When Ben Simmons’ name was announced as the first pick in the 2016 NBA Draft Thursday night, it served as an important benchmark for the Philadelphia 76ers. The decision to draft the 19-year-old Australian marks the first step in Bryan Colangelo’s plan to “change [Philadelphia’s] focus toward winning.”
That plan to shift the culture within the Sixers’ organization was laid out when Colangelo was hired to help Philadelphia move past Sam Hinkie’s infamous “process” in early April. But the real work for Colangelo begins now. The Sixers’ new president of basketball operations must use the assets and cap space that his divisive predecessor acquired in order to surround Simmons with talent.
The decision to draft Simmons is, in and of itself, a move that will determine how the roster is constructed going forward. Primarily, Philadelphia will need to sign players who can shoot effectively in order to hide Simmons’ inability to threaten teams with his jumper, and facilitate his ability to drive towards the basket.
Two such players the Sixers can target in free agency are Evan Fournier and Allen Crabbe — formerly of the Orlando Magic and Portland Trailblazers, respectively. Fournier, although just 23, is the more experienced player, having played in the league since 2012. He shot 46 percent from the field last year, and 40 percent from three-point range. Crabbe, meanwhile, is coming off a breakout year with Portland, where he also shot 46 percent from the field. Either young shooting guard represents an ideal fit next to Simmons, and can create spacing on a team with many players who operate largely in the paint.
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Much to the dismay of many Sixers fans, one of those players is Jahlil Okafor, who was widely expected to be dealt on draft night. Whether the target was Providence guard Kris Dunn or Kentucky freshman Jamal Murray, it was rumored that Colangelo would try to move up for a young point guard. However, the draft came and went without that trade ever happening. So Philadelphia must look to acquire a veteran for that spot.
One player who fits that bill is Ricky Rubio, who has become expendable in Minnesota, and according to a tweet from Jerry Zgoda of the Star Tribune, is a point guard that Philadelphia has been doing “due diligence” on for months. Rubio is a pass-first point guard who has averaged 8.3 assists per game over the course of his career, and who makes sense as an experienced player who can help create opportunities for Simmons, as well as Joel Embiid.
Another viable option is Patrick Beverley of the Houston Rockets. The 27-year-old is a tenacious defender who shot 40 percent from beyond the arc, and will likely not cost much in trade talks.
Regardless of who Colangelo picks to fill these roles, however, the 2016 NBA Draft will largely dictate what the Sixers do for seasons to come. Players like Fournier, Crabbe, Rubio and Beverley are perfect candidates for year one of the Simmons era.