Every year the NBA draft lottery comes to Secaucus, New Jersey where GM’s of teams who sat and watched the NBA Playoffs hope desperately that David Stern will pull their teams ping pong ball out of the lottery machine for the chance at a high draft pick. For the 2010 NBA draft, Philadunkia nation knows all too well that for once the ball had bounced in their favor as the 7-6 received their first top five draft pick since the awful selection of forward Keith Van Horn with the number two pick in 1997. The pick they received in 2010 was also the second pick and in a weak draft the Sixers were left with more questions then answers come that draft day.
The clear cut number one selection was point guard John Wall who had dazzled the US with his incredible quickness and leaping ability as a freshman at Kentucky. Wall led Kentucky to a number one seed in the NCAA tournament where they lost in the elite 8, but it was enough to show the country and league GM’s alike the leadership and potential that Wall possessed as the Wizards ended up taking him with the number one pick.
The second pick wasn’t nearly as clear cut as the first.
The Sixers had just gone through a season of turmoil. Under the horrible coaching of Eddie Jordan the team finished 27-55, a major step back in the teams rebuilding process. It was the Sixers first 50 loss season since 1998 and fans of the organization were losing interest and patience that things would ever be turned around. Getting the pick right this time around was not an option, it was a necessity. Everybody who had closely been following the Sixers knew that they were in dire need of a post presence. Samuel Dalembert had been dealt to the Sacramento Kings for Spencer Hawes just a week before the draft, but Hawes was a guy known as more of a project then a reliable option in the paint. Going into the draft there were three guys who the Sixers had their sights on, and each had their own cases as to why they should get their name called at the podium by David Stern.
The Sixers had two positions which needed an upgrade. The immediate need was a dominant big man who could be a strong defender in the post. Another need was a reliable shooting guard who could play consistently on any given night. The Sixers talent pool consisted of center DeMarcus Cousins, forward Derrick Favors, and guard Evan Turner. Out of the three Turner had the most impressive resume. Turner had just won the 2010 NCAA player of the year award as a college junior where he averaged 20 points, 9 rebounds, and 6 assists a game for the Ohio State Buckeyes. Cousins was considered the player with the most upside in the draft, but also who was the most enigmatic. For being only a freshman for Kentucky he looked like a man among boys. He was extremely strong and physical and showed signs of dominance, but he had a terrible attitude and work ethic and was also highly turnover prone. He averaged 15 points and 10 rebounds for the Wildcats, but committed two turnovers a game and was whistled for three fouls a game. Then there was Derrick Favors. The Georgia Tech forward with an incredible 7’4” wingspan who had surprised many in just his freshman year for the Yellow Jackets. The kid had some highlight reel dunks and blocks during the course of the year and had great work ethic. He was drawing comparisons to an Antonio McDyess type athlete and many who followed the Sixers felt like Favors would be the man picked come draft day. He didn’t have as great of a freshman season as Cousins, but his attitude and work ethic made him an attractive pick. For Coach Collins, attitude is a crucial part of his teams success and it was definitely going to be a factor come draft day. It could’ve been attitude alone which propelled the Sixers to their ultimate decision.
The Sixers drafted Evan Turner. While pretty much every expert was predicting the Sixers to go big, the Sixers went after the well-mannered guard whose work ethic is second to none. Critics and fans alike hammered the team for selecting Turner and people were already drawing up comparisons of Turner to former NCAA player of the year Adam Morrison. Morrison was the number three pick in the 2006 NBA draft whose NBA career went south pretty quick as he’s currently out of the league playing pro ball in Turkey. Turners play in his rookie season further proved doubters right as he averaged a mere 7 points a game to go with 4 rebounds and 2 assists. Cousins meanwhile averaged 14 points, 8 rebounds, and 2 assists for the Kings who selected him with the fifth pick in the draft. Was Turner destined to become yet another bust? Only Turner could answer that question.
