Though we are still firmly within the throngs of the unusually short 2020-21 NBA season, riddled with its own unique challenges that will surely live on in the minds of fans for years to come, it’s never too early to look ahead to the forthcoming draft, right?
I mean, even if the Philadelphia 76ers are surely destined to pick 30th overall due to their borderline guaranteed spot in the NBA Finals – it is a championship or bust season after all – they still need to upgrade their roster with young, ascending players who can fill complementary roles alongside franchise cornerstones like Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons, and Tobias Harris, right? It’s worked out pretty darn well with Matisse Thybulle.
But what kind of player should Daryl Morey be on the lookout for later this summer? Should the Sixers try to land their biggest need, a stretch five to take the load off of Simmons in Embiid-less lineups, or would they be better suited looking for a knockdown shooter would can help space the field when both of the team’s best players are on the court?
Well, assuming the Philadelphia 76ers don’t trade the pick – wherever it may fall – to procure a proven vet like Malcolm Brogdon, there’s a pretty darn good collegiate hooper who should be available at the end of the first round who would look darn good in a red, white, and blue jersey who just so happens to have spent a season with Tyrese Maxey in Kentucky by the name of Johnny Juzang.
Johnny Juzang could be a complete 3-and-D wing for the Philadelphia 76ers.
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As things presently stand, the Philadelphia 76ers are not a team flush with complete players, especially coming off the bench.
Now granted, the Sixers don’t have a bad bench per se; they actually have a pretty solid collection of guards who can supplement the starting five, but how many of their current back 10 -12 if you count Rayjon Tucker and Mason Jones – can really be counted on to put in work at both ends of the court?
Shake Milton, Furkan Korkmaz, and Tyrese Maxey are largely offensive players. Matisse Thybulle and Dwight Howard are largely defensive players. Isaiah Joe, Paul Reed, and Anthony Tolliver are all either prospects or deep bench reserves, and Mike Scott is on the team too, in case you somehow forgot.
While a few of those players can hold their own at both ends of the court if need be, only one, George Hill, is what most would consider a two-way guard capable of defending and offending with equal measure – his fourth-quarter performance against radioactive man Steph Curry notwithstanding.
With that being said, the Sixers are also relatively lacking in players who can create their own shot, with only four, maybe five non-centers who can reliably create their own shot without the help of others, depending on how the team opts to use Seth Curry.
With is this relevant? Well, because routinely, teams like to have players who can remain on the court regardless of the situation, without having to go offense-for-defense in late-game situations, and players who can find ways to score without having their production manufactured for them.
Rather obvious, no?
So, assuming the Sixers keep their roster more or less intact heading into the offseason – aka retaining Danny Green and Dwight Howard in free agency – landing 3-and-D players who can score from anywhere and immediately slot into Doc Rivers’ rotation would be a pretty incredible find at the end of the first round, especially if they can’t retain a player like Korkmaz due to their cap situation.
Fortunately, Johnny Juzang should be able to slide right into whatever role the Sixers are looking to fill, whether that’s a shooter coming off the bench, a 3-and-D wing, or even a secondary playmaker from the wings and is a borderline lock to be available at the end of the first round assuming he remains in draft consideration.
A four-star recruit from sunny Los Angeles, California, Juzang is a tall, athletic forward who can play/cover either wing position in the modern-day NBA. He initially committed to Kentucky, where he was used as a deep-bench reserve on the same team as Tyrese Maxey before transferring home to LA to play for Mick Cronin in his second year with the Bruins of UCLA.
That decision may go down as one of the best of his life thus far.
Suddenly thrust into a starting role alongside Jaime Jaquez, Jules Bernard, and Tyger Campbell, Juzang lead the Bruins in points per game at 16, field goals attempted (13.4), and 3 pointers attempted (5.8) in his first and maybe last season in Westwood. Despite his struggles as a reclassified freshman at Kentucky, Juzang near-immediately slotted in as UCLA’s top option offensively and performed that role admirably.
Watching Juzang tackle the adversity of being an underutilized winger criticized for his defensive limitations and ineffective outside shot to one of the better guards in the PAC-12 was one of the highlights of the 2020-21 NCAA season and is a big reason why the Bruins were able to make it to the Final Four of March Madness, pulling off the upset of the years versus Michigan in the process.
Without Juzang, the Bruins don’t make it to past Michigan. Without Juzang, who fouled out in an overtime routing of Alabama, the Bruins almost didn’t even make it to the Elite Eight to face Michigan but were ultimately able to pull it out in the end, thanks in no small part to his 13 point performances.
If Juzang ultimately opts to return to UCLA for his junior season, the team will surely be in the conversation for the PAC-12 title and another high seed in the NCAA Tournament, but something tells me running it back won’t be in the cards. Why return to college, even if it’s your hometown school, when you can hear your name called on draft night fresh off a strong showing on a national stage?
Assuming the Sixers are unable to hold onto Furkan Korkmaz in free agency – which is a borderline lock, considering the team is hard-capped and can’t offer him more than a modest raise on his current minimum-scale contract – the Sixers will be on the lookout for a young wing on a long-term deal who can immediately contribute on offense and develop into a true 3-and-D a few years down the line.
Measuring in at 6-foot-6, 210 pounds with a plus wingspan, Juzang projects as a Sixers-sized shooting guard who can play up a position in either the starting lineup or coming off the bench. He’s got the on-court awareness to seemingly be in the right spot more often than not, a solid handle for a non-point guard, and has experience running off-ball screens to get himself open a la our old pal J.J. Redick.
Give Juzang a defined role where he isn’t responsible for taking 24 percent of his team’s shots and watch his efficiency numbers – and confidence – skyrocket.
Will the Philadelphia 76ers ultimately draft Johnny Juzang in August? Who knows. They may not even have a chance to do so if he opts to run it back at UCLA and play with incoming five-star small forward recruit Peyton Watson. But if Juzang makes a business decision and opts to test his game against the best of the best, he’ll surely have a place on Daryl Morey’s big board, as his style of play fits what the red, white, and blue like to do both now and a few years down the line once he’s hit his prime.