The first round of the NBA draft gets all the attention, but the Philadelphia 76ers may have won Thursday evening’s festivities in the second round. Here’s a list of the Sixers’ picks (including one player coming to Philadelphia via a reported trade that has yet to become official):
3. Joel Embiid, C, Kansas
12. Dario Saric, F, Croatia
32. K.J. McDaniels, F, Clemson
39. Jerami Grant, F, Syracuse
52. Vasilije Micić, G, Serbia
58. Jordan McRae, G, Tennessee
Drafting players might as well be picking names out of a hat, especially in the second round when the names become more obscure and the skills more ambiguous. But Philadelphia, which made six picks on the night and four in the second round, is looking pretty good. Mainly, its selections of K.J McDaniels and Vasilije Micic could put it over the top.
McDaniels likely fell to No. 32 because of his shooting. He made just 30.4 percent of his three-pointers as a junior at Clemson, but this pick is about defense.
McDaniels may be slightly undersize for a small forward at 6 feet 6, but his 6-11 wingspan more than makes up for that and gives him room to roam on the defensive end. He averaged 3.3 blocks per 40 minutes as a junior, a figure that makes him the best shot-blocking wing in this year’s draft class. To put his 8.9 percent block rate in perspective, look at the NBA leaders: Serge Ibaka and Anthony Davis topped the league this past season, and they blocked just 6.7 percent of two-pointers when they were on the floor.
This isn’t a case of a guy who is recklessly flying all over the court, either. When offensive players isolated against him this past season, they shot a mere 20 percent according to Synergy Sports. Meanwhile, those players turned the ball over on 24.2 percent of their isolations.
So Philly got a defensive stopper on the wing for an un-guaranteed contract. It also may have found a backup – or a complement – to Michael Carter-Williams if the team chooses to keep the reigning rookie of the year. That’s where Micic enters the equation.
Most people may not have heard of the 6-5 Serbian, but he has been comfortably running offenses in the Adriatic League, one of the strongest international leagues, for some time now. He may have shot just 27.8 percent from three-point range, and his defense probably needs some work, but there’s a chance Micic becomes one of the three or four best point guards out of this draft.
The NBA has become a pick-and-roll-dominant league. If you can run that play well, everything else sort of comes with it, and Micic, at just 20 years old, already knows how to command the floor and run an offense when dribbling around screens.
Micic was a pick-and-roll glutton, running that play on 57.6 percent of his plays this season, per Synergy. His team averaged 0.94 points per play on those screen-and-rolls. To put that in perspective, such a number in the NBA would rank Micic a little better than Ty Lawson and a little worse than Tony Parker. Plus, Micic can team up with the 6-6 Carter-Williams to give the 76ers the NBA’s tallest pair of point guards. Why couldn’t he become Greivis Vasquez, a vastly underrated floor general who actually led the NBA in assists two seasons ago?
Leave it to 76ers General Manager Sam Hinke, a former Houston Rockets front-office star, to find the diamonds in the rough. This is an organization that puts particular importance on analytics. Now those numbers have led them to two guys who could end up making an impact without the team taking on much risk.
Fred Katz averaged almost one point per game in fifth grade, but he maintains his per-36-minute numbers were astonishing. Find more of his work at Bleacher Report or on ESPN’s TrueHoop Network at ClipperBlog.com. Follow him on Twitter at @FredKatz.