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December 29, 2016

Sixers first-round pick tracker, part two

Earlier this week, the Sixers lost a tough one to the Sacramento Kings as Joel Embiid and DeMarcus Cousins went head-to-head. There was butt slapping:

The game, between a couple of teams well below .500, turned out to be pretty enjoyable. And believe it or not, the Kings currently hold the 8th seed in the Western Conference with a 14-18 record. This is part of a larger trend around the league: Basically, a bunch of teams in the league’s middle class are having disappointing seasons.

There are only 12 teams in the NBA currently above .500, including the surprisingly 16-15 New York Knicks. This leaves the Kings, stumbling through what feels like another forgettable season, on the inside of the cut line. Sacramento is on track for its first playoff berth since 2005-06.

Let’s take a look at where the Sixers' potential first-round picks in the 2017 NBA Draft stand at the moment.

• Part one

Sixers Pick

Philadelphia 76ers (7-23, projected 1st pick): Still right on schedule, but the Sixers have a chance to make a move up the standings in the coming months. Six teams sit within 2.5 games of Brett Brown’s team in the always competitive race to the bottom, and the Sixers’ point differential actually isn’t the worst in the league (Broooooookkkklyyynnnnn).

Right or wrong, it feels like the Sixers are now viewed a professional basketball team in a way they haven’t over the past three years. Notice that almost nobody nationally has taken major shots at them over the first two months. There are a lot of factors at play (especially the excitement surrounding Embiid) but probably none more important than the team’s seven wins. This time last year, they had two.

Sacramento Kings (14-20, projected 15th pick): If the Kings make the playoffs, there would obviously be no pick swap possibility. Even if they drop out of the Western Conference’s top eight, the odds of the Sixers landing a top pick via the Sacramento swap would likely be slim.

It would be kind of cool if the Kings break the playoff drought. Their reward would be getting hammered in four games by Golden State.

The first seven teams in the west all seem locked in, but the race for that final spot is a mess. Portland, who most people had penciled in before the season, made some mistakes in free agency and currently sports the worst defense in the NBA. They would still seem most likely to right the ship after a 14-20 start, but Denver and even New Orleans are also at the Kings’ heels.

The rematch in Philly between Embiid and Cousins next month should also be fun, as long as the Wells Fargo Center court stays dry:

Lakers Pick (Protected 1-3)

Los Angeles Lakers (12-23, projected 7th pick): I went to Tankathon and gave it one spin. Here is how the fake lottery shook out:

As a Sixers fan, would you be OK with this outcome? Draft Express hasn’t updated its rankings in a while, but the No. 4 and 7 picks are currently Lonzo Ball and Jonathan Isaac. Of course, there will probably be other players in those spots when it matters next June. You would be missing out on the top-tier talent (Markelle Fultz and Josh Jackson, likely), but still, it’s not a terrible scenario for what currently looks like something of a worse case.

Earlier this month, we asked if the Lakers were too good. They have gone 2-9 since then, including a win over the Sixers. As it turns out, a team relying heavily on Lou Williams (still playing great!), Nick Young, and a bunch of young guys that struggle to defend isn’t too good.

The Lakers are currently 2.5 games ahead of the Sixers and also only 3.5 games behind the Kings and the final playoff spot.

Follow Rich on Twitter: @rich_hofmann