5 wing players who could play immediate role for Sixers

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5 wing players in NBA draft who could play immediate role for Sixers originally appeared on NBC Sports Philadelphia

The NBA playoffs are designed to expose an organization’s flaws. For the Sixers, the series loss to Miami crystallized what many fans and observers already knew. The bench simply wasn’t championship-caliber, with too many players who were either offensive or defensive liabilities.

In the 2021 draft, Daryl Morey was unable to find an instant contributor to bolster that bench, taking 18-year-old Jaden Springer from Tennessee with the 28th pick. We’ll see if Springer is able to impact the Sixers next season and down the road, but the inescapable truth is that he was a complete non-factor on a roster that badly needed help. Springer played only six total minutes in the regular season. With precious few future draft assets, the Sixers aren’t in the position of drafting a player at No. 23 overall who could be a factor in the years to come. They need someone who can play now.

To that end, I’ve targeted five wing players in the 2022 draft who could play an immediate role for the Sixers.

Tari Eason – F, LSU – 6-8, 216 pounds – 21 years old

Eason is probably the least likely player on this list to last until the 23rd pick. He’s enticing for the Sixers because of his potential to bring both offensive and defensive versatility. He’s built like Kawhi Leonard, a physically strong wing with a 7-foot-2 wingspan. Eason was insanely productive as a sophomore at LSU, averaging 16.9 points, 6.6 rebounds, 1.9 steals and 1.1 blocks in only 24.4 minutes per game. As those block and steal numbers suggest, he’s excellent at creating deflections and could guard 1 through 4 at the NBA level with his lateral quickness and ability to shut off driving lanes.

Offensively, he thrives attacking closeouts and getting to the rim. Opponents were unable to keep him off the free throw line, where he shot 80 percent on 5.7 attempts per game. Three-point shooting will be the swing skill that determines how much Eason plays right away. He shot 35.9 percent from the 3-point line on 2.4 attempts per game last season. The release is funky, but players like Tyrese Haliburton and LaMelo Ball have succeeded with awkward shot mechanics.

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If Eason proves he can make corner threes, he’s going to be an instant contributor in the NBA with the potential to be a long-term starter. If the Sixers decide to move on from Matisse Thybulle, I could see Eason starting at the three as a rookie. You may think that’s hyperbole, but not a lot of people thought Ziaire Williams or Max Strus would be starting for playoff teams at this time last year.

EJ Liddell – F, Ohio State – 6-7, 243 pounds – 21 years old

Liddell’s ceiling may not be quite as high as Eason’s, but he has a safe floor as a rugged role player with a nonstop motor. He played a small-ball five role at Ohio State and has the potential to do the same in the NBA in spurts, though he’ll also have to stretch the floor from the perimeter more than he did in college. Liddell’s three-point percentage improved each year at Ohio State, topping out at 37.4 percent as a junior.

Defensively, he has the foot speed to switch in pick-and-roll actions and the strength to hold up in the post against taller offensive players. It’s a very similar skill set to Grant Williams of the Celtics, who has carved out a major role for a contending team.

Our Sixers analyst Marc Jackson has stressed the need for the Sixers to add some “dogs” to this roster. EJ Liddell fits the bill and can bring some toughness to the second unit.

Christian Braun – F, Kansas – 6-7, 209 pounds – 21 years old

Speaking of toughness, Christian Braun brought that in spades for the national champion Kansas Jayhawks last season. Braun attacks on both ends of the floor with an edge that is going to make opposing fans despise him and the home fans love him. He’s a bouncy athlete who can do a little bit of everything and would fit in very nicely alongside the Sixers stars. He shot 38.6 percent from three-point range last season and will likely get his points from three, hitting the offensive glass and in transition. He’s not a guy who’s going to get clear-outs to take his defender one-on-one.

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The 2022 national title game showed what Braun is all about. Trailing by 15 points at the half, Braun started the second half in attack mode, scoring 10 points in the first eight minutes to get Kansas back in the game. He put the clamps on UNC guard Caleb Love, who shot just 5 for 24 from the floor. Braun finished that game with 12 points and 12 rebounds, playing all 40 minutes. His ability to hit the glass from the wing would be a nice boost for the Sixers.

Braun isn’t going to be a huge scorer at the NBA level, but I think a lot of mock drafts and big boards are underrating his athleticism, versatility and how hard he plays.

Jalen Williams – F, Santa Clara – 6-6, 209 pounds – 21 years old

A diamond in the rough in the West Coast Conference, Williams had a breakout junior season at Santa Clara, averaging 18 points, 4.4 rebounds and 4.2 assists, while displaying the ability to score at all three levels.

His shooting percentages were outstanding as a junior – 51.3 percent from the field, 39.6 percent from three and 80.9 percent on free throws. He’s a smooth offensive player who could look even better with more talent around him. He was in the 97th percentile on catch-and-shoot jumpers last season, according to Synergy Sports, which could make him a major weapon playing with James Harden and Joel Embiid.

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Williams started moving up mock draft boards after an impressive showing at the NBA Draft Combine, where he tested well athletically and measured with a 7-foot-2 wingspan.

His ability to hold his own defensively is going to determine how much Williams plays as a rookie. He’s an excellent leaper, but his lateral foot speed is going to be tested against NBA perimeter players.

Wendell Moore, Jr. – G/F, Duke – 6-5, 217 pounds – 21 years old

Moore was a role player in his first two seasons at Duke before finding his footing as a three-point threat and defensive stopper as a junior. He shot 41.3 percent from three-point range on 3.2 attempts per game and led the Blue Devils with 4.4 assists and 1.4 steals per game.

One thing I like about Moore is that he’s used to playing off higher-usage players, which he’ll have to do in the NBA. He scored 1.36 points per catch-and-shoot jump shot in the half court, which ranked in the 95th percentile nationally, according to Synergy Sports. That’s a skill the Sixers need.

I do wonder if Moore will be athletic enough to stay in front of NBA wings, but he knows how to play on both ends of the floor. He’s unselfish and won’t make a ton of mistakes. If he’s making open shots, that might be all you need in 15-20 minutes off the bench.

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