By Andrew Porter
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) – Long and athletic is a deadly combination for basketball players.
This dynamic combo creates individual matchup problems for opponents on both sides of the ball. On defense, to put things in perspective, Thaddeus Young led the Sixers in steals last year. Young averaged 1.8 steals per game and achieved a steal rate of 2.7% (steal rate is an estimate of the percentage of opponent possessions that end with a steal by the player while on the floor). All three of the Sixers draft picks have a significantly higher steal percentage than Young. Is Sam Hinkie, the analytical mastermind, specifically targeting these types of players right away?
Nerlens Noel, C– 6th overall
The Sixers acquired Nerlens Noel (and a 2014 first round draft pick) from New Orleans for Jrue Holiday and the 42nd pick in the 2013 NBA draft. The A+ trade gives the Sixers two-first round picks (both potential lottery picks) in next year’s highly-touted NBA draft and more cap space moving forward. While a lot of attention has been given to the draft pick and the cap space, the Sixers also got who many considered to be the best prospect in the 2013 draft, Noel.
Noel, who was the consensus #1 overall pick in the draft until he tore his ACL this past February, has tremendous upside. While the ACL injury is a concern, we constantly see athletes successfully recover from the injury in all sports, and we have no reason not to be optimistic about the 19 year-old Noel recovering as well.
The most intriguing thing about Noel is his length and athleticism. Noel, who is 7’0” with 7’4” wingspan and a 9’2” reach (!!!) according to ESPN, averaged 4.4 (!!!) blocks, 2.1 steals (3.9% steal rate according to Liberty Ballers), and 9.5 rebounds per game in 24 games as a freshman at Kentucky.
Michael Carter-Williams– 11th overall
This Sixers drafted Michael Carter-Williams, a 6’6” PG from Syracuse University, with the 11th pick in the draft. Carter-Williams, who grew up 22 miles from and played on the same AAU team as his good friend Noel in Massachusetts, is also tremendously long and athletic. Simply having the court awareness and ball-handling ability to play point guard at 6’6” creates matchup problems immediately for the opposition. MCW has a 6’7” wingspan and an 8’5” reach according to ESPN, and averaged 2.8 steals (4.7% steal rate according to Liberty Ballers) and 4.9 rebounds in 40 games as a sophomore at Syracuse.
Arsalan Kazemi– 54th overall
After numerous and hard-to-follow trading of second round draft picks, the Sixers ended up with a 6’8” Iranian forward from Oregon, Arsalan Kazemi. Kazemi’s best attribute is ability to rebound. Kazemi, a ferocious rebounder who averaged 10.0 rebounds per game in 35 games during his senior year at Oregon, has a 7’0” wingspan and 8’8” reach, according to ESPN. However, an attribute of Kazemi’s which might be overlooked, is his ability to cause havoc defensively. Kazemi averaged 2.0 steals per game as a forward, and achieved a remarkable steal rate of 4.1%, according to Liberty Ballers.
Rodney Williams – Undrafted
The Sixers signed undrafted four-year college forward from Minnesota, Rodney Williams. Williams, 6’7” with a 6’11” wingspan and an 8’9” reach, is another player with uncanny length and athleticism. Williams, in his senior season at Minnesota, averaged 5.0 rebounds, 1.3 blocks, and 0.8 steals per game.
Maybe it’s a coincidence or maybe it’s by design, but either way, Sam Hinkie and the Sixers are acquiring young, long, athletic, and defensive-minder talented players to build for the future with, and I’m all for it.
Andrew Porter is the Audio Roadshow Coordinator for SportsRadio WIP, editor and writer for The School Philly, and a contributing sports blogger for CBS Philly. You can follow him on Twitter @And_Porter.