The NBA Draft Lottery — aka Sixers Super Bowl — is here, and if you’re not prepping for your Draft Lottery soiree Tuesday night, you’re like the rest of us, hunched over in the corner, gently rocking back and forth until it’s over.
The Sixers have so many ways to come away from the Draft Lottery as winners — hey, Joel Embiid will be there! — but statistically speaking, there are even more ways to leave total, abject losers.
The Sixers finished the 2016-17 NBA season with the fourth-worst record in the league, giving them the fourth-best chance at winning the lottery. So while that seems simple — the worst the Sixers can do is fall outside the top five picks and they have the fourth-best chance at the top pick — it’s so, so much more complicated than that.
Sam Hinkie masterminded several trades that could come to fruition all at once this week. First, there’s the Sacramento deal that brought Nik Stauskas to town, in which the Sixers retain the right to swap picks with the Kings. Sacramento has the eighth-worst record, and thus the eight-best chance of winning the lottery.
And then there’s the Lakers pick, which the Sixers own outright should it fall outside the top 3. The problem with that is the Lakers finished with the third-worst record in the NBA, so unless a team jumps ahead of them, the Sixers won’t get that pick this year, and will have to wait until next season to finally collect. The Lakers pick is unprotected in the 2018 NBA Draft should it not convey this season, but at some point the Lake Show is going to get good, which means that pick could be worth less next year than if the Sixers collect on it now.
Get all that? Okay. Now for what’s at stake. Talent!
Markelle Fultz, the 6-4 point guard out of Washington, is the odds-on favorite to be the top pick. Lonzo Ball, the super-talented UCLA point guard whose dad has already proven to be such a headache he probably isn’t worth taking — squabbling with Charles Barkley, launching a hyper-expensive shoe line, demanding his son only go to the Lakers — is seen as a top-3 pick, while Kansas small forward Josh Jackson is in the top 3 in most rankings as well.
Duke small forward Jayson Tatum and Kentucky point guard De’Aaron Fox round out most experts’ top 5, with players like Kentucky’s Malik Monk, NC State’s Dennis Smith, Arizona’s Lauri Markkannen and FSU forward Jonathan Isaac making up the list of top prospects this season.
One or two of those names will be Sixers soon. Here is every scenario the Sixers could see in the lottery, from party-with-your-friends fantastic to curl up in a ball and cry.
[table id=59 /]
Top scenario: No. 1 and No. 4
Simply put, if the Sixers jump into the top spot, they’d leapfrog the Lakers, pushing Los Angeles out of the protected first three picks. The Sixers can win the lottery for the second season in a row AND get the Lakers pick at No. 4. It’s the dream scenario.
Top scenario, redux: No. 1 via pick swap and No. 4
All the drama of the lottery comes when the order of teams is selected. If one or two teams slated for the bottom of the lottery jump to the top, that’s good, but until the Lakers pick is announced, or until the first three slots are filled with teams below the Lakers, there’s a chance Los Angeles could win the lottery, land second or stay at third.
Sacramento should be the seventh team announced, so if they are skipped in the procession, the Sixers know that at worst they can swap picks and land in the top 3 thanks to the Kings.
Many of us are hoping the Kings win the lottery so the Sixers swap with them and that is what pushes the Lakers to No. 4. Kings fans surely want that too, because it means they’ll get a better pick in the swap with the Sixers than they’d get on their own. Everybody wins! Except the Lakers!
No. 1 and No. 5 or No. 6
Let’s not get greedy. If the Sixers get the top pick, and one or two other teams also jump into the lottery’s top three picks, the Lakers would secure the fifth or sixth slot, and thus, convey that to the Sixers. This would not be terrible, but keep in mind there are four to maybe five players in this draft who are seen as elite talents, and then a large group of somewhat-less-but-still-pretty talented players below that.
Depending on need, some of those top guys could fall, but the Sixers surely hope if they land two picks in the first round, they are the top pick and no worse than No. 5.
No. 2 and No. 4
Not having the top pick isn’t the end of the world in this draft, especially with Boston having the best chance at winning the lottery (thanks to Brooklyn’s pick going to the Celtics) and the one position they need the least being a point guard. There’s a chance the player the Sixers might take at No. 1 could possibly be there at No. 2, should they go with a point guard.
