When the Philaelphia 76ers selected Nikola Vucevic with the #16 pick in tonight's NBA draft they added perhaps the largest man available. Unfortunately, the seven-foot, 260-pound center from USC doesn't fill a hole for the Sixers.
Vucevic is, for the most part, a carbon-copy of Spencer Hawes. They're similar in size, their games are similar. Vucevic may wind up being a better rebounder and a slightly better shooter. Hawes will probably always be a better passer, but forget about their strengths for a moment, and let's concentrate on their weaknesses. More importantly, let's talk about how their weaknesses affect the play of the other guys on the team, especially the team's budding point guard, Jrue Holiday.
Last season, Holiday was forced to play the point guard position essentially by himself. By that, I mean on the defensive end, he never had a big who could disrupt the pick-and-roll. Hawes, Brand and Speights were all too immobile to be able to show or trap without disastrous results. Essentially, they had to play off their men and force Jrue to play two-on-one on the perimeter, covering both the ballhandler and the pick-setter. Hawes' slow feet also made him an extremely poor weak-side shotblocker. Again, this left Jrue on an island at the point. Whenever his man beat him off the dribble, it was a free pass to the hoop. Obviously, these defensive deficiencies made things harder on the entire defense, not only Jrue, but Jrue was the guy guarding the ball more often than not. He was the guy doing double duty with the increased pressure of knowing there was no help if his man got by him. That's a lot for a point guard to handle.
On the offensive end, again Jrue was without help from his bigs. Brand, Hawes and Speights were all capable of running the pick-and-pop. They could all knock down a jumper from 15-20 feet, with varying degrees of reliability, but none of them was able to roll on those plays. None of them was able to cut to the hoop, catch the ball in traffic and finish. None of them could seal their man and receive a lob pass for a dunk. In fact, even crisp entry passes from Jrue went to waste more often than not because of Hawes' terrible finishing skills.
The Sixers had height last season. They had big men, with big bodies. What they were lacking was athletic big men who could make things easier for their talented playmakers on both ends of the floor. Well, in Vucevic they've added another big body with the same athletic limitations shared by every big on the roster.
In college, Vucevic used his three years to develop a post game. A post game that probably isn't going to translate to the NBA for the same reason Spencer Hawes can't play near the hoop, he has no lift. His nifty moves to get half-hooks off are going to result in blocks. He's not going to be able to overpower anyone, and eventually his game is going to move further and further away from the hoop, just like Hawes'. It took him three years as the biggest guy on the floor most nights to put together a solid college season. In the NBA, he's not going to be the biggest guy on the floor and he's not going to be able to use his length (which is impressive) alone to get those shots off in the paint.
I'm sure Vucevic is a great kid, and I'm sure Doug Collins will put him in a position to reach his potential. The problem is that his potential is to become perhaps a more efficient version of Spencer Hawes, and that's not what this team needs. That's not what Jrue Holiday needs.
We're talking about the #16 pick in what will probably go down as one of the weaker drafts in the past couple of decades, so it's not like this team has made some kind of horrible mistake they'll never be able to recover from. There were definitely guys available at number sixteen who would've given the Sixers more, but this is by no means a defining moment for the franchise. The troubling thing about this pick is that it's the first real look we've had at the direction Rod Thorn wants to move the roster in. This is the first real personnel decision he's made and this was clearly the guy he wanted. In fact, Ed Stefanski said they were willing to trade up to get him. They were extremely motivated to obtain more of the same in the front court. I think we've moved on from the "you can't teach height," period of talent evaluation, though it seems our front office has not.
With their second-round pick, the Sixers made what appears to be a sentimental pick in Temple senior power forward LaVoy Allen, who wasn't projected to be picked at all.
Brian has more reaction to the SIxers draft at Depressed Fan.