24, 33, 34, 42, 54.
It sounds like an episode of Lost, and that’s actually somewhat appropriate when you consider the impact that recent Sixers draft picks have had in their first years out of school.
The most daunting history that the organization will face next Thursday in the annual selection meeting is its own. But fear not. As the proud owners of three selections in the top 34 as well as an ignominious run of three straight first-round picks’ failing to make an impact in their first seasons under contract, the Sixers at least have the law of averages on their side.
So let’s lace up our ankle braces, loosen up our shoulders, and get rid of all of our packaged goods that were manufactured in facilities that also produce sesame seeds. It’s time to figure out what kind of odds the Sixers face as they look to uncover a rookie who can contribute to another playoff run.
Here’s what we know: The Sixers need to dramatically improve their stockpile of low-cost talent as they enter a five-year stretch in which their ability to acquire established players on the free-agent market will be dramatically reduced by a payroll that is well over the luxury tax.
This is why the Markelle Fultz saga was such a detriment to the future that the organization laid out for itself during the Sam Hinkie years.
The gut shot isn’t that Jayson Tatum is developing into the sort of budding star that Bryan Colangelo thought he was getting when he traded up from No. 3 in 2017. It’s that the Sixers used up two of their best assets -- No. 3 in 2017 and No. 14 this season, which they traded to Boston to move up -- and came away with a grand total of zero players who will contribute to the rotation over the next four-plus seasons (apologies to Jonathon Simmons).
The sad truth is that Colangelo could have stayed at No. 3 and thrown a dart at a mock draft and had at least a 50 percent chance at hitting a player who would have dramatically upgraded the bench in this year’s postseason and beyond.
De’Aaron Fox, Lauri Markkanen, Zach Collins, Luke Kennard, Donovan Mitchell, and Bam Adebayo — all were selected in a span of 12 picks starting with where the Sixers were originally situated, and all would have logged valuable minutes against the Raptors in the Eastern Conference semifinals. And that’s before you even consider arguments for the merits of guys like Jonathan Isaac, Frank Ntilikina, and Dennis Smith.
The good news is that Hinkie’s Process was as much a theory toward the value of quantity as it was the quality that a team can position itself to acquire via tanking. The most important knowledge is often a recognition of the unknown, and one way to hedge against such risk is to stock one’s quiver with as many darts as possible.
Hinkie’s detractors point to Fultz and Jahlil Okafor when deriding his method. But the fact that the Sixers are still in a position to overcome such Ruthian swings-and-misses is a testament to the wisdom of diversifying one’s portfolio. Zhaire Smith might have spent 2018-19 on the shelf, but Landry Shamet turned out to be a critical acquisition later in the first round. Which brings us to next week.
At No. 24, recent history suggests that the Sixers should have a near-even chance at landing a player who is capable of contributing to a playoff rotation at some point during his rookie deal.
Of the 13 players selected in that slot during the one-and-done era, six have gone on to log significant postseason minutes. Of that group, three fit a profile that would dramatically improve the Sixers: Kyle Lowry in 2006, Serge Ibaka in 2008, and Reggie Jackson in 2011.
That said, only Ibaka had the sort of rookie season that you could automatically project into the Sixers rotation. Jackson was a big part of the Thunder’s rotation as a sophomore, while Lowry contributed to the Rockets in the postseason in his third year.
As one might expect, the track record of rookies contributing to a playoff team after being selected between No. 24 and No. 34 is not strong. Of the 143 players selected in that range during the one-and-done era, 25 went on to average at least five minutes per game in four or more playoff games the following season as rookies. Of that group, 14 averaged at least 10 minutes, 11 averaged at least 15, and five averaged at least 20.
From the Sixers’ perspective, the most relevant names are the Spurs’ Dejounte Murray, who averaged 15 minutes in 11 playoff games for the Spurs after being selected at No. 29 in 2016, or Mario Chalmers (No. 34, 2008), who started all 82 games at point guard for a Heat team that took the Hawks to seven games in 2009.
In short, the odds say that the Sixers should not be counting on this year’s draft to bolster next season’s rotation. In a scenario in which they keep last year’s starters intact, they’ll be counting on Smith to establish himself as a legitimate three-and-D option off the bench as a sophomore while hoping for enough improvement out of Jonah Bolden to build on his contributions during the 2018-19 regular season.