2014-15 will be a make-it-or-break-it season for Michael Carter-Williams and Nerlens Noel

It didn’t take long to know how the Sixers “core” felt about how the team drafted.

For reasons that continue to puzzle me, Michael Carter-Williams was at the draft. Shortly after the Sixers selected Elfrid Payton with the 10th pick, an almost confused Carter-Williams was quoted as saying that he, “wasn’t sure if he would be moved, but that he trusted both Sam [Hinkie]and coach [Brett] Brown”. While I wonder if we all took that quote out of context and think MCW might have been talking about ‘being moved’ from the one to the two, rather than changing teams, it certainly added some intrigue to the draft.

The Elfird Payton era didn’t even last ten minutes, so that intrigue went out the door rather quickly.

Nerlens Noel took to Twitter in an attempt to squash any speculation that he wasn’t excited to play with another seven-footer, in Joel Embiid.

 

With Embiid unlikely to play in 2014-15, and Dario Saric a lock not to play in America for at leastone season (likely two or three years), it’s pretty evident that the Sixers don’t plan on being any better than the 19 win team that they were a season ago. Given that the Cavaliers, Magic and Bucks figure to make substantial improvements in wins in 2014, at least relatively speaking, the Sixers are the runaway favorites to land the number one pick in next Summer’s draft.

Obviously anything can happen over the course of the next year, a team like the Pistons, for example, could find a way to land the number one pick (technically they did this year), but it seems pretty safe to assume that the Sixers will be picking somewhere in the top three next year.

Philadelphia 76ers tickets

So let’s look at a few early draft boards for next Summer’s draft, which appear to create an interesting dilemma for the Sixers.

From Draft Express

1. Jahlil Okafor-Center, Duke, 6’11″, 270 LBS.

2. Cliff Alexander-Power Forward/Center, Kansas, 6’8″, 255 LBS.

3. Emmanuel Mudiay-Point-Guard, SMU, 6’5″, 190 LBS. (Now leaving SMU and expected to go pro overseas for 2014-15 season.)

4. Karl Towns- Center, Kentucky, 7’0″, 248 LBS.

5. Stanley Johnson-Small Forward, Arizona, 6’7″, 240 LBS. 

From NBADraft.net 

1. Emmanuel Mudiay-Point-Guard, SMU, 6’5″, 190 LBS. (Now leaving SMU and expected to go pro overseas for 2014-15 season.)

2. Jahlil Okafor-Center, Duke, 6’11″, 270 LBS.

3. Cliff Alexander-Power Forward/Center, Kansas, 6’8″, 255 LBS.

4. Kelly Oubre-Small Forward, Kansas, 6’7″ 205 LBS.

5. Karl Towns- Center, Kentucky, 7’0″, 248 LBS.

So in their second consecutive season of picking in the top five, the Sixers will be looking at a board full of point-guards and big-men, the two positions that they technically already have long-term solutions to.

In a perfect world, one of two scenarios will unfold for the Sixers. Scenario one is that a shooting-guard like Barcelona’s Mario Hezonja or Wayne Seldon of Kansas, really jumps up the board to the Sixers. It’s hard to imagine that the Sam Hinkie would force a pick of a shooting-guard in the top-five if he knows he can move down and still get his guy, so it is also possible that the Sixers move down and take a shooting-guard.

Scenario two is that they take a small forward like Johnson or Oubre, and try to play them at shooting-guard, knowing that they are only a season or two away from having Dario Saric come over and likely assume the role as starting small-forward. That is, unless the Sixers like Saric off the bench as four, which we really have no idea of.

If the Sixers still feel like they are looking at just taking whoever the best player available is, and they will likely be in position to do so, then options like Okafor and Monday come into serious consideration. And with those two coming into serious contention, the idea that both Noel and Carter-Williams are potentially looking at prove-it type seasons in 2014-15, despite the fact that the Sixers plan on being a really bad team, becomes a serious reality.

