Ideally, the 66ers will be in 23rd overall on Thursday, which they can immediately put into their rotation. Unfortunately, such a scenario is unlikely.
In our SB Nation NBA Community Trial Draft, all the top tier wings that could have fallen in the way of the Sixers have gone off the board. Jalen Williams, Tari Eason, E.J. Liddell, Ochai Agbaji, and Dalene Terry were drafted prior to the Sixers’ selection.
The player I’m targeting for the Sixers is Terry, a 6-foot-7 guard with a 7-1 wingspan from Arizona who can already defend at a high level. Terry was my choice, assuming all of the aforementioned wings were gone. Terry was drafted one pick ahead of the Sixers. Memphis Grizzlies (thanks a lot, Grizzly Bear Blues!).
So what’s left that wouldn’t be within reach in that range? Lots of scoring defenders and a couple of solid big men. For now, it’s fair to assume that the 66ers won’t be interested in drafting yet another big player, but defensemen who can create an NBA-level offense like gold.
That’s why, with the 23rd overall pick, the Liberty Ballers pick Jayden Hardy, G League Ignite defenseman.
You look at his age, you look at his G-league results and after that you might think I’m crazy. But I assure you I’m sane (mostly).
According to ESPN, Hardy was considered the No. 2 recruit in the country. He could go to centers of power like Kentucky or University of California at Los Angeles, but instead decided to join the professional ranks of the G League at the age of 19. With that came the struggle. Hardy showed flashes of his scoring prowess but struggled with efficiency and shot selection. While he scored 17.6 points per game, he shot 35.1 percent from the field and 26.9 percent from three.
Still with me? Chill. Let’s talk about why he’s actually good.
If Hardy had gone to Kentucky and played with a shorter three-point line and players his age, those numbers could look a lot better – and we might not say he’s available at 23rd. Proof that Hardy can shoot basketball: his form, his 88.2 percent free throws and 36.6 percent three-shooting percentage in the NBA.
Hardy has been compared to Bradley Beal, who has long targeted the Sixers. Hardy is similar in size (6’4″) and playing style. While Hardy has the handles to break people off dribbles, he is also very good at running behind screens and thus finding open views. Beal was almost exclusively last when he got into the league, but has since expanded his game exponentially.
Another skill that is likely overlooked by the Hardys is the ability to simply throw punches. Score more than 17 field goals in 32.2 minutes per game is not an easy task for a young professional. That’s part of what made Allen Iverson so great – he had the stamina and guts to take as many shots as he needed. The 66ers could use a bit of that sass.
Not to justify Hardy (there’s a reason he fell into that range), but Ignite wasn’t exactly built around his strengths. The Ignite team is more about bringing in the most talented amateurs than building the best team. Hardy was often the only real goal-scoring threat on the court – and the other teams knew it. Surrounded by better and more suitable talent, there is reason to believe that Hardy will be able to thrive.
He is unlikely to crack the rotation as a rookie. He still needs to put on some weight, lacked a focus on defense in the G League, and will be 20 by the start of the season. It’s fair to be a pessimist that Doc Rivers will give him a lot of chances.
But he can satisfy the need. The 66ers need to score and throw off the bench. Check and check. The opportunity to learn from James Harden seems like a good one. Tyreese Maxi seemed to take off under Beard’s tutelage. Perhaps Hardy can play the part of a microwave scorer early on before eventually taking the reins from Harden. While a lot of people loved Maxi’s 2020 pick, I doubt many expected it to flourish so quickly and so spectacularly.
The 66ers were quiet about their pre-draft training sessions, but there was a report that the team invited Hardy to practice with several other prospects. Under Daryl Morey, the Sixers drafted 19-year-old Maxi and 18-year-old Jayden Springer. This is a front office that isn’t afraid to take on younger players and seems to love jumping on players who have experienced draft slippage.
Hardy may not help the Sixers win a title in 2022-23, but he could be their best option at 23rd overall.