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Land the picks, Bryan: Assessing Lakers’ strong start

Los Angeles’ early surge is diminishing expectations for Sixers’ 2017 draft haul.

NBA: Cleveland Cavaliers at Philadelphia 76ers Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

It should’ve been a relatively stress-free journey to two top-10 picks in the 2017 NBA draft for the Sixers. However, the Los Angeles Lakers are hijacking plans.

Luke Walton has increased the upside of the 2016-17 Lakers. The most impactful addition the Lakers acquired this season might not be in the form of a player: Steve Kerr’s protégé is legitimate. Walton is outcoaching his adversaries, and stat regression will surely come, but he’s more apt to handle adversity than Byron Scott. Nick Young injuring his calf muscle, minutes into Wednesday’s game at Chicago, didn’t faze Walton and his group of upstarts.

Los Angeles churned out a 96-90 shocker against a surprisingly potent Bulls team, using a late 10-3 run in the fourth quarter to fuel the victory. The Lakers 10th win in 20 games was a dose of reality: this team is more formidable than the league expected.

However, there is a factor that suggests Los Angeles’ positioning is fluid and other teams finally will make their ascension.

Team: Los Angeles Lakers (10-10) Ranking: 14th

Protections: 1-3 in 2017, unprotected in 2018

Analysis/Pick Status: There’s a cluster of teams situated under the Lakers in the “Lottery” standings. From Washington at No. 6 to Milwaukee at No. 13, plenty of playoff-worthy deemed organizations have stagnated early. Many have temporary problems, including dealing with minor injuries to players and new coaches acclimating to their roster, that will likely be cleared with time.

Walton compensates for the lack of Laker talent with adept coaching and utilization of his roster, but the talent deprivation remains. Injuries to Young and D’Angelo Russell (both out for multiple weeks) compound the disadvantage Los Angeles regularly faces. Walton’s reliance on depth, however, makes this roster dent less painful.

With a bushel of quality wins and rough losses, it’s tough to gauge the Lakers’ immediate future. Traveling to Toronto tonight and taking on the Grizzlies in Memphis tomorrow, it’s a tough weekend back-to-back before they host the gritty Utah Jazz Monday. If Walton can salvage the losses to his backcourt rotation, the Lakers could pull off some sporadic shockers.

The pick could look much more attractive one week from now, if no upsets occur.

Chance of Pick Conveying: As likely as it’s been to date. A few teams outside of Philadelphia (Dallas, Brooklyn, Minnesota, Phoenix) have a realistic chance to finish with one of the five worst records. Promising chance LA’s pick conveys at the moment.

Team: Sacramento Kings (7-11) Ranking: 10th

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: “Woodergate” prevented a Sacramento-Philadelphia matchup from occurring Wednesday night. A 28-minute Joel Embiid showcase against DeMarcus Cousins would’ve been ideal, but it’s delayed gratification if the ROY favorite gets an extension to his minutes restriction later in the season against the Kings.

With the open day Wednesday and off yesterday, Sacramento continues their extended road trip in Boston tonight. Dave Joerger’s modified Grit N’ Grind style hasn’t carried over to this Kings team, letting up 105.2 PPG and relying heavily on his offensive stars.

Currently on a 15-game stretch consisting of 12 road games, Sacramento’s positioning in the late lottery could fluctuate.

Chance of Pick Conveying: Briefly, Sacramento was No. 11. Landing out of the top 10 picks at the end of the season, the Kings would convey its pick to Chicago if the lottery played out that way. Some of the aforementioned “cluster” of teams have a legitimate chance to jump over Sacramento in the standings, especially since the Kings are in a tougher part of its schedule.

It’ll be interesting to see how much of an impact Nerlens Noel will have when he returns to game action for the Sixers. Brett Brown will have another asset to utilize which could gap the three-game separation between Sacramento and Philadelphia.

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