1. Would the Sixers be a lock to win the NCAA Tournament?
Anthony Calabro: Yes. The Sixers would win the NCAA Tournament. There are only a handful of NBA level players in the tourney. Now, could the Sixers beat an NCAA All-star team that would include lottery locks Wiggins, Embiid, Parker, and Randle? No. They would certainly lose that game.
Eric Goldwein: Nine out of 10 times. Thaddeus Young would hands down be the best player in college basketball, and the rest of the squad — as bad as it looks against NBA competition — is made up of former NCAA stars. Take, for instance, James Anderson. He averaged 22.3 ppg his junior season at Oklahoma State, which was a 7 seed in the 2010 Tourney. With four additional years of full-time professional basketball training, he’d be a man amongst boys.
Kyle Neubeck: They would win it by a large margin. It’s easy to say the Sixers have bad players, but most of these guys were stars for the various colleges they played at. There are a couple college teams with legitimate talent, but having to go nine, 10 deep with an NBA is just not possible. There are only 450 roster spots in the NBA, those guys made it there for a reason.
Tom Sunnergren: To the extent that any team can be a lock to win a one-and-done tournament, yes, the Sixers would be a lock. Though a more interesting, and maybe honest, answer might be “no,” because the question isn’t really “Are the Sixers better than an amateur basketball team?” as much as it’s “Seriously, dudes: have you ever seen a professional basketball team that’s this bad?” And on the 22nd day of March, the year of our Lord 2014, my answer to that is a resounding “nope.”
Bryan Toporek: Despite what Bill Simmons thinks, the Sixers would steamroll through the tournament. Only two teams in this year’s field (Kentucky and Kansas) have three projected first-round picks, per DraftExpress. Your typical run-of-the-mill, end-of-the-rotation NBA player would dominate most college players. Unless Thad Young, MCW and Nerlens Noel all went down with injuries, Philly would win in a landslide.
Calabro: No, they were beginning their descent right around the trade deadline. It was bound to happen. The Pacers were playing above their heads for most of the season, relying on stingy defense to supplement a medicore offense. It’s difficult to keep that defensive intensity when you’re 30 games above .500 and you have the Pistons, Bucks, and Cavs on the schedule in mid-February. As the defense suffered, so did the offensive output.
Goldwein: He’s an easy target, and the stats/anecdotes back up the theory. But I’m hesitant to pin all the blame on ET. There’s an adjustment period, and though he hasn’t helped the cause, his coaches/teammates have done a poor job easing him into the system.
Neubeck: They’ve been trending downward for a while, though it’s pretty enjoyable that they’re in a major funk since they brought The Villain aboard. Having your center shoot sub-50 percent from the field, which Hibbert has done for the last three months, is a recipe for disaster offensively, and Paul George has been abysmal since the calendar flipped to 2014. Turner’s actually been relatively effective as a scorer, which is where they need the most help, but his rotations have been predictably awful.
Sunnergren: He’s not helping–because, Evan Turner–but the Pacers problems go a bit beyond ET. Paul George and Roy Hibbert have gotten worse with each passing month, a defense that looked like one of the best in league history now just looks very good, and an offense that was never exactly dynamic hasn’t improved. Since the All-Star break, the Pacers basically have an even scoring differential. Again, Evan Turner isn’t doing much to move the needle for Indiana, but he doesn’t really work as a mono-causal explanation of all that’s gone wrong in the Hoosier State.
Toporek: As much as I’d love to gloat to anyone who called Evan Turner a difference-maker for the Pacers… no, he’s not solely to blame. Since Jan. 1, Paul George is shooting 40.0 percent from the field. Roy Hibbert is averaging a career-low 13.5 points per 36 minutes. Turner’s defense is unsurprisingly miserable, but he’s not the only reason for Indiana’s struggles.
3. Can the Sixers catch the Bucks?
Calabro: I don’t think they can catch the Bucks, who have lost six straight and are just 1-9 in their last 10 games. Did you know, “Milwaukee” is an Indian name. In fact, it’s pronounced “mill-e-wah-que” which is Algonquin for “the good land.”
Goldwein: I say no. The past few games the Sixers haven’t been thaaaat bad, and I do see the streak ending sometime before season’s end. It might only take one or two wins to get locked out of that top spot.