Then again, if Ben Simmons is the point guard, who the heck knows? Still, No. 2 and No. 4 is pretty great.
No. 2 and No. 5
This wouldn’t be bad either, and would be better than…
No. 3 and No. 4
Having back-to-back picks (if the Sixers merely swap with the Lakers instead of the Kings) would be all sorts of hilarious, but picking second and fifth is better in this draft class than third and fourth.
On their own, the Sixers have a 37.8 percent chance of a top-3 pick. With Sactown’s pick, should the Sixers need to swap, they have a 47.8 percent chance of landing in the top 3. The Lakers, by comparison, have a 46.9 percent chance at a top-3 pick, so any of the above options could happen, but it’s still less likely than not.
With all the other scenarios, this isn’t the best, but it’s better than much of what’s left.
No. 2 and No. 6
At this point, they are still getting two very good players, one probably elite, but it’s not ideal.
No. 3 and No. 5 or 6
And yet, No. 2 and No. 6 is more ideal than this. So here’s a good time to stop and evaluate all the remaining ways the Sixers can end up with two picks and still be disappointed in the lottery. Like I said before, it’s complicated.
The Sixers could land the first, second or third pick themselves, or via Sacramento. Should any team behind them jump into the top 3 instead, the Sixers would go from the fourth pick to fifth. Two teams jump in, the Sixers pick sixth and if three teams jump ahead of them, the Sixers get the seventh pick. (More on that in a bit.) Here are the options if both the Sixers and Lakers miss out on the top three.
No. 4 and No. 5
No. 5 and No. 6
No. 6 and No. 7
At this point it’s worth thinking about which is better, two top-7 picks or one top-4 pick. The answer is clearly one top-4 pick. Rolling the dice with the Lakers pick next season might be better than rooting for them to fall to the fifth or sixth slot.
Fun(?) fact: The Sixers have just a 1.3 percent chance of landing the No. 7 pick, but the only way they get that is if they also get the No. 6 pick from the Lakers. The Sixers only fall to seven if three teams behind them jump into the lottery (and none are Sacramento), so while No. 7 is the worst option for them, getting just No. 6 is probably worse than getting Nos. 6 and 7.
Okay, back to the list of good options…
The Sixers could win the NBA Draft Lottery. There is an 11.9 percent chance of this happening on their own and a 2.8 percent chance Sacramento wins, which gives the Sixers a 14.7 percent chance at the top spot. The Lakers could also land a spot in the top three based on the ping pong balls (do they still use ping pong balls?) which would give the Sixers just one pick this year should both they and the Lakers do well.
Is this better than No. 3 and No. 4? Probably not. Is it better than No. 4 and No. 5? It might be.
The Sixers have a 12.6 percent chance of getting the second pick, plus Sacramento’s 3.3 percent chance, giving them a 15.9 percent chance at the No. 2 pick. The Lakers have a 15.6 percent chance at the top spot and a 15.7 percent chance at the second spot.
Landing the No. 3 spot and just the No. 3 spot would mean the Lakers hit gold with one of the top two picks, so while that would be disappointing, it’s better than if the draft just ran based on the standings. The No. 3 spot would still land the Sixers either Fultz, Ball or Fox if they go with a point guard, or Jackson should they go with more of a scorer.
Anticlimactic, but where the Sixers deserve to pick based on record. You want more balls in the hopper, you better tank better next year. (Note: don’t tank next year.)
What’s odd is that of the top six picks, the Sixers actually have the lowest odds of landing the No. 4 pick at just 9.9 percent.
The Lakers keeping their pick, or worse yet winning the lottery, and another team (not Sacramento) jumping ahead of the Sixers wouldn’t be great. But Fox might fall to No. 5, which would be a good get at that spot. The Sixers actually have the highest chance of landing the fifth pick, statistically, at 35 percent, despite having the fourth-worst record. I know, it’s weird.
Cue the derisive “Trust the Process” comments here. This would be a disaster for the Sixers. This is actually the worst the Sixers can do, because in order for the Sixers, as stated before, to get the No. 7 pick would mean the Lakers also lost big, giving the Sixers two picks in a row.
So, yeah, this would be the worst possible scenario: The Lakers get Fultz, the Sixers get screwed.