(Chaos Theory maintains that a butterfly flapping its wings in New Mexico can cause a hurricane in China. While there are no natural disasters in the NBA, the Philadelphia 76ers probably come the closest to earning such a designation. Today, we imagine a world where another insect changed the fate of two franchises).
In a recent interview with ESPN’s Zach Lowe, Philadelphia 76ers GM Sam Hinkie took us back inside the Philadelphia war room at the 2015 NBA Draft. He revealed that the team had expected to select D’Angelo Russell with the third overall pick, and was momentarily thrown off guard by the Lakers taking the former Ohio State guard. Amid that initial uncertainty, the Sixers seriously considered going with what was seen as the safe pick in Duke big man Jahlil Okafor, before fate intervened.
“I remember a mosquito bit me on the back of my neck,” Hinkie recalled. “And it took me back to Kristaps Porzingis’s Vegas workout earlier in the month. D-Money [Houston GM Daryl Morey] and I had a late night at the blackjack tables trying to figure out a more efficient way to count cards. The next morning was the day of the workout, and I fell asleep by the Venetian pool and got bit up all over my body, which was very strange because they’re usually not a problem out in the desert. So anyway, I was reminded of that, and all of a sudden, I couldn’t get the vision of a 7’3″ big man with three-point range out my mind. I knew fans might be upset we once again passed on a guy considered more of a known quantity, but I felt it was ultimately the best move for the future of the organization to go with K.P.”
Thus far, that mosquito has proven to be an angel sent from on high for the Philadelphia franchise. Although the Sixers sit at just 3-25 on the season (mainly thanks to the nearly 2 Win Shares Porzingis has provided), Hinkie has been almost universally praised for situating the team for success in the long term. The Nerlens Noel-Kristaps Porzingis frontcourt pairing has been dubbed the NBA’s frontcourt of the future. The duo perfectly complements each other, with Porzingis’s serviceable outside shot (over 33 percent from three on the season) allowing Noel to repeatedly dive down the lane in the pick-and-roll game on offense. Defensively, each player is mobile enough to defend on the perimeter while also offering rim protection on the interior.
On the other hand, while it’s still too early to make any final determination, Philadelphia has to feel like it dodged a bullet in passing on Okafor. After falling to the New York Knicks at fourth overall, the one-time consensus top pick has seen his downward spiral continue in the Big Apple. The NYC club scene has been a terrible influence on the rookie, with TMZ capturing multiple 4:00 AM incidents of him fighting outside known celebrity haunt, 1 Oak. “Oka-four AM” was the top trending item on Twitter for a solid 48 hours. If that wasn’t enough, Okafor also received a speeding citation for going over 100 mph on the Manhattan Bridge. The New York Post had a field day with its “Fast and Okaforious” back page cover headline.
The returns haven’t been much better on the court, as the tighter quarters of the Triangle offense have hindered Jahlil’s post game. He also can’t play next to free-agent acquisition Robin Lopez, and questions have persisted of whether his game is even a fit in the modern pace-and-space NBA. Pundits have criticized Phil Jackson for his latest first-round pick being just another example of his philosophies being stuck in the past. It’s safe to say it’s still not “goink” well in New York for the Hall of Fame coach-turned-executive.
But none of that is a problem in the City of Brotherly Love, as the Sixers couldn’t be happier with their own first-round pick. While the cast of Creed was doing publicity in the city last month, the team took the opportunity to get a picture of Kristaps and Sylvester Stallone together, which the Philadelphia Daily News ran under the headline, “Philadelphia’s Next Heavyweight Champion.” If the first two months are any indication of the career that’s to follow, Rocky won’t be the only one in that picture with a statue in the city of Philadelphia. As they say around the Wells Fargo Center these days, “Trust the Porzingis.”