Neubeck: I want to say yes, but I think it’s too much to ask. Milwaukee has been playing teams close lately which is a good sign, but the same could be said for the Sixers. I think both will accidentally fall into a win or two down the stretch and cancel each other out, though I’m hopeful that they pull this off somehow. The more college hoops I’ve watched, the more I’m going to be disappointed if the Sixers end up with somebody other than Wiggins.
Sunnergren: The Bucks are still the smart bet, but with 13 games remaining and two games separating the “teams” in the standings, sure, the Sixers can make it. If the Hinkies can lose out, I think it’s safe to assume they snag the No. 1 slot in the lottery standings. What are the odds of that? Welp, this is pretty quick and dirty math, but if we figure the Sixers have about a ten percent chance of winning each game–which sounds about right–and run a Berouli trial including each of their remaining 13 contests, they emerge with a 25.4 percent chance of losing out. And you know what? I think they get there.
Toporek: Highly doubtful. To do so, the Sixers would likely have to defy the odds and lose out. The Bucks’ remaining schedule is mostly brutal, with only five of their 13 last regular-season games against lottery teams. Picking up one or two wins over the final month of the season will be detrimental to the tanking cause. (Worth noting, however, that the team with the worst record hasn’t won the lottery since 2004.)
4. Should the NCAA Tourney impact how you feel about the top prospects?
Calabro: I don’t think it should, but it does. Following Michigan’s tournament run to the final game, I remember seeing Mitch McGary’s name fly up the mock draft boards. You have a good run, you’re name is going to be talked about. Looking back, McGary probably lost millions by staying in school. Homework stinks.
Goldwein: It’s a data point, one that should carry a little extra weight given the improved level of competition. But let’s not read too much into the tourney. Too many variables at play in the three weeks of Madness.
Neubeck: I’m wary of drawing too many conclusions from a single college season in general, let alone a small sample such as the tournament. It’s crazy to think that for the one-and-dones, most of us are judging these guys based on a sample size that’s a little more than a third of an NBA season. Shrink that down to the tournament, and we’re talking about defining prospects by a long road trip. There are definitely things to watch for, like how certain guys produce while guarded by the quality athletes they face in the tournament, but it’s still just a few games.
Sunnergren: I’d echo Eric’s point that it’s a mixed bag. The tourney sample size is so vanishingly small that you have to be careful not to jump to grand conclusions, but it’s also the highest-level of competition most prospects face before they enter the Association. I suppose I’d say this: a professional scout who’s watching, closely, a single player throughout the tournament might learn a lot of really valuable information about him. People who base their judgments on the numbers won’t get nearly as much out of it.
Toporek: It shouldn’t completely change your opinion one way or the other. Is Jabari Parker a sure-fire bust because Duke lost to Mercer? No. Are there legitimate concerns about him that were exposed in a high-profile setting? Yes. Drafting someone solely because they get hot in March isn’t an advisable strategy, but the same is true when it comes to avoiding prospects that flame out early.
5. Will there ever be another Adam Morrison-esque bust? (Or are today’s NBA GMs too smart?)
Calabro: Yes, as long as Michael Jordan is drafting them.
Goldwein: Sure, GMs are better than ever at predicting the future. But look at the top five picks in 2006, the first draft of the god-awful age restriction: Andrew Bargnani, LaMarcus Aldridge, Adam Morrison, Tyrus Thomas, and Shelden Williams. Slim pickings. So yeah, as long as there are crappy draft classes, there will be Morrison-esque busts.
Neubeck: The draft process is too random for teams to avoid busts altogether. Too many factors go into future success – offensive systems, team context, expectations to name a few – to perfectly predict the future. Unless you’re LeBron, that dude’s just ridiculous.
Sunnergren: Yes. Teams are getting smart, and will continue to get better at avoiding certain categories of screwup–like, for instance, drafting a diabetic who smokes cigarettes with the No. 3 overall pick–but people are just too unpredictable for this kind of forecasting to ever get much better than pretty good. A lot of the things that are most determinative of success–work ethic, discipline, motivation, etc–are hard to pin down, especially in a group of 19-year-old kids. “Give me a child until he is seven and I will give you the man,” an old Jesuit priest once said. The Jesuits were idiots.
Toporek: Absolutely. It’s completely dependent upon draft class. If the NBA changes the one-and-done rule to a two-and-done rule, that first year could be rough. Thankfully, such pitfalls appear unlikely this year.