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Over the last four seasons, the Philadelphia 76ers have become preoccupied with luck. Usually, it’s been bad luck. Tanking to win was a calculated risk by the Sam Hinkie-era Sixers, and despite Bryan Colangelo defiantly stating the Sixers would be a tanking team no more after he took over as general manager, the roster toward the end of this season — and particularly the starting lineups the last few games of the year — showed the Sixers were smart enough to know when losing really meant winning.
And yet, no matter the analytics, the NBA Draft Lottery boils down to luck. In 2014, the Sixers had the second-worst record in the league, but were unlucky in the lottery, falling to the third slot, relegated to taking Joel Embiid after missing out on his college teammate Andrew Wiggins and Duke standout Jabari Parker. In 2015, the Sixers were unlucky to not win the lottery, settling for third again — this time, deserved based on record — missing out on Karl-Anthony Towns and D’Angelo Russell before panicking and taking Jahlil Okafor, unsure what the future held for Nerlens Noel and uncertain if Embiid would ever see the floor.
Luck didn’t make the Sixers pick Okafor over Kristaps Porzingis, no, but a case can be made that luck, the bad kind, kept Embiid off the floor that season as well. And so the Sixers went tanking again, having one of the worst seasons in NBA history in 2015-16 and getting rewarded with the top pick in the draft, where they selected Ben Simmons.
As luck would have it (bad luck again), Simmons got hurt in training camp, Embiid got hurt during his eventual rookie season and even Okafor, who nobody seems to want on the team anymore, got hurt again too, missing the end of a season that could have been used to showcase his offensive skills to a team willing to make a trade.
Luck stinks for the Sixers, even when it looks like things are working out. We ran through the odds the Sixers have in the 2017 NBA Draft Lottery, where the team can walk away with everything from No. 1 and No. 4 to just No. 6 and almost every possibility in between.
Will luck shine on the Sixers in the lottery again this year, and will that pick stay healthy for the first time in nearly half a decade? Even asking that question, let alone daring to answer it, illustrates how tumultuous the lottery has been for the Sixers the last few years, even with three top-3 picks.
What if the Sixers don’t get a top-3 pick? What if they don’t get a top-5 pick?
History shows the Sixers often do better later in the first round than near the top. Now, that’s couched somewhat by the fact Simmons has yet to play, and Embiid has yet to play much, but in the 31 years of the NBA lottery, the Sixers have picked in the top-3 10 times. They’ve won the NBA championship zero times.
[table id=sixerslotterypicks /]
Since the NBA adopted the lottery system in 1986, the Sixers have been to the NBA Finals just once. They’ve been a part of the lottery 17 times, once via trade, and even then, when they nabbed the first pick in the draft (the pick was center Brad Daughtery) they traded it for…Roy Hinson.
The Sixers have had the top pick in the lottery two other years, taking Allen Iverson — a year they had the second-worst record but won the lottery — and last season, when they took Simmons.
The Sixers have picked second three times, jumping from No. 7 to No. 2 to take Shawn Bradley in 1993, leaping from No. 5 to No. 2 four years later to take Keith Van Horn, and skipping four spots, from No. 6 to No. 2, in 2010 to take Evan Turner.
(Please don’t get the second pick this year, Sixers. It’s clearly cursed.)
Four times the Sixers have chosen third, including two of the last three years in taking Embiid and Okafor. The franchise took Charles Smith in 1988, jumping via lottery to the third slot after finishing in the sixth-worst position. Smith was traded for Hersey Hawkins and a 1989 first rounder. In 1995, the Sixers took Jerry Stackhouse third, jumping up one spot from the No. 4 position in the lottery.
Of the 17 times the Sixers have entered the lottery, seven times their pick has improved. Nine times their pick has stayed the same as their pre-lottery slot and once, three years ago, it got worse.
If the Sixers manage to get worse than fourth this year and still can pick up a player like Embiid, most fans would consider that a longterm win. And yet, in three seasons the dude has played 31 games, just 786 minutes. But hey, they flipped the 10th pick of Elfrid Payton that year to Orlando for the rights to Dario Saric and the pick they had previously given up in the debacle of the Andrew Bynum trade. Whoever the Sixers take with their own pick this year — or in the pick swap with the Kings — they can sort of add that to the 2014 haul of Embiid and Saric.
There have been several occasions in which the Sixers ended up “winning” the lottery without actually winning it. In 2004 the Sixers stayed at No. 9 and took Andre Iguodala, who outside of Dwight Howard, who went first overall, was surely the best player in that draft. In 2013 the Sixers took Michael Carter-Williams with the 11th pick, turned him into the Rookie of the Year then shipped him out for what could finally manifest this season (or next) into this much ballyhooed Lakers pick. The Sixers also got Nerlens Noel that season — another big who fell a few spots because he was hurt — in a trade for Jrue Holiday, who thanks to his own injuries hasn’t been the same player he was in Philly.
Then there’s the 1998 draft, where the year after taking Van Horn (and two years after taking Iverson) the Sixers took Larry Hughes at No. 8 in what might be the worst draft decision of all time and, yes, that includes taking Shawn Bradley second overall instead of Penny Hardaway in 1993. Hughes was taken before Dirk Nowitzki and Paul Pierce.
Never forget. And please don’t make that kind of mistake again.