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What should Sixers do in 2022 NBA Draft with their first-round pick?

NBA Draft week is not like it used to be in Philadelphia when a season’s worth of losses would culminate with a lottery pick or two that allowed fans to dream of better days. The Sixers had an arsenal of draft picks in those days, as the lottery became the equivalent of the Super Bowl and draft night also had plenty of juice.

Four second-round playoff exits and a barren asset cupboard later, that level of excitement isn’t quite the same anymore. Still, Thursday’s draft carries real significance for a franchise that is trying to figure out a way to advance deeper in the playoffs.

Here are six thoughts on the Sixers heading into the draft, which could end up going in a few different directions.

Find a rotation-caliber player at No. 1 23

There have been plenty of studies over the years using win shares and other metrics, and they all come to the same conclusion: The true difference-makers are found at the very top of the draft. The average outcome for each pick drops as you move down the lottery, and it continues to do so at a slower rate into the 20s and second round. There is good reason for teams to tank.

With that in mind, an excellent outcome for the No. 23 pick would be a role player that can hang on the floor in a playoff series. This is easier said than done, and it may have to be accomplished on a different timeline than what the Sixers would like. Lack of depth played an important part in the Sixers’ loss to Miami in the playoffs, so the Sixers can utilize the draft to shore up one of their weaknesses. But…

Trade the pick and receive a veteran role player or two

This would likely be accomplished by finding a team willing to guarantee Danny Green’s $10 million for next season in exchange for the pick. Perhaps Matisse Thybulle is used as a sweetener; he still feels like the young depth piece with the most trade value. Maybe another young player would be the added value or matching salary.

We don’t have to look too far into the past to find a trade with this framework. Just last week, Houston dealt Christian Wood to Dallas for the No. 1 26 pick in the draft and several bench pieces with one year remaining on their contracts. The pick had more value to Houston than Wood, who was not going to be prioritized over Alperen Sengun and the frontcourt player that falls to Houston at No. 3 on Thursday night. Can the Sixers find an equivalent to Wood on the wing? We will see. There is a point where making the pick is a better option.

In 2016 or ’17, the Sixers could operate like Houston and prioritize draft picks. Now with a star player and core in place, they have the option to work differently. Taking a swing on a young player could pay off the road, but this is a roster that could stand to improve on the margins for next season. In trying to find a rotation player for next season, it’s much easier to project someone who has already played in the NBA for a few seasons.

Success picking later in the draft

Taking Tyrese Maxey with the No. 21 pick two years ago already qualifies as a game-changer. For the Sixers, it might be considered a franchise saver depending on how Maxey develops in the next few years. But the returns from this season were promising.

After some high-profile mistakes at the top of the lottery, the Sixers have done well in this range. Thybulle is an NBA-caliber wing with the 20th pick. And so is Landry Shamet (No. 26), although those two players fall into the specialist category. In the words of Draymond Green, there is a difference between 82 and 16-game players, the latter of which the Sixers need more than anything. Shake Milton and Paul Reed were both excellent selections in the 50s, but like Thybulle, they still have plenty to prove in the postseason.

Wanted: experienced, versatile wings

This is why finding a trade is the safer option. It’s not impossible to find immediate playoff contributors later in the draft, but it’s difficult.

The 2019 Thybulle-Grant Williams decisions by the Sixers and Boston Celtics provide an interesting case study. After sniffing out the Sixers’ interest in Thybulle, the Celtics took Williams a few picks later. For a while, the Sixers looked to have the superior evaluation. Thybulle has the all-defense nods and a reputation as a disruptive force. But he was played off the floor at the end of this season’s second-round playoff series, while Williams logged 654 postseason minutes as Boston made the NBA Finals.

Williams does not have any of Thybulle’s strengths, but he’s a more well-rounded player. He’s a better shooter and has more positional versatility on the defensive end. That allowed him to play deeper in the playoffs, although Williams admittedly also struggled in the final two rounds. The bar for role players as the postseason progresses is quite high.

Can the Sixers find their version of Williams with someone like EJ Liddell or Tari Eason? Perhaps, but especially on a roster that has an all-world center and two small-ish guards to handle the offensive load, the Sixers could use a player who bolsters the team’s athleticism, versatility and defense at the other three positions. This player also would have to make open 3-pointers, which is a laundry list so late in the draft.

Sixers aren’t married to a specific archetype

President of basketball operations Daryl Morey says it the time: If you focus all on one specific area, there is a decent chance that a mistake is made. The Sixers took Jaden Springer at No. 28, which didn’t make a ton of sense from a timeline perspective. Springer was one of the youngest players in his draft class and it showed during his NBA minutes as a rookie.

The idea of ​​drafting for fit versus the best player available has been a discussion in draft circles for a long time. There isn’t one right answer, but it’s easier to target fit farther down the draft board. Although the verdict on the Springer pick is to be determined — his performance in summer league the second time around will be telling — it does show that the Sixers are somewhat flexible in their draft philosophy.

Whatever happens, pick is important

There seem to be plenty of wings and combo forwards who are being mocked at or right ahead of where the Sixers are picking. Will the right player fall this time? It’s easy to say now, but Maxey dropping to No. 21 was surprising when it happened. We went over the trade for a veteran but could a trade back happen? The Sixers not having a second-round pick goes against our Hinkie roots.

Whatever route the Sixers decide to take, the pick is important. We know they won’t have a first-round pick to play with next season, with the bill coming on a few more coming down the pike. Now that there are fewer opportunities, the hit rate becomes even more crucial.

(Photo of Matisse Thybulle: Mark J. Rebilas / USA Today)