With baseball season settling in and the remaining teams in the city lodged in the thick of their respective offseasons, fans in Philadelphia often have to reach for discussion material in order to fill the void left by the lack of competition. Especially over the past few years, where each of the Eagles, Flyers, Phillies, and most notably the 76ers have all been or will be drafting higher than this fanbase is accepting of.
Each professional sport’s draft has its own wrinkles and unique features that give varying levels of intrigue. Without much of an argument, the NFL and NBA draft are far-and-away the most popular and publicized events. Mostly due to the exposure of the prospects in the world of college basketball and football, the names that make up the prolific prospects of each sports draft often already reach celebrity status before even entering the professional world. Though both publicized to what some may consider extreme levels, the differences between the NFL and NBA drafts make for a healthy debate as to which is the more effective method for maintaining balanced competitiveness throughout each league.
We are not even a week from wrapping up the NFL Draft. The seven-round affair’s order is determined by final win-loss record and tiebreakers are built in to prevent logjams. Even when all tiebreakers are exhausted, a coin-flip is an argument-free alternative that keeps things amicable as far as the opening round’s order goes. With the depth of talent provided by the collegiate level and the three-year requirement of time out of high school, more and more prospects from all seven of the rounds are rounding into serviceable to prolific professional players.
The NBA’s system has brought on much more debate. The lottery system set forth entering the 1985-1986 season gives all non-playoff teams an opportunity to win the first overall pick. Though the worst teams do receive greater odds at collecting the top selection, it is far from a sure thing to do so and some even speculate that past lotteries have been fixed to give higher exposure to markets that prove most advantageous to the league. There is an added level of intrigue and excitement given the randomness of the event (and another opportunity to put something on television), but the infrequency with which the worst team in the league receives the #1 pick is almost laughable.
One can split hairs over each draft all he or she wants. Neither is perfect, though I would make a strong argument for the NFL’s system were we looking at things from a big picture perspective. For the purpose of this debate, however, one must look at the situation through a more refined lens. As a Philadelphia 76ers fan, would you prefer the guarantee of having the pick that coincided with the team’s position in the final standings (the NFL system)? Or does the remote chance at leapfrogging the one team ahead of the 76ers by winning the lottery and securing the first overall pick sway you enough to risk the chance of falling down a few slots (the NBA system)? I actually think the argument is an intriguing one.
At first glance, I would stick with my normal stance that the NFL’s method that neutralizes randomness or chance would suit the 76ers better for this draft. Philadelphia would be guaranteed the 2nd and 10th overall picks in a loaded draft and most likely be pleased with their draft class before the lottery portion of teams even ended, well before their five second round picks. If securing the first overall pick was important enough to the organization, I would argue they have the necessary trade chips to entice the Milwaukee Bucks, who finished with basketball’s worst record, to swap places in the first round. Due to their savvy front office maneuvering, the 76ers have positioned themselves in about as ideal a situation as they could to leave as big a stamp on this year’s draft than any other team in the NBA.
Because of the prep-work taken care of by Sam Hinkie & company, there is a decent argument for preferring the NBA’s lottery system. To get the conspiracy angle out-of-the-way, though perhaps not at the level of the Lakers or Celtics, the 76ers are a far more enticing spot for a potential superstar first overall pick that could create a much more intense media buzz than any player in Milwaukee. From purely a financial standpoint, it would benefit the league more to have the first overall pick go to a major market like Philadelphia.
With that out-of-the-way, there are also legitimate arguments for the 76ers to prefer a system that gave them a chance at the top pick without expending resources. No matter where Philadelphia ends up on May 20th’s lottery night (the lowest pick they can end up with is fifth overall), they are guaranteed a player that could potentially impact the franchise in a way that many imagine will be beyond what any player did from the 2013 draft class. The projected top five of: Kansas’ duo of Andrew Wiggins and Joel Embiid, Duke’s Jabari Parker, Kentucky’s Julius Randle, and Australian import Dante Exum all are expected to grade out as A-level draft picks with all-star potential. Should the 76ers front office be unhappy with their slotting as a result of the lottery, as mentioned before they have the ammunition to potentially leap over other teams to secure the player, reported to be Andrew Wiggins, that they desire the most. Though there is the chance that they could fall several slots below what their record might say they deserve, the flexibility they have given themselves might take some of the sting off of a disappointing result. It is almost astonishing that the 76ers did not finish with the league’s worst record given their near-historic futility, but the only way they have a chance at their goal (the first overall pick) is the NBA way.
CASE FOR NFL’S SYSTEM:
The 76ers NEED a sure thing as far as a potential superstar player in this upcoming draft. After a year of making their intentions painfully clear and losing games at a historic level of frequency, the organization must deliver a player with which the fanbase can hitch their wagon to soon. Michael Carter-Williams was the much-deserved Rookie of the Year and will probably still be carrying the flag for the team entering next season. This development, which the organization may not have expected when they selected him 11th overall, bought them a bit of time. That said, when a draft has players that play the superstar position (wing player with exceptional scoring ability and prowess), one has to imagine the franchise is holding out for one of them. Even from a logical standpoint, the prolific wing player will complete the desired ‘Big Three’ along with Carter-Williams and Nerlens Noel that will be depended upon to bring the 76ers back to among the NBA’s elite.
