The NBA playoffs are designed to expose an organization’s flaws. For the Sixers, the series loss to Miami crystallized what many fans and observers already knew. The bench just wasn’t championship caliber, with too many players who were offensive or defensive liabilities.
In the 2021 draft, Daryl Morey was unable to find an instant contributor to bolster that bench, taking 18-year-old Jaden Springer of Tennessee with the 28th pick. We’ll see if Springer is able to make an impact on the Sixers next season and down the road, but the inescapable truth is that he was a complete non-factor on a roster who badly needed help. Springer only played six minutes total in the regular season. With few valuable future assets for the draft, the Sixers are unable to sign a player ranked 23rd in the world who could be a factor in the years to come. They need someone who can play now.
To that end, I’ve targeted five wingers in the 2022 draft who could play an immediate role for the Sixers.
Tari Eason – F, LSU – 6-8, 216 lbs – 21
Eason is probably the player least likely to last until the 23rd pick. He is attractive to the Sixers because of his potential to provide both offensive and defensive versatility. It is built like Kawhi Leonard, a physically strong wing with a wingspan of 7ft 2in. Eason was incredibly productive as a sophomore at LSU, averaging 16.9 points, 6.6 rebounds, 1.9 steals and 1.1 blocks in just 24.4 minutes per game. As those blocking and stealing numbers suggest, he’s excellent at creating deflections and could keep 1-4 at the NBA level with his lateral quickness and ability to shut down lanes.
Offensively, he thrives on attacking the fences and reaching the edge. Opponents were unable to keep him off the free throw line, where he shot 80% on 5.7 attempts per game. The three-point shot will be the swing skill that determines how much Eason plays right away. He shot 35.9% from the 3-point line on 2.4 attempts per game last season. The output is great, but players like Tyrese Haliburton and LaMelo Ball have succeeded with clunky shooting mechanics.
If Eason proves he can make three corners, he’s going to be an instant NBA contributor with the potential to be a long-term starter. If the Sixers decide to leave Matisse Thybulle, I could see Eason starting at three as a rookie. You might think that’s hyperbole, but few people thought Ziaire Williams or Max Strus would start for playoff teams this time last year.
EJ Liddell – F, Ohio State – 6-7, 243 lbs – 21
Liddell’s ceiling might not be as high as Eason’s, but he has sure ground as a tough role-player with a non-stop engine. He played a small five at Ohio State and has the potential to do the same in the NBA in spurts, though he’ll also have to stretch the perimeter floor more than he did in college. . Liddell’s three-point percentage has improved every year at Ohio State, hitting 37.4 percent as a junior.
Defensively, he has the foot speed to switch into pick-and-roll actions and the strength to hold the post against taller offensive players. It’s a very similar skill set to Grant Williams of the Celtics, who carved out a major role for himself on a contending team.
Our Sixers analyst Marc Jackson pointed to the need for the Sixers to add “dogs” to this list. EJ Liddell fits the bill and can bring some toughness to the second unit.
Christian Braun – F, Kansas – 6-7, 209 pounds – 21
Speaking of toughness, Christian Braun brought that in spades for the national champion Kansas Jayhawks last season. Braun attacks at both ends of the floor with an advantage that will make opposing fans despise him and home fans love him. He’s a high-spirited athlete who can do a bit of everything and would fit in very well alongside the Sixers’ stars. He shot 38.6 percent from three-point range last season and will likely get his points from three, hitting the offensive glass and in transition. He’s not a guy who’s going to get clearances to take on his defender one-on-one.
The 2022 national title match showed what Braun is all about. Trailing by 15 points at halftime, Braun started the second half in attack mode, scoring 10 points in the first eight minutes to put Kansas back in the game. He put the pliers on UNC guard Caleb Love, who shot just 5 for 24 from the floor. Braun finished that game with 12 points and 12 rebounds, playing all 40 minutes. His ability to hit glass from the wing would be a good boost for the Sixers.
Braun won’t be a huge scorer at the NBA level, but I think a lot of fake drafts and big boards underestimate his athleticism, versatility, and how hard he plays.
Jalen Williams – F, Santa Clara – 6-6, 209 lbs – 21
A West Coast Conference rough diamond, Williams had an outstanding junior season in Santa Clara, averaging 18 points, 4.4 rebounds and 4.2 assists, while displaying scoring ability at all three levels.
His shooting percentages were exceptional as a junior – 51.3% from the field, 39.6% on three and 80.9% on free throws. He’s a smooth attacking player who could be even better with more talent around him. According to Synergy Sports, he was in the 97th percentile of jumpers to catch and shoot last season, which could make him a major weapon playing with James Harden and Joel Embiid.
Williams began riding mock draft boards after an impressive showing at the NBA Draft Combine, where he tested well athletically and measured with a 7-foot-2 wingspan.
His ability to hold up defensively will determine how much Williams plays as a rookie. He’s a great jumper, but his lateral foot speed is going to be tested against NBA perimeter players.
Wendell Moore, Jr. – G/F, Duke – 6-5, 217 lbs – 21
Moore was instrumental in his first two seasons at Duke before finding his place as a three-point threat and defensive stopper as a junior. He shot 41.3% from three-point range on 3.2 attempts per game and led the Blue Devils with 4.4 assists and 1.4 steals per game.
One thing I love about Moore is that he’s used to playing high-use players, which is what he’ll have to do in the NBA. According to Synergy Sports, he scored 1.36 points per jump shot caught and shot in the half court, which ranked in the 95th percentile nationally. It’s a skill the Sixers need.
I wonder if Moore will be athletic enough to stay in front of the NBA wings, but he knows how to play both ends of the court. He’s selfless and won’t make a ton of mistakes. If he makes open shots, that might be all you need in 15-20 minutes off the bench.