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December 07, 2016

Sixers first-round pick tracker, part one

Around a month into the season, it’s very possible to have misleading records and numbers in the NBA. Remember when the Sixers jumped out to a 6-8 start the same season during which they eventually lost 26 games in a row? But at this point, with most of the league having played at least 20 games, we can at least have some conversation about whether trends are meaningful or not.

For example, as it turns out, the Golden State Warriors have been pretty good. That seems pretty legit! As for the not so terrible Los Angeles Lakers, well, we’ll get into them a little bit later as we check in on the Sixers' potential first-round picks in the 2017 NBA Draft.

Sixers Pick

Philadelphia 76ers (4-18, projected 1st pick): Yep, right on schedule.

The Sixers have had some close calls recently, even playing short-handed against Boston and super short-handed at Memphis. Still, they sport the worst point differential and record in the league at the moment.

Tankapalooza 2017 has the chance to be at least somewhat crowded, though.

The Mavericks are 4-17, and injuries have forced Rick Carlisle to throw out some Processy lineups. Someone named Dorian Finney-Smith has already started 13 games for Dallas, and despite the proud tradition of winning that Carlisle, Dirk Nowitzki and Mark Cuban have built there, Cuban isn’t on “Shark Tank” by accident; the Mavs are already seven games out of a playoff spot, and unless things miraculously turn around quickly (tough to do with Dirk currently out of the lineup), don’t expect this smart franchise to chase wins in the second half.

Brooklyn (6-15) is well-coached but just doesn’t have enough talent, which is good news for the Celtics. The Nets should improve a bit when Jeremy Lin returns, and as far as this race is concerned, four games against the Sixers loom pretty large. Phoenix (6-15), who got dismantled in Philly a few weeks ago, seems like the other major “contender” at the moment.

One thing to look for is how much Joel Embiid plays in the second half of the season. The Sixers play to the level of a slightly below-average (not tanking) team when “The Process” is on the floor, and you have to imagine that only will improve as the season moves along. With potential increased minutes/games for Embiid and the expected return of Ben Simmons in January, there is room for improvement.

The race for pole position in the 2017 NBA Draft lottery could be a tight one.

Sacramento Kings (8-13, projected 8th pick): Kangzzzzz. Sacramento, three games out of a playoff spot, would currently fork over 1.1 percent odds at the No. 1 overall pick in the ol’ pick swap. Rudy Gay is having a sneaky decent year for the Kings, sporting a career-high shooting efficiency. This team is clearly at its best when he and DeMarcus Cousins are on the floor.

The Kings are bunched up with a few teams, but in general, this is roughly where I see them finishing barring injury: not a playoff team, but not a high lottery contender either. In that scenario, the Sixers would have to wait until 2019 (when an unprotected pick waits for them) to see if they can hit that home run from the Nik Stauskas trade.

Lakers pick

Los Angeles Lakers (10-14, projected 11th pick): From a neutral perspective, the Lakers have been one of the feel-good stories of the NBA. Even some notable Process Trusters have dumped Brett Brown for Luke Walton.

From concerned Sixers fans, you start to hear the same question over and over: Are the Lakers too good?

And my answer is maybe a little more than you'd want, but not really.

The Lakers have clearly exceeded my expectations, though. Walton looks like an excellent coach (in addition to a chill dude), Julius Randle made all-around improvements, and Lou Williams has been incredible, but the Lakers still sport the fifth-worst point differential in the league. This is also still a team that is relying on Nick Young (shooting out of his freaking mind, by the way) to play heavy minutes.

The vibe around this team is a good and maybe the chemistry and mix of youth and vets keeps the Lakers at their current pace. My guess is that they’ll tail off, at least a little bit. And while the baby Lakers, making basketball fun again now that Kobe and Byron are gone, may take the Sixers out of the sweepstakes for the fourth pick, there still appears to be quality talent throughout the top ten of this NBA draft class.

Maybe the Lakers end up too good for the ultimate prize, but hey, that is the game you play in acquiring protected picks. Considering what the other two teams got in the original deal — Milwaukee already moved on from Michael Carter-Williams, Brandon Knight is in trade rumors constantly in Phoenix — the Sixers are still in a perfectly acceptable position.

Follow Rich on Twitter: @rich_hofmann