The NFL’s system would ensure this happening. Even if Andrew Wiggins is selected first overall and Philadelphia is unable to engineer a trade that would have them doing so, the consolation prize(s) are just that: prizes. One would have to assume that Duke’s Jabari Parker would be the backup plan to Wiggins. Though he does not possess the world-class athleticism of the Kansas product, many see Parker as a ‘safer’ pick to make an impact on his new team sooner. He might not have the ceiling of Wiggins, but he is as fine a prospect to enter the NBA draft as seen in the last decade and is a model citizen off the court that a franchise can build around. Wiggins’ teammate Embiid might end up being the best of the bunch. Though there are enough horror stories about drafting big men toward the top of the draft to fill an Alvin Schwartz book (Google it), Embiid flashed tantalizing potential in limited action for the Jayhawks. One has to be fearful of the back issues that sidelined him for the NCAA tournament, but if Embiid checks out medically he is perhaps the top prospect in the class. Depending on how one looks at it from a 76ers point of view, Embiid could round out a young frontcourt along Noel that would be among the most promising in the league. If one preferred a different frontcourt flavor, Julius Randle from Kentucky could be the powerful player that this city would embrace from day one. The lefty from Lexington who helped lead the Wildcats to a surprising National Title game appearance was able to overcome the lull of playing in the SEC with a late season surge to restore his spot among the draft class’s top tier. Though he may be a touch on the short side, Randle is a hand-full in the post and possesses athleticism that makes him a matchup nightmare. He is skilled all over the floor and has a game that is ready to contribute right away. Finally, the wild card of the draft: Dante Exum. The Australian product who teased scouts and analysts in last year’s Hoop Summit s quickly becoming the most intriguing name in the draft. Perhaps it was the unexpected hiccups by some of the ‘sure things’ at the top of the class, but all of a sudden Exum’s stock is rising fast and some are starting to wonder if he can make a charge for the top spot. Some would see his arrival in Philadelphia as a redundancy, given the similarities to Carter-Williams. However, he is familiar with Brett Brown from his experiences coaching in Australia and if his talent is as impressive as some are starting to say, the 76ers would have to think long and hard about it.
Take any of the aforementioned players and add the 10th overall pick for the 76ers, and one would have to consider the draft a success. It might not end up being EXACTLY how they envisioned things playing out when they set in motion the events starting during last year’s draft. It would possibly be enough, along with their collection of second round picks and cap room, to start the process of putting a championship team together.
CASE FOR NBA’S SYSTEM:
Once again, to get it out-of-the-way, I fully believe in all the NBA Lottery conspiracy theories and would be interested to see how the league might think of the 76ers candidacy to secure the top pick.
Returning to reality, the lottery system is the only way the 76ers can get what they want. They gutted their franchise and cleaned house in order to enter the 2014 Draft with the first overall pick. Even with the necessary elements for an effective contingency plan, picking first overall without having to give up anything could end up being the keystone of a franchise makeover the likes of which the NBA has ever seen. It would justify the entire season’s futility and rooting of the early stages of a rebuild and probably position the team a year away of taking a major step toward becoming a title contender. They could ramp up the hype train for their expected top pick and, along with the other lottery pick they will most likely end up with, field a foursome of young star prospects that would rival the Oklahoma City quartet of: Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, James Harden, and Serge Ibaka when they were still in tact.
There is also an element of pressure that comes along with having the guaranteed 2nd overall pick over the course of an entire offseason. It is far from a given that Andrew Wiggins will be the first player taken in the draft, but for argument’s sake let’s say that ends up being the case. Conventional wisdom would have the 76ers HAVING to take Jabari Parker 2nd. There is the possibility, however, that they don’t desire Parker enough to make him the unquestioned consolation prize to Wiggins. Regardless of how the lottery plays out, the 76ers can rest easy knowing they had a strong chance at winning the first overall pick. The maneuvering and creativity of Sam Hinkie will start once the team’s pick is revealed. Because Andrew Wiggins did not have the type of transcendent season some might have hoped for to guarantee his spot at the top of the draft, the 76ers will probably be able to get him if they want him enough. The Lottery system is the only remote way they could have that happen without losing anything in the process. I imagine the front office would prefer a 25% chance at getting what they want for free and a 75% chance of having to pay for it compared to a 100% chance of having to pay for EXACTLY what they want.
FINAL VERDICT: THE NBA’S LOTTERY SYSTEM
Some might disagree with me on this one but the entire approach of this 76ers regime makes me think this is what they want. Philadelphia has left so many things to chance, but have controlled every variable they possibly can. In doing so, they have set themselves up to benefit the most out of any result. Being locked into the 2nd overall slot, as enticing as a guarantee of Jabari Parker or Andrew Wiggins is, it is not a maximum payoff for what the team went through this season. The approach taken by the entire front office mirrors the approach of a high-stakes gambler. Whether it is Texas Hold’ Em, Blackjack, or even sports gambling; the best participants often control as much as they can but still are not afraid to take risks, as they know that is the only way to produce the greatest yield. If there was more parity in the NBA and an ability to make a championship run without necessarily top-flight talent, one might make an argument for the safety of securing a top-two pick. The NBA is a superstar’s league dominated by a select few teams who have been fortunate enough to assemble greater concentration of that talent. The 76ers are not trying to become a viable playoff contender, they are trying to construct a championship team that can remain that way for several years. In my opinion, the potential of the players who I would think the organization would consider with the first pick (Wiggins, Embiid, Exum), is far enough ahead of Parker and Randle to leave oneself subject to the lottery. I also think the 76ers like Wiggins enough that, once again, they’d be happy to have a chance at getting him for free. At the end of the day, this 76ers team has been gambling smart to attempt to produce the greatest possible result. They do not feel lucky to be in the lottery, they expected to be there. Because of this, I don’t imagine they would want to break from the best atmosphere to obtain their ultimate goal. Only way to get the first pick is through the NBA system and I think it’s the route the 76ers would prefer. I happen to share that stance.