NBA Draft: The Sixers Should Avoid De’Aaron Fox at All Costs

Mar 26, 2017; Memphis, TN, USA; Kentucky Wildcats guard De'Aaron Fox (0) drives against North Carolina Tar Heels forward Theo Pinson (left) in the first half during the finals of the South Regional of the 2017 NCAA Tournament at FedExForum. Mandatory Credit: Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports
Mar 26, 2017; Memphis, TN, USA; Kentucky Wildcats guard De'Aaron Fox (0) drives against North Carolina Tar Heels forward Theo Pinson (left) in the first half during the finals of the South Regional of the 2017 NCAA Tournament at FedExForum. Mandatory Credit: Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports /

The Philadelphia 76ers should be building around Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid with role players who can shoot. Kentucky guard De’Aaron Fox does not fit the bill.

The idea of player comparisons, in general, is largely unfair. Talent evaluators and journalists generally use them to provide easy context for the best players in vast pool of NCAA talent and their skillsets that will transfer to the pros.

Physical profile is the biggest factor, with the Lonzo Ball-Michael Carter-Williams comps being a prime example. Both are 6-6 with good wingspans. While Carter-Williams’ defensive abilities at Syracuse have translated, Lonzo has been average at best as an on-ball stopper at UCLA. The former was a good passer, the latter a savant. One can’t shoot, one shoots weird. It’s the same system that paints every lefty guard as Manu Ginobili and every athletic mid-range specialist as another Rudy Gay.

Having said that, there is one player comparison in this upcoming draft that I subscribe to —  Kentucky star point guard De’Aaron Fox and Orlando Magic starting point Elfrid Payton. Similar in size and body type, the two share the same strengths. They’re lanky and slithery, keen passers who can probe defenses and find ways to finish around the basket. Fox’s aggressive defense in college could translate to the NBA because of his length, instincts and work ethic. For Payton, it already has.

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The 2014 NBA Draft, in which Payton was selected tenth overall, was similar to the 2017 draft in that it was considered at the time to be the best class in years. While Payton was selected in the late lottery, Fox projects somewhere in the 5 to 8 overall range despite their similar projections as players. This is potentially explainable by the difference in competition the two faced, as Fox played for national title contender Kentucky in the SEC and Payton played for a lesser program in Louisiana-Lafayette of the Sun Belt Conference. Although Payton stayed in school for three years to Fox’s one, both came out at similar ages, Payton at 20, Fox at 19.

The two players share a weakness as well — shooting. Fox shot 24.6 percent on 1.9 3-point attempts per game as a freshman, while Payton hit 26.8 percent of 1.1 attempts per game over his college career. Their free throw shooting, generally considered a good indicator of pure shooting ability, did vary, with Payton shooting about 13 percent worse than Fox on similar volume. Payton’s poor shooting has held in his transition from Louisiana to Florida, with a nearly identical percentage from the charity stripe and a negligible bump from behind the arc.

There is some precedent for similar players developing into plus shooters. San Antonio Spurs superstar forward Kawhi Leonard is often held up as a blueprint for prospects like Fox and Payton, that of the physically gifted, jack-of-all-trades players who need to improve their jumpers to reach their max potential.

Even Jimmy Butler’s development into a passable outside shooter has been massive in his long-term development. But for every Leonard and Butler, there is an Aaron Gordon and a Carter-Williams, those could-miss prospects that do just that.

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When it comes to the Sixers, the master plan is pretty clearly to build around Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons, with the latter set to get his shot in the fall at running an NBA offense. That would be Fox’s ideal role as well, as the orchestrator of an offense. There is little doubt that he — with his athleticism and willingness to take on the opposing team’s best perimeter players — fits into Brett Brown’s defense-first system.

And yet, with the core the team has in place general manager Bryan Colangelo may have to look at fit instead of the correct-at-the-time best player available approach of former Sixers president and general manager Sam Hinkie. To that end, Fox’s Kentucky backcourt-mate Malik Monk, an elite shooter that may not do much else as a pro, is a better fit with Simmons and Embiid as a floor-spacer and catch-and-shoot threat.

The three-word refrain that was most important to fans of these Philadelphia 76ers over the last four years was not “Trust the Process.” Rather, the goal of each season was to nab the “Best Player Available” in each draft, maximizing their chances at getting championship-caliber players. In Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons, they are betting that they have those core stars.

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With that, the BPA approach should go out the window in pursuit of forming a team and finding the best possible role players to play with Simmons and Embiid.

Robert Covington, an elite defender and capable, high-volume outside shooter, and Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot, an athletic defender who could thrive offensively in a low-usage role, already fit that mold. As analyst and host of the “Game Theory” podcast Sam Vecenie has said, the 76ers should be in pursuit of the best possible “connectors,” those players that can help bridge the fit issues that might be present with numbers 21 and 25. Fultz or Ball would be ideal. Either way, though, the rebuild has advanced past the stage of nabbing the best player in a vacuum and promising to figure it out as they go.