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Playing the lottery

Posted by Eric Fisher On May 14

The 76ers don’t need to be all that lucky to win the draft lottery.

When the NBA Draft lottery takes place Tuesday (8 p.m.), there are multiple scenarios in which the Sixers will emerge as winners.

The worst-case scenario for the Sixers is for a repeat of last year. Yes, the Sixers got the No. 1 pick last year. They would like a repeat of that part of last year’s draft lottery. But they got the No. 1 pick last year because the lottery didn’t produce any changes in the draft order. If that happens again this year, the Sixers would have the fourth overall pick – and that’s it.

A preferred scenario would be for the Sixers to move up to No. 1 or 2 and have the Lakers pushed back beyond the top three. If the Lakers move beyond the top three in the lottery, their draft pick will be conveyed to the Sixers. The Sixers also have the right to switch draft positions with the Kings, so if the Kings jump up into the top three, the Sixers can get a top three pick.

The first three picks are determined via ping pong balls. After the ping pong balls determine the top three draft positions, the remaining teams in the lottery are placed in order of their final records.

Before looking at the various scenarios, here are the teams in the lottery, ranked from the worst record (and the best chance of winning the lottery) to the best: Nets (pick goes to Celtics); Suns; Lakers; Sixers; Magic; Timberwolves and Knicks (tied); Kings; Mavericks; Pelicans; Hornets; Pistons; Nuggets; Heat.

The Sixers hare an 11.9 percent chance of getting the top pick. They have a 12.6 percent chance of getting the second pick, and a 13.3 percent chance of getting the third pick. When the Kings’ odds are added to the equation, the Sixers’ odds rise to 14.7 percent for the top pick, 15.9 percent for the second pick and 17.2 percent for the third pick.

The likely top pick is Washington guard Markelle Fultz, although that could depend on which team gets the top pick. The other top candidates for the top five are likely to be UCLA’s Lonzo Ball, Kansas’ Josh Jackson, Duke’s Jayson Tatum; North Carolina State’s Dennis Smith and Kentucky’s Malik Monk and De’Aaron Fox. All of the top tier players, including most of the players likely to be selected in the Top 10, were freshman this past season.

Let’s look at the Sixers’ scenarios for Tuesday’s NBA Draft lottery.

Best-case scenario: The Sixers get the No. 1 overall pick – either through their own ping pong ball or the Kings’ ping pong balls – and no other teams move up. This would push the Lakers to No. 4, which would give their pick to the Sixers. The Sixers would have the first and fourth selections in the NBA Draft.

Other top scenarios: The Sixers could move up to No. 2 or No. 3 – either through their own ping pong balls or the Kings’ ping pong balls – and no other teams move up. This would push the Lakers to No. 4, which would give the Sixers the second and fourth, or the third and fourth, picks in the draft.

Other two-pick scenarios: It would only take one team to jump into the top three to push the Lakers back to No. 4, which would leave the Sixers with the fourth and fifth overall picks. This assumes that the Lakers did not move up to the first or second pick.

Less-attractive two-pick scenarios: Two or three teams behind the Sixers jump ahead of the Lakers, pushing the Sixers down to the fifth and sixth picks or the sixth and seventh picks.

Worst-case scenario: The Lakers move up to No. 1, and two teams behind the Sixers jump up to the second and their draft slots. This would leave the Sixers with the sixth overall pick.

Almost-as-bad scenario: The Lakers move up to the first or second pick and one teams behind the Sixers jumps into the top three, leaving the Sixers with the fifth overall pick.

Everything stays the same: If there are no changes in the draft order for the first three picks, which is what happened last year, the Sixers would have the fourth overall selection.

Just for fun, I played ESPN’s NBA Draft lottery simulator 25 times. Here are the results (in order of frequency):

Sixers get 5th and 6th picks: 5

Sixers get the 4th and 5th picks: 5

Sixers get the No. 5 pick: 4

Sixers get the 3rd and 4th picks: 3

Sixers get the No. 2 pick: 2

Sixers get the 1st and 4th picks (best-case scenario): 1

Sixers get the 2nd and 5th picks: 1

Sixers get the 2nd and 6th picks: 1

Sixers get the 3rd and 5th picks: 1

Sixers get No. 6 pick (worst-case scenario): 1

Sixers get the No. 4 pick: 1

The bad news is that only once in 25 attempts at the draft lottery did the Sixers get the No. 1 pick, resulting in the best-case scenario of netting the first and fourth overall picks in the NBA Draft. The good news is that the worst-case scenario – the Sixers picking at No. 6 – only came up once. But four times they only got the No. 5 pick, which means that 20 percent of my tries at the draft simulator ended with the Sixers having the fifth or sixth selection.

The Sixers ended up with two picks 17 out of 25 attempts. Not all two-pick scenarios are created equal. Getting the first and fourth picks would be a coup. Getting the fifth and sixth picks would be good, but the Sixers could do a lot better.

It only takes one good lottery, of course, for the Sixers to turn out the ultimate winners of the 2017 NBA Draft lottery.

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