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The 76ers hold the keys to the NBA draft again

The 76ers aren’t picking first this time, but they have a difficult decision at No. 3 that’ll create a domino effect for teams picking behind them.

The Boston Celtics are almost certainly going to take Washington guard Markelle Fultz with the first pick in the 2017 NBA draft. With the second pick, the Los Angeles Lakers seem highly likely to select UCLA point guard Lonzo Ball.

The Philadelphia 76ers sit at No. 3. That’s where things get interesting.

The Sixers can go in a number of different directions and their decision will help shape the rest of the lottery. Philly already has two franchise cornerstones in the frontcourt in Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons. It leaves the team at the intersection of a classic draft debate between fit vs. best player available.

The pick has to be either a guard or a wing. Ideally, the player they take is a knockdown shooter who can play off Simmons as the primary ball handler. There are plenty of intriguing options on the table, but no clear-cut choice.

What should Philly do at No. 3? This is our best attempt to figure it out.

Jayson Tatum, SF, Duke

North Carolina v Duke Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

The case for taking him

Tatum is a natural-born scorer on the wing. He projects as the type of player who can average 20 points per game as a pro because of his combination of size and skill.

At 6’8 with a 6’11 wingspan, Tatum is capable of bullying smaller defenders near the basket. He also proved can be a spot-up shooter by canning 40 three-pointers at a 34.2 percent clip as a freshman. He comes with a level of polish that is rarely seen in a 19-year-old scorer: His footwork is already at an NBA level, he’s great in the post, and he shot 85 percent on free throws.

The case for passing on him

Like many young players, Tatum needs to improve his decision making and feel for the game. He finished the year with 62 assists against 76 turnovers. Ultimately, his ceiling will be determined by whether he can make the players around him better. Right now, there’s reason to be skeptical.

When the ball comes into Tatum, it usually sticks. The Sixers have no time for that with a budding superstar in Joel Embiid who needs his shots. Since Simmons is already expected to command ball-handling responsibilities, the Sixers can’t afford to have another player on the floor who holds the ball.

Tatum is a good athlete, but not a great one. He’s a good shooter, but not a knockdown one from three. His best work often comes in the mid-post, a spot on the floor that feels antiqued in the modern game. From the outside, there’s a lot to like about Tatum’s go-to scoring ability. Look closer and you might find some cause for concern.

Josh Jackson, SG/SF, Kansas

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-Midwest Regional-Purdue vs Kansas Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

The case for taking him

To me, Jackson is the best player available. He’s a two-way wing who can handle and pass the ball, score as a slasher, and defend multiple positions. He’s also a great athlete who would thrive getting out in transition next to Simmons.

What Jackson might lack in go-to scoring ability, he makes up for by mastering the little things. He’s considered the most competitive player in this draft class. He’s an excellent rebounder at his position. He’s also an unselfish player who impressed with his passing ability this year.

The case for passing on him

Jackson’s biggest question mark is his jump shot. That may appear to be unfair for a player who closed the season on a hot streak to finish as a 37.8 percent three-point shooter. The bigger issue is that Jackson only made 56.6 percent of his free throws. He has a low release point and the ball simply doesn’t look natural coming out of his hands.

For the Sixers, this is a huge problem. Simmons is a great passer, but he’s also a non-shooter. The idea is to surround him with as many shooters as possible. Right now, Jackson projects to be average-at-best as a shooter.

NBA teams will have to investigate a troubling episode where he allegedly attacked a teammate’s ex-girlfriend’s car.

De’Aaron Fox, PG, Kentucky

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-South Regional-Kentucky vs UCLA Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports

The case for taking him

Fox made the ultimate case for his draft stock when he torched Lonzo Ball and UCLA in the Sweet 16 for 39 points on 20 shots. It was a dominant display that showcased his elite speed, finishing ability around the rim, and tenacity at both ends of the court.

The book on Fox is out: He’s a good playmaker, a willing defender, and he might be the fastest player in the NBA the moment he plays his first game. There’s only one problem.

The case for passing on him

Fox really struggles with his jump shot. He only made 17 threes on the year at a 24.7 percent clip. He showed signs of good form at the free throw line — where he made 73.6 percent of his attempts — but there’s no doubt NBA teams are going to play off him and dare him to shoot early in his career.

Putting a non-shooter at point guard is a big issue for any team in the modern NBA. It’s especially worrisome for the Sixers. Philly already has a primary ball handler who can’t shoot in Simmons. At this point, the Sixers need shooters and spacers more than another ball handler.

Malik Monk, SG, Kentucky

NCAA Basketball: SEC Tournament-Kentucky vs Arkansas Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

The case for taking him

Monk looks like exactly what the Sixers need. He’s an elite athlete at shooting guard who can hit threes all over the floor. Monk’s jump shot is his biggest weapon. He hit 104 threes at a 39.7 percent clip at Kentucky and had 14 games where he hit at least four three-pointers. His most memorable performance in December came against eventual national champion North Carolina, when he erupted for 47 points on 8-of-12 shooting from deep.

Monk is also explosive in the open floor and where he and Simmons could make a living running in transition. He also appears to have some unearthed potential as a playmaker. On paper, this appears to be the best fit, yet most people think it would be a reach.

The case for passing on him

If Monk isn’t hitting jump shots, it’s fair to wonder just how much he’s capable of contributing. He’s going to be small for an off-guard at 6’3 with a proportional wingspan. Teams are going to attack him defensively and force him to hold his own.

There are people who only see Monk as a streaky shooter and scorer. With the third overall pick, the Sixers might be looking for a more complete player.

Jonathan Isaac, F, Florida State

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-Second Round-Florida State vs Xavier Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

The case for taking him

Isaac is all tools and upside. He can play either forward spot at 6’10 with the quickness to defend the perimeter and the size to help protect the rim. He hit 31 threes at a 34.8 percent clip. He’s also an unselfish player who had no trouble carving out a role on a talented Florida State this year.

Isaac should provide immediate value with his defense while the skill portion of his game gains refinement. Philly would have an obscene amount of size and athleticism up front if it takes Isaac and he reaches his potential.

The case for passing on him

Isaac should be able to handle minutes at the three, but his best position in the NBA is probably going to be the four. That’s where his speed will be a mismatch problem for opponents and the spot where he could settle for being a capable shooter rather than a great one.

The Sixers already have a couple forwards like that in Ben Simmons and Dario Saric, so while Isaac’s upside could be huge, his fit is questionable.

The verdict

  1. Josh Jackson
  2. Malik Monk
  3. Jayson Tatum
  4. Jonathan Isaac
  5. De’Aaron Fox

Jackson is hard to pass on simply because he brings so much to the table. Philly can still find enough spacing by targeting a three-and-D point guard and a stroker at the opposite wing. A core of Embiid-Simmons-Jackson (and Saric!) would be versatile, athletic, and able to shine on both ends.

If there’s any franchise that knows how important the best player available vs. fit debate is, it’s the Sixers. They went with the best player available in 2015 with the third pick and wound up with Jahlil Okafor. That hasn’t panned out for either party.

With Embiid and Simmons, the Sixers don’t plan on being in the lottery for long. They need to make this pick count.