The first rule of projecting the draft is to acknowledge that we do not know anything about projecting the draft. The variables are too numerous, and the stakes too high to think that we can glean an accurate picture of reality from 20,000 feet up. Beyond Deandre Ayton at No. 1 to the Suns, this year's order is as unsettled as any in recent memory. So instead of focusing on what we cannot possibly know, let's focus on the things that we can say with relative certainty.
The odds that the Sixers will land a player who can make a meaningful impact this season are slim. In fact, the odds are long that they'll end up with a player who ends up making a meaningful impact in any season. Forget about the middle of the lottery, where the Sixers are currently picking, and look at the recent performances of players who went in the top five. Of the last 30, I count 13 who would be a potential starter on a contending team like the Sixers. That's almost as many as would be residing at or near the end of the bench.
End of the bench (7): Jahlil Okafor, Thomas Robinson, Anthony Bennett, Dante Exum, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Mario Hezonja, Markelle Fultz
Fringe Backup (5): Cody Zeller, Dragan Bender, Alex Len, Josh Jackson, Kris Dunn
Legit Backup (5): De'Aaron Fox, D'Angelo Russell, Dion Waiters, Lonzo Ball, Andrew Wiggins
Potential Conference Finals Starters (3): Brandon Ingram, Aaron Gordon, Jabari Parker
Conference Finals Top-Three Option (10): Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons, Anthony Davis, Karl-Anthony Towns, Bradley Beal, Otto Porter, Victor Oladipo, Kristaps Porzingis, Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum
You can certainly quibble with some of the categorizations, but look at that list of names and count the number of players who would have made a difference against the Celtics in the playoffs. Maybe 50 percent. And that's the top five. Including centers.
In addition to their draft position, the Sixers are further limited by the unique fit they need.
This could change if Simmons comes back with the ability to knock down an open three-pointer. Right now, though, you have to operate under the assumption that to be on the court with the starting point guard, you have to be able to shoot at least 34 percent from three-point range. Again, look at those 30 top-five draft picks. Only 11 of them will enter this season with a career mark above .332. Take out the true centers, and the hit rate is still just 10 of 24. For every Tatum, who shot an unheard-of .434 from long range as a rookie, there is a Kidd-Gilchrist (.194 in six seasons), or an Exum (.306 in four seasons), or an Hezonja (.332 in three seasons).
Even the good ones tend to take a while . . .
Porter averaged 15.8 minutes per game and shot .312 from three-point range in his first two seasons. Ingram struggled mightily as a rookie.
Granted, one big unknown is how a lot of these players would have looked when playing a complementary role such as the one this year's rookie will be expected to play with the Sixers. There simply aren't a lot of 52-win teams who end up selecting in the top 10. The Sixers are just the fourth team in the last 10 drafts to select in the lottery after winning at least 50 games the previous season, and only the third to select in the top 10.
In 2016, the Raptors were coming off a .683 season when they drafted Utah center Jakob Poeltl at No. 9. Poeltl played sparingly as a rookie and averaged 15.6 minutes per game in nine playoff contests this past season. In 2013, the Thunder nabbed Steven Adams at No. 12 after a season in which they posted a .732 winning percentage.
Aside from Tatum, the most successful pick in recent years probably came in 2010, when the Jazz grabbed Gordon Hayward at No. 9 after winning 53 games and losing in the Western Conference semifinals to the Lakers. But Hayward did not contribute much as a rookie, averaging just 5.4 points per game for a Utah team that missed the playoffs. He averaged 30 minutes per game in his next two seasons and then slowly emerged as a star. Adams had a bigger impact as a rookie, averaging 18.4 minutes per game in 18 playoff games after the Thunder selected him at No. 12 in 2013.
All of this sets up a conundrum that the Sixers could find themselves confronting once they are on the clock. Do you go with a guy like Mikal Bridges who has a better chance to fill a role right away, or do you go with a player who has a higher ceiling and has a better chance to develop into a centerpiece-type player? Someone like Trae Young, or Kevin Knox, the latter of whom the Sixers have worked out twice?
The waters could further muddy if a player like Duke big man Wendell Carter Jr. ends up falling. It will be interesting to see what the Sixers have to say about their philosophy once the picks are in and everybody is more able to speak freely.