Philadelphia 76ers: A Look Back At The 2015 NBA Draft

Jun 25, 2015; Brooklyn, NY, USA; Jahlil Okafor (Duke) greets NBA commissioner Adam Silver after being selected as the number three overall pick to the Miami Heat in the first round of the 2015 NBA Draft at Barclays Center. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports
Jun 25, 2015; Brooklyn, NY, USA; Jahlil Okafor (Duke) greets NBA commissioner Adam Silver after being selected as the number three overall pick to the Miami Heat in the first round of the 2015 NBA Draft at Barclays Center. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports /

The Philadelphia 76ers made a peculiar selection in the 2015 NBA Draft. Now Jahlil Okafor’s future is in question all together.

The Philadelphia 76ers finished the 2014-15 season on somewhat of a high note. After trading rookie of the year Michael Carter-Williams for a protected first-round Lakers pick and the explosion of Nerlens Noel, hopes were high going into the offseason.

Sam Hinkie and the Philadelphia 76ers finished with the third worst record and had pretty high chances at moving towards the first and second pick in the lottery. Around the lottery, Karl Anthony-Towns was praised as the consensus number one pick in the draft. The rest that followed were a talented group of 6-7 prospects of all different games.

The Philadelphia 76ers were seemingly one promising guard away from completing a gelled unit that would grow together. Ohio State guard D’Angelo Russell was one of those promising guards, the other was Emmanuel Mudiay. For much of the 2014-15 season, the debate was which guard would the Philadelphia 76ers draft? The deadly shooting Russell or the athletic defensive guard in Mudiay?

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When the lottery hit and the top 3 was in place, the mock drafts seem pretty similar for the most part. The Minnesota Timberwolves would snag Karl Anthony-Towns, the Los Angeles Lakers would take Jahlil Okafor, and the Philadelphia 76ers were projected to take Russell. There were a few drafts that had Russell to Los Angeles and the Philadelphia 76ers taking Kristaps Porzingis, but that seemed like a stretch at the time.

Mudiay was seemingly out of the question in the top 3, and former consensus top 3 pick in forward Stanley Johnson fell out of favor as well. It all seemed set. The Philadelphia 76ers would miss out on two highly praised bigs but would put their franchise point guard in place.

The Philadelphia 76ers hosted one of the biggest draft parties across the NBA. The organization rented out Dilworth Park outside of City Hall and placed two big screen projections along the building. The event drew in an overload of fans. For a franchise that struggled to fill the seats during the season, it was easy to see how excited fans were about this draft. It was the final piece to the rebuild puzzle in a city that expects nothing short of greatness.

The event that saw Darryl Dawkins, Theo Ratliff, and Julius Erving brought excitement around the fanbase. The collective narrative was that Russell would become a Sixer and the fanbase could move forward piecing a cohesive unit. Maybe that narrative came from blinded excitement or just pure belief that the draft order would go as planned, but either way there was a strong expectation in place.

Adam Silver stepped to the podium and announced Karl Anthony Towns as the first pick, expectedly. The Los Angeles Lakers were next up to bring a prospect to the podium:

Jalen Rose‘s pre-selection statement of Russell being the clear number two came to fruition just seconds later. D’Angelo Russell was taken right from underneath the Philadelphia 76ers’ nose. Now, what the Philadelphia 76ers would do was in question.

Sam Hinkie seemed determined in understanding the game of Kristaps Porzingis. He continuously went overseas to watch the 7-foot wonder and many speculated whether Hinkie would favor Porzingis over any other prospect if Russell were gone. It was unlikely would reach for fit purpose and take Emmanuel Mudiay. The final option was the team would select former consensus top pick Jahlil Okafor.

Yes. The Philadelphia 76ers selected Jahlil Okafor. The first-reaction excitement came with the name of the teenager that lead Duke University to an NCAA championship. It came from the year-long talk of him becoming the next great big man. It came with a known name, not some teenager from overseas.

Many still speculated whether or not the Philadelphia 76ers would keep Okafor. Acquiring three centers in the past three drafts didn’t quite make sense so there was a belief that Okafor would be moved for assets and a top 10 pick right there on draft night.

It didn’t happen.

The Philadelphia 76ers were welcoming yet another young center to the team. There are many theories about what happened that lead to Okafor’s arrival to Philadelphia.

Porzingis’ Camp Steered Him Away From The Sixers

The Philadelphia 76ers made a lot of enemies when it came to agents and other owners during their polarizing rebuild. Many agents viewed the team as a pit that would waste the early years of their promising clients and damage their fragile image across the league.

Philadelphia 76ers
Philadelphia 76ers /

It appears that’s what happened with Kristaps Porzingis. The power of draft prospects and their camp have more influence now than in the past, whether we want to admit or not. No franchise wants to select a player who doesn’t want to be a part of the team moving forward.

Sam Hinkie may have wanted to draft Porzingis, but could have been worried about the backlash and the future tension between the organization and the player. Added tension would once again put the rebuild under scrutiny.

The Uncertainty of Joel Embiid

Three centers is a problem, but when one is unhealthy it is easier to overlook that issue. Shortly after the draft, Joel Embiid’s setback was announced and he planned on sitting out his second-straight season. Many speculated whether Hinkie anticipated the events and selected Okafor as insurance.

Okafor’s reputation as the next great low-post scorer would have eased the minds of those within the organization about the risk of the Embiid pick. Maybe the selection was meant to mitigate the risk of Embiid not working out. Instead, it has put the Philadelphia 76ers in an even riskier situation. The Philadelphia 76ers now have all three healthy centers to work out the rotation.

Nerlens Noel’s rookie contract is up at the end of this season, and Embiid’s the end of next. Okafor’s uncertain rookie season has made a tricky situation even trickier.

Okafor Was Viewed As Best Available

The simple reason for the Jahlil Okafor selection could very well just be because he was viewed as the best available player. Sam Hinkie’s M.O. has always been to accumulate assets, and in this case he could have believed he accumulated the best available one.

A generational low-post scorer, Okafor’s weaknesses were easy to ignore on draft night. His name and value were at the highest on that night, and Hinkie could have been looking to move him in an asset-hounding way.

It’s always risky to draft a player just to try to move him, but Hinkie’s risky moves in the past could indicate this belief. It was stated that night that the team was not looking for a trade involving Okafor, but the behind the scenes could’ve read differently.

Okafor’s value at that point was enough to draw a top 10 pick and another asset, but the market didn’t bite. Either way Okafor was anointed the star of the Philadelphia 76ers, for a short time at least.

The 2015 NBA Draft is still being felt today for the Philadelphia 76ers. With Okafor still in the middle of trade talks, it’s interesting to look back on the thinking behind the selection. It’s also important note that there were murmurs of other GMs freezing Hinkie out from trade talks of trading back into the late first round.

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The 2015 NBA Draft is still a very important one. Even with the selection of top pick Ben Simmons. Even with the arrivals of Joel Embiid and Dario Saric. Jahlil Okafor and the 2015 NBA Draft have the most important role in the success of this rebuild. Okafor’s future, whether in Philadelphia or not, could very well be used as the example of the success or failure of this rebuild.