2020 NBA draft: Will Sixers have 1st-round pick this year? That's not the simplest question

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The question of whether or not the Sixers will have a first-round pick in the 2020 NBA draft looks like it may rest largely on how the Oklahoma City Thunder perform in eight regular-season games at Walt Disney World.

It is one of many bizarre realities for the Sixers this season, and certainly not an inconsequential one. And it all stems from the conclusion to a deeply baffling saga.

With minutes to spare before the trade deadline last February, the Sixers dealt Markelle Fultz to the Magic in exchange for Jonathon Simmons, a 2019 second-round pick and Oklahoma City’s top-20 protected first-round pick in 2020. When the Thunder traded away Paul George and Russell Westbrook in July, the odds of that pick conveying were not high.

But, thanks to Chris Paul, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Sixth Man of the Year contender Dennis Schröder and a knack for winning close games, Oklahoma City has a better record than the Sixers. Its first-round pick would indeed convey if the regular season was over, and it would currently be No. 22.

That’s key, in part because the Sixers shipped off their own first-rounder as part of the Tobias Harris trade. (It’s lottery-protected, but the Sixers are clearly going to be in the playoffs.) The team could use young, cheap talent. Regardless of how the NBA configures the salary cap, the Sixers will have limited flexibility, given the money they’ve committed to Harris, Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons and Al Horford.

Nine Sixers have guaranteed contracts for 2019-20 — Furkan Korkmaz and Norvel Pelle have contract guarantee dates that should be moved because of how far the season is being pushed back — but they’ll likely need to rely on the taxpayer mid-level exception, minimum contracts and draft picks to fill out of the remainder of the roster. 

If the pick does not convey, however, one solace would be that the Sixers have four second-round selections in this draft, including Nos. 34 and 36. They will have opportunities to find NBA rotation players, and it seems obvious they should prioritize shooting and shot creation after 65 games in which those skills were lacking. Despite Korkmaz’s emergence this season and Shake Milton’s excellent stretch before the hiatus, the Sixers are 19th in made three-pointers per game and 14th in three-point percentage. 

Of course, it’s not ludicrous to think a player worthy of consideration with an early 20s pick could drop to early in the second round, mitigating the disappointment of having to sit out the first. As an example, the Sixers own the 34th pick this year because center Bruno Fernando, widely projected as a first-round selection, dropped in the draft last year. Atlanta gave up three second-round picks to secure him. 

The clump of teams with records close to the Thunder's includes the Mavs, Pacers, Rockets, Heat and, yes, the Sixers. Oklahoma City, which is tied with Houston for the league’s ninth-best record and needs to finish within the top 11 for the pick to convey, would begin its final eight regular-season games 1.5 games ahead of the Sixers, Indiana and Dallas. 

Yahoo Sports' Vince Goodwill reported that, under the NBA's owners-approved plan, teams would resume with the games on their original schedule. If they're set to play a team not included in the 22-team plan, they'd move on to the next scheduled matchup against one of the teams involved. Though the schedule has not yet been released, here's who Oklahoma City could play, using that criteria:

Jazz 
Wizards 
Grizzlies  
Nuggets 
Heat 
Nuggets 
Suns 
Clippers 

That schedule has the Thunder facing the No. 2, 3 and 4 seeds in the Western Conference, but it also features two games against teams not currently in playoff position, the Wizards and Suns. 

The title won't be stake with the Thunder's conclusion to the regular season, but it appears the fate of the Fultz trade and the opportunity for the Sixers to grab a valuable player will be — in front of no fans, at Mickey Mouse’s home. 

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