The Sixers have a chance to address their biggest need next Thursday, the only question is whether they'll have the gumption to make it happen.
The Sixers find themselves in an unenviable position for the upcoming NBA draft. With several holes in need of filling, they're seemingly stuck at number 16 in what, by most accounts, is a weak draft. An exhaustive list of team needs would be long, but planted firmly atop it is a big man who can defend. Elton Brand did his part last season, but his best days are behind him. Tony Battie chipped in on that end, but he never really had "best days." Spencer Hawes and Marreese Speights spent the season seemingly locked in a contest to see who could be the most offensive defender.
If you're looking for improvement from this roster in any meaningful way, they need to add a man in the middle. The problem is, there's no polished big man in this draft. None at all. Some people think Enes Kanter could be an all-around contributor as a center, but Kanter is clearly out of reach at #16, not to mention the fact that he hasn't played a competitive game in about a year-and-a-half.. There are a few big men sprinkled up and down the mock draft boards who may or may not crack an NBA rotation some day, but none of them stand out as a difference-maker...except maybe for one.
In a draft full of guys with finite ceilings sitting inches above their heads, one big man's physical tools and desire leave you asking, "What if he puts it all together?" Nothing but mysteries and question marks surround Bismack Biyombo. He says he's 18 (and his agent claims to have x-rays and MRIs to prove it), but some believe he's at least 22. Calling his offensive game raw is probably a gross overstatement. But when you look at his size, and you look at his athleticism, and you look at his defensive mindset, and maybe most important of all, you look at the road he's traveled to get this far. It's not hard to see this guy winding up as something special.
People who have seen him play have compared him to Ben Wallace and Dennis Rodman. He stands 6'8" in socks, but he's got the wingspan of a pterodactyl (7'6"). His measurements are pretty much in line with Dwight Howard's when he was entering the draft. He's got the drive and determination to dominate on the defensive end of the ball. He's got the size and quickness to lock down the paint and stifle the pick-and-roll. He's got the versatility to guard multiple positions. If his offensive game never consists of more than lob dunks, finishing in transition and putting back offensive rebounds, that's enough if he plays the kind of defense he's capable of in the NBA.
There's a fair amount of risk involved in drafting a guy like Biyombo. The safer bet would be to take a guy who played in college for three or four years. The safer bet would be to analyze hundreds of hours of tape on a guy like Markieff Morris and see a guy who will probably be a rotational player, possibly even a borderline starter down the road. The safe bet, though, isn't going to lead to great things. Not when the deck is already stacked against you. Not when you're a mediocre team with a mediocre pick in a mediocre draft.
Biyombo's stock is all over the board in the various mock drafts you'll find out there. I've seen him slated as high as #5 and as low as #20. If enough teams are risk-averse, the Sixers may not need to do anything to get him. All they'll need to do is write down his name when it's their turn at #16. I suppose the Sixers could sit back and hope no one else is willing to risk their first rounder on him and see if he falls to them, but I think it's unlikely he'll be there when they pick. If they want him, they're going to have to make a move to get up at least a couple of slots to take him.
There will be plenty of opportunities to move up. It may require parting with a player currently on the roster, it may require a second round pick or even a future first-rounder, it may take nothing more than cash. Whatever the cost, if the Sixers truly want to be bold. If they want to take a shot at making a dramatic improvement to both their short-term and long-term outlooks, they'll throw caution to the wind and do what it takes to get this guy. They'll do what it takes to find the diamond in the rough of this draft class, and fill their gaping hole in the middle with a guy who could dominate the lane for them for the next decade.
We've spent the better part of two years reading rumor after rumor about how this team is looking to trade its best player for pennies on the dollar. We've watched them make moves to save money at the expense of the strength of their roster and we've watched them sit idly by while players walked away in free agency. If this franchise is truly interested in building on the goodwill they earned with their playoff run this past season, they'll make the bold move that offers promise instead of taking the passive, safe route and settling for whatever's left when they pick.
If they do draft Biyombo, it will be nearly uncharted waters for a team that seems almost averse to selecting international players. Of course, in the NBA if you ever hope to escape circling the drain of mediocrity, at some point you're going to have to abandon the safe and the familiar. Next Thursday would be an ideal time to start.