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March 02, 2017

2017 NBA Draft: Sixers first-round pick tracker, part five

With a couple of season-ending injuries to the team’s young building blocks (Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons) and also a controversial trade of a popular young player (Nerlens Noel), it hasn’t been the best week for Sixers fans. That's why I will do my best to cheer everybody up.

Let’s forget injuries/trade rumors and talk NBA Draft positioning, where the Sixers stack up pretty well. And as a refresher, here are the first four 2016-17 installments of the pick tracker:

Part one | Part deux | Part three | Part four

Sixers Pick

Philadelphia 76ers (projected 31-51 by 538, fifth pick): It is a colossal bummer that Embiid played only 31 games and Simmons will miss the entire season. Like, there is no arguing that point. If the Sixers front office had their druthers, they would’ve wanted both of those guys healthy and kicking butt for the entire season. Simmons and Embiid are the Sixers’ building blocks, and you want to see development from them.

That said…

Losing games down the stretch and playing that draft lottery hand one more time isn’t the worst outcome for the Sixers. I don’t want to make it seem like it’s 2014 all over again: The play of Dario Saric, Robert Covington, and Richaun Holmes will definitely be something to monitor. Brett Brown and these guys have proven that they can compete at times like they did against Washington and New York last weekend. When the shorthanded Sixers are able to win games, great.

But there probably will be a good amount of losing down the stretch, which gives the Sixers the best of both worlds as losses are wins in terms of NBA Draft positioning. The Sixers also won’t get the scrutiny that comes with blatantly tanking while they quietly hoard lottery balls. Speaking of which…

Sacramento Kings (projected 32-50 by 538, sixth pick): Pick swap! We already wrote at length about how the Sixers were big winners in the DeMarcus Cousins trade, and the Kings are 1-3 at home since the NBA’s All-Star break. This stretch includes a loss to Brooklyn, which had previously lost 16 games in a row.

Looking at the Kings’ realistic possibilities, I see them making it no “higher” (for lottery purposes, anyway) than the sixth-worst record. The good news for the Sixers is that Sacramento is within a game of that spot and running out poor personnel that doesn’t fit together every night.

Let’s say that the Sixers and Kings finished with the fifth and sixth-worst records respectively, a reasonable outcome in my opinion. With the pick swap, the Sixers would then have a 50.6 percent chance at a Top-3 pick (third-best) and a 15.1 percent chance at No. 1 overall (fourth-best). Not bad for taking on Sauce Castillo and a couple of contracts that weren’t all that burdensome.

Lakers Pick (Top-3 protection)

Los Angeles Lakers (projected 26-56 by 538, tied for second pick): The Lakers traded Lou Williams to the Rockets for a first-round pick because Williams had no future in Los Angeles and it would be irresponsible to play him down the stretch. There has never been a team with more incentive to tank down the stretch than the 2016-17 Los Angeles Lakers.

Let’s take a look at what’s at stake here. Behind Door Number 1, if the Lakers’ pick falls out of the Top-3 in the 2017 NBA Draft:

•    No first-round pick in 2017, as the Sixers get it
•    2018 first-round pick
•    No first-round pick in 2019, as the Orlando Magic would get the first-rounder unprotected (which dates all the way back to the Dwight Howard/Andrew Bynum/Andre Iguodala trade)

Behind Door Number 2, if the Lakers’ pick falls inside the Top-3 in the 2017 NBA Draft:

•    A Top-3 pick in 2017
•    No first-round pick in 2018, as the Sixers would get that baby unprotected
•    Instead of conveying a 2019 first-round pick to Orlando, the Lakers would instead give up their second-round pick in both 2017 and 2018

The Lakers are currently in a dogfight with Phoenix for the second-worst record, which would up their odds at a Top-3 pick from 46.9 to 55.8 percent. The two teams have combined to lose their last eight games. On the West Coast, the tank is moving full speed ahead.

Follow Rich on Twitter: @rich_hofmann