Finishing with one of the worst records in the NBA for a few years does not automatically equate to future success in the years to come because of the high draft pick teams receive for all those losses in a season.
This can be for a myriad of reasons, but most of it, if we’re being honest, has to do with luck.
The Philadelphia 76ers lost 253 games over the course of the last four seasons and their reward for that was Joel Embiid, Jahlil Okafor, Ben Simmons and Markelle Fultz.
The Phoenix Suns have lost 160 games over the course of the last three seasons and their reward for that was Devin Booker, Dragan Bender and Josh Jackson.
Young players develop at different rates, but what’s clear in the last day of 2017 is the Sixers have at least two franchise players, with the potential for a third.
Embiid is one of the top-25 players in the league, a dominant two-way interior presence who is rapidly progressing at a rate rarely seen.
With the caveat he missed his real rookie season due to injury, Simmons is having one of the best rookie seasons of the past two decades and is doing so while not having much of a functioning jumper.
The Sixers did the losing in the most aggressive way, one of the worst four-year stretches in the history of the league, but even with that, the Suns haven’t been doing things much differently. They’ve been losing. A lot.
For that, they’ve got Booker, who is at least one of the 3-5 best players in his draft class, but that came in a season when they won 39 games, a total Philadelphia hasn’t hit in seven seasons.
The real benefits from that losing to this point were supposed to be the No. 4 overall selections in back-to-back years Bender and Jackson. Instead, they are working through the kinks of being a young player and an overall positive on either end instead of leading a team on a playoff push.
Now, this is not to say it all comes down to how those players grow. We haven’t mentioned Okafor, a bust at No. 3 overall, and Fultz, who already has a backlog of question marks halfway through his rookie season.
There’s also the flipside in that, with the Sixers getting one of the best perimeter defenders in the league and a great shooter in Robert Covington, who possesses the two skills that best compliment a formula for winning that’s highly reliant on inexperienced NBA players.
What you get for losing, though, is those high draft picks, and the Sixers are full speed ahead towards a ceiling outcome of a decade of winning basketball and contending while the Suns are just hoping this results in at least some playoff basketball in the next couple of years.
Once again, however, it comes back to luck. Embiid is still not playing a full NBA schedule yet to remain fully healthy while Simmons’ jumper is a noteworthy concern in his future outlook and Fultz’s worrisome shoulder injury keeps the Sixers from feeling as confident as can be about 2018 and beyond.
But, they got those players, and while the Suns have one in Booker, they don’t have much else.
Maybe that luck will come in the form of their first NBA Lottery win or a surprising leap from Bender, Jackson or Marquese Chriss.
Maybe it won’t, and that’s why the NBA is so brutal and punishing for those trying to rebuild like the Suns, as the playoff drought continues to grow.
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