PHILADELPHIA — As it turns out, the 76ers were lucky to miss out on the prospect they hoped to snag with the third pick in the 2014 draft.
Joel Embiid has blossomed into the best player of the draft class. He’s one of the faces of the NBA, and on pace to be one of the Sixers’ all-time greats. The Cameroonian and point guard Ben Simmons are regarded as the saving graces of “The Process.”
But the Sixers didn’t intend to draft the standout center, who garnered his third straight All-Star selection this season.
Back then, the tanking squad had hoped to use the first of their two lottery picks in that draft on Embiid’s Kansas teammate, Andrew Wiggins. Sixers fans were chanting “Winless for Wiggins.”
“We had him,” Sixers coach Brett Brown said of Wiggins before facing the then-Minnesota Timberwolves rookie in Minneapolis on Dec. 3, 2014. “I was expecting we were going to draft (Nik) Stauskas and Wiggins and roll out two playing players this year.
“That obviously hasn’t happened. I studied Andrew a lot. And then the injury to Joel happened and everybody’s world kind of changed.”
Embiid was projected to go first to the Cleveland Cavaliers in the June 26 draft before suffering a stress fracture in his foot one week before.
The Milwaukee Bucks, who had the second pick, had identified former Duke standout Jabari Parker as their target. That meant Wiggins was destined to fall to the Sixers at No. 3.
But with Embiid injured, the Cavaliers selected Wiggins. The Sixers wanted to move up two spots to select the swingman, but, instead, they remained at No. 3, and according to sources, general manager Sam Hinkie selected Embiid after strongly considering former Oklahoma State guard Marcus Smart, who went sixth to the Boston Celtics.
For the rest of the draft, the Sixers selected guys who are no longer on the team or never played for them.
The Sixers used the 10th overall pick on Louisiana-Lafayette point guard Elfrid Payton, and then traded him to the Orlando Magic for Croatian star Dario Saric, a 2015 second-round pick and a 2018 first-rounder.
Saric played two seasons with Andolu Efes of the Turkish Super Basketball League before signing with the Sixers on July 15, 2016. On Nov. 12, 2018, the Sixers packaged him in a trade with the Timberwolves in the deal that brought Jimmy Butler to Philadelphia.
In the second round, the Sixers selected Clemson swingman K.J. McDaniels (32nd pick), Syracuse forward Jerami Grant (39th), Louisville guard Russ Smith (47th), Serbian point guard Vasilije Micic (52nd) and another Serbian, forward Nemanja Dangubic (54th).
They later traded Smith and their 54th overall pick.
Smith was traded to the New Orleans Pelicans for the rights to Pierre Jackson.
They acquired the draft rights to Tennessee shooting guard Jordan McRae with 58th pick.
The Sixers still hold the NBA rights to Micic, who remains in Europe. The team would eventually waive McRae and trade McDaniels during his rookie season and traded Grant in his third season. (Trading Grant to the Oklahoma City Thunder turned out to be a dismal move.)
At the time of the draft, Embiid’s future in Philly was perhaps the biggest uncertainty.
While at Kansas, a stress fracture in Embiid’s lower back kept him out of the Big 12 and NCAA tournaments. Embiid initially hurt his back Feb. 8 against West Virginia. Then, after returning to action on March 1, he aggravated his back at Oklahoma State.
He went on to miss his first two seasons in the NBA after undergoing two surgeries on his right foot.
But these days, Embiid is one of the league’s marquee and most dominant players despite failing to have an injury-free campaign since being drafted.
Meanwhile, Wiggins and Parker haven’t had their expected impacts while combining to be part of eight organizations.
Wiggins was traded to the Timberwolves three days shy of two months after the Cavaliers drafted him as part of the deal that brought them Kevin Love. Wiggins never lived up the hype of being the first overall pick and was traded to the Warriors before this February’s trade deadline.
Parker has been plagued by injuries and has had stops with five different teams during his six-year career.
He and Wiggins are both complementary pieces instead of being the franchise players they were chosen to be.
The Sixers did eventually get Stauskas, in a trade. But that didn’t work out.
They acquired Stauskas, the eighth overall pick of that 2014 draft, in a July 9, 2015 trade with the Sacramento Kings. After struggling in Philly, the shooting guard was traded to the Brooklyn Nets on Dec. 7, 2017. He went on to play for two more NBA teams before landing overseas.
As you can see, Embiid was, by far, the Sixers’ best option. It turns out they were lucky that he slid to them. It arguably saved them from having one of their worst drafts.
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