Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons go lower than you might expect in ESPN's draft of top stars to build a franchise around


Hypothetical drafts are the sort of exercise always subject to scrutiny, especially when they’re not based on a ton of objective criteria.

ESPN’s Brian Windhorst, Tim McMahon and Royce Young recently did a draft for the NBA stars they’d build a franchise around. Sixers fans likely won’t agree with where Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons fell on the list of 21 players selected — Embiid went 14th, Simmons 19th.

Marc Zumoff was not a fan.

The qualities Windhorst, McMahon and Young weighed the highest were “if they could select any player on a four-year max contract, elite-level skill and the length of the star's prime window.”

Embiid, a two-time All-Star at 25 years old and Simmons, an All-Star at 23, would seem to score well in those categories.

So, why’d they drop so low?

Windhorst said of Embiid that he was “a little bit surprised he goes in the lottery because of his injury history.”

While that’s a reasonable concern with Embiid, he seems a better, safer pick than several players above him.

Two who stand out are Zion Williamson (11th), a 19-year-old yet to play in an NBA game, and LeBron James (13th), a 34-year-old who missed a career-high 27 games last season. 

The rationale for Simmons going 19th is fair.

“He has a significant flaw in his game that we all recognize,” Young writes. “And he's still a dominant player. And so that speaks to how good he is at those other things. And yes, if he can round out the shooting, then we're talking about one of the top four or five players in the NBA, most likely.”

Some of the players who went ahead of Simmons, though, are perplexing.

Donovan Mitchell (16th) finished second to Simmons in Rookie of the Year voting in 2017-18 and didn’t make the All-Star team in his second season. Mitchell is a good young player, a high-volume scorer who knows he needs to improve defensively. He’s not better than Simmons, who’s seemingly on the cusp of making an All-Defensive Team, a special player when allowed to build up a head of steam, and quite a bit more effective in the half court than the “average” label Jared Dudley gave him.

Rudy Gobert is a two-time Defensive Player of the Year, but you’d think Simmons would have an advantage over the 27-year-old Gobert in the upside category.

Taking a bigger-picture look, you can see why a group of writers who cover the NBA at large wouldn’t draft Simmons or Embiid very high. Their flaws — Simmons’ shot and Embiid’s health — are both near the top of the bullet points in any discussion about their value, and that’s valid. Nuances like Simmons’ development as a passer out of the post or the Sixers’ desperate reliance on Embiid last season naturally won’t be at the forefront of much national coverage. 

Ultimately, it’s just a list that’s going to be skewed by certain biases in the same way a Sixers writer’s assessment of Mitchell and Gobert won’t be as informed as that of someone who covers the Jazz on a regular basis.

Zumoff doesn’t care, and it would be surprising if Simmons or Embiid did either.

For what it’s worth, Windhorst mentions Jimmy Butler, but the former Sixer did not get selected.

You can find the full draft here

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