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January 29, 2015

Checking in on Sixers' efforts to land No. 1 pick in draft

Sixers in better position than last year to earn top pick...or are they?

Sixers NBA

On Wednesday night, the Sixers beat the Pistons by 20 points in front of a sparse crowd at the Wells Fargo Center. The 89-69 win, their ninth of the season, was the team's biggest win so far in terms of point differential.

On Friday, the Sixers will host the Timberwolves, the same team the Sixers (9-37) beat for their first win of the season back on Dec. 3. Since then, Brett Brown's squad is 9-20, including a stretch where it won three out of four.

As it stands right now, Minnesota (8-37) is the only team with a worse record than the Sixers -- the Knicks currently have the same record. The Lakers are three games better at 12-34, but they've lost nine in a row and will be without Kobe Bryant for the rest of the season.

Needless to say, the Sixers will have competition for the No. 1 pick in the 2015 NBA Draft, and it's much too early to accurately predict where they'll end up picking, largely because the NBA's lottery system can thwart even the best laid plans of a general manager like Sam Hinkie.

Further complicating the issue is that a team can come out of nowhere to steal some lottery balls from the Sixers. If you remember the arc their season took last year, it was quite the opposite of their current campaign. While they failed to pick up a win until their 18th game this time around, they won three-straight to open last season. Exactly one year ago today, the Sixers picked up their 15th win of the season to improve to 15-31. It was only after trading away most of their best players that the team's season truly began to tank. They went just 4-32 the rest of the way, finishing with the second-worst record in the league.

This year, there are plenty of teams -- like the Lakers, Magic and Pacers -- that can go on an extended losing streak and pass the Sixers in the race for lottery balls. And if you look at the standings, you have to consider any team with a sub-.400 record a threat to the Sixers.

Minnesota:  8-37  /  .178

New York:  9-37  /  .196

Philadelphia:  9-37  /  .196

LA Lakers:  12-34  /  .261

Orlando:  15-33  /  .313

Indiana:  16-31  /  .340

Utah:  16-30  /  .348

Detroit:  17-30  /  .362

Boston:  16-28  /  .364

Sacramento:  16-28  /  .364

It must drive NBA purists crazy to see three of the most storied franchises in league history hanging out so close to the bottom of the standings. Two of those teams, the Knicks and Lakers, were not expected to be contending for the worst record when the season started. They are now.

Another issue the Sixers will have to deal with is the fact that they don't have a lot of pieces left to trade for draft picks at the deadline. That really was the key to their second-half futility in 2014. One of the few that could have had some value was point guard and leading scorer Tony Wroten. That ship sailed Wednesday when he announced that he would undergo season-ending surgery to repair a partially torn ACL.

And if you're a cold-hearted, devious person -- I'm not saying that's me -- you may think that's a good thing. While Hinkie won't be able to turn him into one of those second-round picks he seems to love so much, the impact his injury will have on the team's final record will be the same as if the Sixers had traded him. 

And then there's Michael Carter-Williams, who has seemingly been the subject of trade rumors since his arrival in Philadelphia prior to last season. The team could move him, but with the randomness of the draft lottery, it hardly seems worth it. Even though he's the reigning NBA Rookie of the Year, he likely wouldn't return a lottery pick and there's no guarantee that his absence would impact the team the same way last year's moves did. And even if it did, the top pick in the draft is not promised* to anyone.

*Unless you believe in conspiracy theories.

The best thing for the Sixers to do in the immediate future is to maintain the status quo. Continue to develop young players and decide which ones fit in the team's long-term future; stay in the bottom three; and hope for some luck at the lottery.

That way, fans can enjoy a win like last night's 20-point drudging of the Pistons without worrying what it means for the draft. 

Break on through

Here's a look at the Sixers' seven games remaining before the all-star break:

Fri, Jan 30 vs. Minnesota

Sat, Jan 31 @ Atlanta

Mon, Feb 2 @ Cleveland

Tue, Feb 3 vs. Denver

Fri, Feb 6 @ Boston

Sat, Feb 7 vs. Charlotte

Mon, Feb 9 vs. Golden State

Not the toughest stretch, but certainly not easy. I see them going 2-5, but I also didn't see them beating the Pistons by 20, so what do I know.