Sixers feel draft picks too talented to pass up
Imagine the surprise in the Sixers’ offices when one of their first-round draft picks – one they swung a draft-day deal for – showed up for his introductory press conference with a walking boot on his left ankle. Imagine the thoughts racing through their heads when that player turns up in the cast after dropping to the No. 27 overall pick when many draftniks viewed him as a lottery pick.
No big deal said Arnett Moultrie, the Sixers’ first-round selection from Mississippi State. The ankle injury he suffered in a pre-draft workout for Sacramento should clear up in time for him to participate in the Sixers’ summer league games in Orlando in two weeks.
What Sixers coach Doug Collins hopes lingers for his new power forward, however, is the sting of dropping out of the top 14 picks to the edge of the first round. Moultrie averaged more than 16 points and 10 rebounds per game playing for Mississippi State in the tough SEC last season and was targeted by the Sixers as a top-10 draft pick.
But as the names were called during the first round of Thursday night’s draft, Moultrie’s was strangely absent. Ever the diplomat, Moultrie said his falling draft stock did not bother him.
“I wasn’t disappointed when my name wasn’t called. I figured I was going to end up in a place I needed to be to be successful,” Moultrie said. “This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity so I’m just happy to be here.”
Collins said it would bother him. Better yet, the coach said, the draft snubs should be a motivator for the 21-year-old rookie-to-be, says Collins.
“I told him he should have a chip on his shoulder. He was being kind, but you can’t help to be upset,” Collins said Friday afternoon at the introductory press conferences for Moultrie and fellow first-rounder, Maurice Harkless. “When you’re a lottery talent and you go 27th, you’re going to be disappointed. But what you do is take that disappointment and fuel it.”
Collins talked about the Wizards’ Rashard Lewis, who in 1998 dropped out of the lottery, the first round and was skipped over by Houston, Dallas and the Lakers three times. But as it turned out, Lewis is headed into his 15th season, he’s been an All-Star twice and earned more than $21 million in salary last season.
Clearly it’s way too early to project the future for Moultrie or the Sixers’ top pick,
19-year old Harkless. However, if there is one thing that could be projected it is that the new Sixers will win over some fans in Philadelphia. Harkless, a native New Yorker out of St. John’s University, has a cursory understanding of the Philadelphia sports scene, or at least enough to have an opinion.
“I never liked the Phillies growing up,” Harkless said with a chuckle.
Moultrie says he heard all the old stories about the Philly fans and thinks his game will translate well.
“They’re really passionate about their sports and I’m really passionate about what I do,” Moultrie said. “It should work out well.”
Of the pair of first-round picks, Moultrie is said to be the most NBA ready. He played three years in college – two at UTEP and one at Mississippi State – and seems to understand his role as a banger and rebounder. With Elton Brand headed into the final year of his contract, the Sixers likely are looking at Moultrie as a physical, low-post heir apparent. A year under the tutelage of Brand could serve well for Moultrie.
At 6-foot-11, Moultrie also believes he could play center if needed.
“My primary position is the four, but whatever coach Collins needs me to do, I’ll do it,” he said. “I’m a winner so they need me to play the five, I’ll play the five.”
Harkless will play on the wing and is more of a project than Moultrie. Team president Rod Thorn was quick to point out that Harkless could grow even larger than his 6-foot-8 frame, and that the worries over his lack of shooting ability are greatly exaggerated.
Collins, going off the workouts and the game footage, explained that the two draft picks separated themselves from the pack in the Sixers’ view.
“Maurice is 19 years old and we think he has a tremendous future and we worked out Arnett with six other guys here and within five minutes he separated himself from the rest of the guys,” Collins said. “Both guys are really good rebounders and the one thing we watched on Maurice was that he really didn’t shoot the ball much from the outside – his shot is not broken. That’s the one thing we looked at and asked if this guy is going to be able to make shots and we think that he is.”
Certainly the Sixers need some size and a shooter. Better yet, they are hoping that the only other surprise they get from the picks is that walking boot.