So, for a brief period, I pretended that I have the genius of Sam Hinkie. I came up with what I like currently about Noel and Carter-Williams, and what they must improve on in 2014-15 to begin to show me that the Sixers wouldn’t be better off moving them for picks and taking a better pick in the draft.

Nerlens Noel

What I like: I really like the fact that Noel appears to have improved at the line (it’s early, I know), and that he can be a defensive rim-protector. In year one, and I may change my mind on this based off of how things go early in the season, I not only want to see Noel prove to us how good of a defender that he is, but I want him to start to help make the Sixers become a better defensive team. Carter-Williams took a lot of slack for his poor defense last year, and while I think he certainly has room for improvement, I believe a lot of his defensive struggles were a product of playing with a D-League cast after the Sixers moved Evan Turner and Spencer Hawes. Generally speaking, though, I’m very excited about Noel on the defensive side of things.

What I need to see: I think Noel has to show that he has some sort of offensive game now, and can develop into the type of player that could average 10 to 12 points-per-game. If he can’t prove that, then the Sixers will have to weigh the fact that he can run the floor and is likely going to be a top-notch defender, with what they think Embiid is going to develop into, how they feel about Embiid’s long-term health, and what the prospects of Jahlil Okafor, Cliff Alexander and Karl Towns look like. If the Sixers end up picking in the top three or four again, which it’s pretty much impossible that they won’t, then they will have to consider taking another big-man, because three of the five top-rated players out of next year’s class are big-men.

If Joel Embiid doesn’t look like he can stay healthy, then things could get really interesting. It’s hard to envision a scenario here he won’t be ready to start the 2015-16 season, because he is unlikely to play at all next year, but if they get any red flags from their medical team, maybe they just go with the best player available with their pick and end up with three young big-men, hoping they hit on at least two of them.

Michael Carter-Williams

What I like: I like that on one of the worst teams in franchise history, Carter-Williams showed that he can score, and averaged nearly six and a half assists pergame. I also really like seeing Carter-Williams at Summer league games and the fact that he seems understanding, yet sometimes frustrated, with the Sixers’ plan. He’s a smart competitor who wants to win, so he will at times wish he was in a better situation, but I think in general, he gets the plan. That’s a good sign. I also like his length at the point-guard spot, although finding 6’5 and 6’6 point-guards in the NBA doesn’t seem to be as rare as it once was.

What I need to see: I need to see Carter-Williams improve on the defensive side of things, but I tend to think that he will have to gradually improve on that side of the ball over the next few years. I also think that as a shooter, MCW will never be a great shooter, but over the course of the next few seasons, his jumper will improve. What I really want to see is Carter-Williams finish better in the paint. Too many times last season he worked his way into the paint, or near the basket, got an open look, and missed. If he is in their long-term plans, then expecting him to turn around all his flaws in one season isn’t realistic. But small victories like finishing better in the paint would be nice to see.

If the Sixers land the number one pick, and decide that they really like Mudiay, they could pair him in the backcourt with Carter-Williams, or they could move Carter-Williams for another pick. On the surface, Mudiay, like Carter-Williams, is a 6’5 point-guard who isn’t a great shooter, but projects to be a slightly better passer, looks like he will be a better defender, and is a much better finisher at the hoop than Carter-Williams.

Mudiay projects to be a better passer, defender and finisher at the hoop than Carter-Williams.

If the Sixers are committed to being patient with MCW, then the slight progressions that he will make defensively and at the hoop in 2014-15, will likely be enough to convince them that their plan is headed in the right direction. If Mudiay turns into a can’t-miss prospect and the Sixers have a shot to take him, I wouldn’t be surprised to see them pull the trigger on taking Mudiay, who may have a higher-ceiling than MCW.

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I don’t work in the Sixers’ organization (they wouldn’t even give me a press pass), so I’m not trying to find little reasons to watch the second consecutive season of an unwatchable product. But discounting what both Noel and Carter-Williams have to prove both individually, and together, in 2014-15, doesn’t seem like a good idea to me.

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Tags: Michael Carter-Williams Nerlens Noel Philadelphia 76ers

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