Just a season later, Turner is off to a great sophomore campaign. Through 17 games, Turner has boosted his averages to 10 points, 6 rebounds, and 3 assists a game and already has hit for 20 points in two contests. For the entire 2010-11 season Turner had only three 20 point games. The Sixers most recent win came against John Wall’s Wizards, who are off to a horrible 2-15 start while the Sixers stand atop the Atlantic Division at 12-6. The Sixers have now beaten the Wizards three times this season by a combined total of 64 points.
Turner discussed how much has changed since he stepped on the podium for draft day on June 24th, 2010.
“It all seems like one big blur,” said Turner. “Everything went by so fast and being where I am now is definitely a blessing. I think one thing is I grew mentally tougher and really became a pro baller. I was a kid back then and mostly what I’ve learned since then is how to approach the game and play the game in a different way.” John Wall had high praise for Turner and the way in which his game has developed. “He’s always been a great player to me, but sometimes it just takes time for guys to figure out the way to play in the NBA,” said Wall. “He was so used to having the ball in his hands when he was at Ohio State so he just had to learn how to play without the ball and when he gets it he knows what to do with it. He’s a guy that can run both the point guard and the shooting guard spots and he’s doing a great job this year.”
Whether they like it or not, Wall and Turner will forever be linked to the 2010 draft and each player takes notice of each others talents, successes, trials, and tribulations on the court. “Playing in the NBA has been a great experience,” said Wall. “He’s(Turner’s) got a step ahead of me getting to the playoffs last year and that’s where I’m trying to get to, but it’s really been a great experience and we’re both still growing. This year I’m struggling in the beginning and he’s having a great start to the season in his second year and last year it was the opposite where he struggled while I had some more success. He just kept working and kept fighting and kept developing his game and it’s great to see.” Turner has also seen growth in Wall, only in a different way. “He’s really becoming a better leader,” said Turner. “They’ve had some rough times, but one thing that says a lot is that he still goes out there and really competes. He doesn’t pout or anything and he still tries his hardest every night. You have to have respect for a guy like that who respects the game no matter how tough it is. He’s still trying to get a win every night.”
Although post play has continued to be a thorn in the Sixers side this season, you can’t fault the Sixers for drafting Turner instead of a big man. Cousins hasn’t been of much help to the Kings as they now stand at 6-12 on the season and while the Jazz hold a record of 10-5, Favors contributes an underwhelming 7 points and 6 rebounds a game. For the time being it seems as though the Sixers management made the right decision.
In the meantime, Turner can give words of advice to teams who haven’t found as much success as the Sixers this season such as John Wall’s Wizards. “I think they have a lot of talent, but they just need to keep it in the right areas and keep building chemistry,” said Turner. “It’s the little things that build chemistry like defense and all the other things that make you successful. I think we’ve got it together over here so maybe they can start using us as a model.” Wall who is the focal point of attention in Washington had similar words to describe his team. “We’ve been in a lot of games but we’ve just been missing shots,” said Wall. “We’re getting open shots but unfortunately they haven’t been falling. I think the ownership have helped me with finding guys who know their role on the team and I already knew it was going to be a rebuilding process when I first got here, but overall things have gotten better. We just have to become better defensively and keep playing our roles and we’ll be fine.”
Turner and Wall are two men in different cities. Two men with different roles. Two men whose franchises are in completely different places right now. The coach on one team, a candidate for coach of the year. The coach on the other, fired for a terrible start. One man whose responded positively to criticism, while the other has taken a baby step backward. In the history books however, the men will always have the 2010 NBA draft in common and they will always be judged based on each others successes and failures. No matter what happens they will each cherish that day in June. “It’s a dream come true,” said Wall. “I love it and I’m thankful to this day that I had the opportunity to be picked number one. That’s everybody’s goal when they’re playing basketball to go to the NBA as the top player and being that player means a lot. I’m just thankful for it and it’s a lot of pressure, but you just have to keep playing basketball and move forward.” Turner is equally grateful, but feels like it won’t mean as much until later on in life. “I think it’ll be crazier when I’m done playing. It will be something for my kids to brag about or something. One thing I’ll always have is that I’ve won college player of the year. Kobe and Lebron can never touch that!”