Sixers Nerlens Noel and Joel Embiid are the foundation on which GM Sam Hinkie is building an NBA contender for the future.

By Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com

Joel Embiid is recovering, after a season of Nerlens Noel in the same waiting game. Dario Saric is in Europe. And Sam Hinkie is under the microscope.

Under the microscope, under fire, under most every team in the standings. Under just about everything after back-to-back seasons with 37 total wins. But now mostly the under-the-microscope part because the 76ers are getting closer to being on the clock with the third pick in the June 25 NBA Draft and their general manager has displayed a knack for taking players who won’t play.

Hinkie took someone in the 2013 lottery, Noel, who was projected to miss the entire first season as a pro because of a knee injury, which is exactly what happened.

Hinkie took someone in the 2014 lottery, Embiid, who was projected to miss the entire first season as a pro because of a foot injury, which is exactly what happened.

Hinkie took someone else in the 2014 lottery, Saric, who was committed to play at least one more season in Turkey and maybe longer.

Here’s the thing, though: Hinkie has built a commendable track record as a talent evaluator.


Sam Hinkie. Draft. Good.

It comes with the disclaimer that the assessment is based on the players who have, you know, played, and with the consideration that it is hard to imagine a team in many years that has leaned on doctors so heavily as part of war-room decisions. But for all the head-shaking over Hinkie’s June decisions as head of basketball operations, especially in 2014 as he turned an isolated judgment call with Noel the season before into a tradition with Embiid and Saric, the early returns on those who have made it on an NBA court shows Hinkie deserves credit.

He took over in May 2013, after eight years in the Rockets front office. That year, with Anthony Bennett, Victor Oladipo, Otto Porter, Tyler Zeller and Alex Len off the board, the 76ers drafted Noel at No. 6 as part of a pre-arranged trade, although it officially went on the books as a New Orleans pick. With its own selection, No. 11, Philly chose Michael Carter-Williams. Glen Rice and Pierre Jackson were taken in the second round.

Carter-Williams became the Rookie of the Year, before the 76ers traded him after 1½ seasons to the Bucks as part of a three-team deal that delivered the Lakers’ first-round pick, top-three protected in 2016 or ’17, to Philly. Noel became the first of the patience plays, spending all 2013-14 on the sideline, before truly joining the NBA with a vengeance this season by finishing in the top 10 in the league in blocks and steals and missing only seven games, none because of the knee.

Noel was so worth the wait that he is on an early pace to have a better career than any anyone picked ahead of him with the possible exception of Oladipo, the Magic shooting guard. Based on the initial appraisal of Noel already becoming an impact player on defense, before he gets stronger and more experienced, the same may be said after another few years and the chance to judge with a full body of work of Noel compared to the entire draft class.

The draft picks started piling up from there. So did the quizzical looks.

In 2014, with the third choice, the 76ers took Embiid with the awareness he would probably sit out the season. First Noel, then Embiid. Philly did it again.

Then, with the 11th selection acquired as part of a deal that sent No. 10 to Orlando, the 76ers took Saric, who had just signed to remain in Europe for at least one season and, he said at the time, probably two. The Magic took Elfrid Payton. Philly did it again and again. Twice in the same draft. Three times in two years. Hinkie was running a four-corner offense with the roster building.

Those who did play, though, delivered encouraging results. Noel, certainly. Carter-Williams, though with a lower ceiling. K.J. McDaniels went from the 32nd pick to a very good start, for any rookie but especially a second-rounder, before being traded to the Rockets in February and spending the rest of the regular season and playoffs at the end of the bench with Houston in win-now mode. Jerami Grant, the 39th selection, defended at a level that will keep him in the league while continuing to develop a 3-point game that could one day become consistent.

The four Hinkie picks that have played at least 20 games — Noel, Carter-Williams, McDaniels and Grant — have all been at least solid in stretches, a positive outcome for a second-rounder, or are on the path to long (Carter-Williams) or long and very good (Noel) careers. Four others from the second round in 2014 — Russ Smith, Vasa Micic, Namanja Dangubic and Jordan McRae — have all either played very little in the NBA or have yet to come from overseas.

This time, the 76ers pick third, 35th, 37th, 47th, 58th and 60th as part of the offseason that is also scheduled to include Embiid’s first pseudo-NBA action in summer leagues in Salt Lake City and Las Vegas. The look-ahead then becomes Noel, Embiid and the latest lottery choice, with zero indication it will be a prospect who is hurt or plotting 2015-16 in Europe. The patience is coming closer to paying off until finally, after years — plural — of drafts with the Sixers version of tape delay, Hinkie has a track record of good decisions in June.

Among players that have been on the court, at least, but yes. Seriously.

Scott Howard-Cooper has covered the NBA since 1988. You can e-mail himhere and follow him on Twitter.

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