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Land the picks, Bryan: Lakers making early strides

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Without Byron Scott and Kobe Bryant, the Lakers look revitalized and primed for a pick conveyance to the Sixers.

NBA: Philadelphia 76ers at Indiana Pacers Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

In a draft heavy in high-end point guard prospects and regarded as “deep,” the Sixers have set themselves up for a monumental haul come June 2017. Reclaiming their own 2017 first-round pick in the Elfrid Payton deal, acquiring pick swap options with Sacramento and expending a regressing Michael Carter-Williams for a protected first-round pick, this might be the draft where the Sixers fully capitalize on Sam Hinkie’s deals.

General manager Bryan Colangelo is in an ideal scenario, with optionality and the ability to nab two lottery talents from a projected lauded draft class.

Team: Los Angeles Lakers (5-4)

Tankathon.com Ranking: 19th

Protections: 1-3 in 2017, unprotected in 2018

Analysis/Pick Status: The Lakers are now fun, fluid on offense and formidable with Luke Walton at the helm. Playing second fiddle to Steve Kerr in the Warriors’ dominant campaign last season, the former Lakers small forward is excelling calling the shots. With heavy reliance on the second unit, Los Angeles is consistently winning the bench battle and maintaining leads its starters manifest.

The Lakers bench is first in points (48.8) and second in efficiency (52.0) on an average of 22.2 MPG. Outside of the 113-96 drubbing against the Oklahoma City Thunder on Oct. 30, Walton’s bench has outscored the opposition in every game (notwithstanding tying Dallas’ second unit with 44 points Tuesday).

“Sweet” Lou Williams (15.9 PPG, 3.7 APG, 23.8 PER) and Nick Young (14.7 PPG, 46.3 FG%, 16.4 PER) haven’t torpedoed possessions with questionable decision-making and Larry Nance Jr.’s true versatility has become unearthed. Brandon Ingram’s twig-like frame and lacking shot have hindered his immediate impact, but there’s obvious potential.

That “potential” will carry this young team. Winning games early and having a game plan is fostering a positive outlook for Tinseltown. This wave of youth and production from the second unit is evidently catching teams off-guard and instilling confidence in this budding group. The Lakers core’s progression and veterans’ effectiveness correlates to where the Sixers might select, presumably, in the lottery in 2017.

Chance of Pick Conveying: With a winning record in less than 10 games, it’s a small sample size to gauge if there’s sustainable success for LA. The upstarts are sixth in field goal percentage (46.7 percent) and 15th in offensive efficiency (104.2), but the same issues that plagued the team last year persist. The Walton-led unit fires and misses higher than league average on their threes and the Lakers are 28th in turnovers.

D’Angelo Russell has been a remedial ball handler this season and the team’s assist-turnover ratio is abhorrent. However, they have leeway in both departments in the near future, facing the Minnesota Timberwolves and New Orleans Pelicans on the road over the weekend and hosting the Brooklyn Nets Tuesday.

An 8-4 Lakers start seems plausible, with the T-Wolves underwhelming, New Orleans dealing with a bevy of injuries and Brooklyn being Brooklyn at this stage of its development.

Expecting Los Angeles to pull a 2013-14 Phoenix Suns-like season and barely miss out on the playoffs is premature. Every Laker win, however, is a promising step towards pick conveyance. Even tough LA has a fortuitous schedule this week, regression could be on the horizon.

Team: Sacramento Kings (4-6)

Ranking: 11th

Protections: In 2017, Philadelphia has the right to swap first-round picks with Sacramento if the Kings’ pick lands in the top 10 post-lottery.

Analysis/Pick Status: We saw the aesthetic, entertaining beauty of a DeMarcus Cousins implosion last night in a loss against the Lakers. Walton was throwing the kitchen sink defensively at the star center, having Timofey Mozgov become a physical adversary and sending help when Mozgov looked to be out of position.

Both guards and forwards harassed the big man, including one Julius Randle. Randle and Cousins tussled during the game and met after the game in a face to face verbal confrontation. The Kings’ 101-91 loss was compounded by Cousins’ hostility and aggression towards LA.

Relative to the Sixers, last night’s Sacramento loss was ideal. The Lakers exhausted one of its away games in a winning effort and Cousins’ outburst could have a ripple effect.

Only Cousins (26.0 PPG) and Rudy Gay (21.6 PPG) are averaging over 9.4 PPG this season. The duo also are the only two players on the roster, among those who’ve played in six games thus far, to have a Player Efficiency Rating eclipsing 13.2. Gay already appears to be in the midst of trade rumors. Cousins is Sacramento’s beacon of hope with a serious track record of aggression.

Games against Portland (away), San Antonio (home) and the Clippers (home) this week will be a true test of the team’s mettle. A tailspin may be imminent for the Kings.

Chance of Pick Conveying: Head coach Dave Joerger is undoubtedly an upgrade over George Karl as scheming is concerned, but he’s facing a strenuous task of getting his team to play up to their potential. Outside of assists, Sacramento is in the bottom half of the league in many important categories. (It’s a long list.)

With a looming stretch of six games against teams over .500, the losses could stack for Sacramento and confidence might waver. However, they’re are still in no position yet to lose draft positioning to the Sixers. A Sixers-Kings pick swap looks bleak at the moment.