes in that game seven and basically only played seven players total (shout out to Greg Monroe for getting one minute as the 8th player). Philly desperately needed another rotation player, any type of guard or wing would have helped (Insert the 10th or 16th pick of the loaded 2018 draft here).
Philly screwing up the 2018 draft is not talked about enough. They made a monumental mistake that realistically could’ve cost them multiple championships.
They had the 10th and the 26th pick in the first round. They took Mikal Bridges at 10 but then traded him to the Suns in exchange for the 16th pick and a 2021 unprotected first round pick from the Miami Heat. They used the 16th pick to select Zhaire Smith. The general consensus is that they nailed the 26th pick of Landry Shamet, but then for some crazy reason they included him in the Tobias Harris trade. But that’s a whole different issue.
Zhaire Smith fell victim to the 76ers’ rookie curse and basically missed his entire first season. Man, that rookie-hazing must be rough in Philly. Smith only played in six games in the regular season, and only FIVE minutes in the entire playoffs. The same playoffs that saw rookies Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Landry Shamet play 29 minutes a night for the Clippers, where they played an integral part in almost taking down the KD-Warriors. This would be considered by many the second-best playoff performance against the KD-Warriors, and by everyone, at least the third best playoff performance against the KD-Warriors.
The 2017-2018 Rockets clearly would be first and the 2018-2019 Rockets would be the competition for second.
I mentioned earlier that the mistakes in the 2018-2019 draft might have cost them multiple championships. That is not an understatement. Just to reiterate, ZHAIRE SMITH HAS PLAYED IN SIX CAREER REGULAR SEASON GAMES. They were very likely one rotation player away from getting past the eventual 2018-2019 NBA champs and being likely champs, but they were DEFINITELY one SGA away from being the 2018-2019 NBA champs.
Here is a run-down of some different scenarios that could have taken place had they played their cards right:
The Sixers do not trade back to Pick 16 and they keep Mikal Bridges. Bridges was a quality role player all of his rookie season with the struggling Suns. He would not have been able to guard Kawhi in the playoffs, but surrounded with defensive talent like Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid, he would have certainly been a positive defender, considering he would have been guarding the third or fourth offensive option. Bridges also would have been a very solid shooting option from the wing, something the Sixers severely lacked. He was known for his shooting in college and would have likely flourish playing off Simmons and Embiid.
I think Bridges is enough to get them over the Raptors in that series; they likely make a run at the NBA championship. Bridges would have been great to have as an extra defender for the Warriors as well.
One more thing to mention is the trade that caused the Sixers to lose Bridges netted them a pick that was used in the Tobias Harris trade. They still had plenty of picks and I am confident they still could have gotten that gotten that deal done without the pick from the Bridges trade.
The Sixers make the correct pick at 10 and select SGA. Like mentioned before, SGA was a huge part in the six-seed Clippers almost taking down the Warriors in the first round of the 2019 playoffs. He was very solid as a rookie and is now looking like a future All-Star in year two.
The roster fit isn’t as seamless as the Bridges fit, but SGA is extremely versatile. I think if they select him at 10 they are no question 2018-2019 champs, and they are able to make basically the same roster moves since, and they are looking like the kings of the East.
Like with the Bridges scenario, they do not have the Miami pick that was a part of the Harris trade. I am still confident they can make the trade work. Even if they must include SGA this time around, that means they likely keep Shamet, who would be so important to the Sixers right now.
They make the trade to move back, but they don’t pick the worst of the four shooting guards who went from 16-19. Even though they had the first bite at the apple, they ended up with the worst one.
Imagine Kevin Huerter on this team; he would be such a great fit. Huerter ended up going to the Hawks at 19. He is shaping up to be a career 40% high-volume three-point shooter, exactly what Philly has lacked the last two years. Having units of him and J.J. Reddick ,surrounded by Embiid and Simmons, would have been killer last year. Huerter would have also been able to learn from Reddick, like Shamet did.
This pick also would have made Shamet expendable. They would have been able to keep one of the two young shooters, while still bringing in Harris. I think they definitely win the 2018-2019 championship in this scenario, and are more than set up for the future. It would have also been insanely valuable to still have three more cost control years of one of either Huerter and Shamet.
Donte DiVincenzo and Lonnie Walker also went right after Smith. DiVincenzo was hurt a lot his rookie year and was not able to play in the playoffs, but he is looking great this year. He has a very solid do a little bit of everything type of game. He is starting in Milwaukee right now in only year two; he would have been a great piece to have moving forward.
Walker was also hurt a lot his rookie year, but he was able to play in the playoffs. His athleticism would have allowed him to fit defensively in Philly just fine. He has also shown some shooting and attacking off the dribble flashes; those are two huge holes for the Sixers. Walker might have been able to provide just enough to get them just over the Raptors, and maybe even a championship over the Warriors.
Long story short: I do not think any of this is an over-reaction. When you get eliminated from the playoffs by the eventual champs on a game seven buzzer-beater, any little thing could have swayed the series. By getting someone who could not even give them any minutes, they were stuck playing seven players in that game seven. But then after considering they missed out on a potential All-Star and other high-end role player talents, one could say they royally screwed up.