Four numbered ping pong balls will be selected at random providing a distinct four-number combination that in turn belongs to one of the 14 NBA teams that failed to make the playoffs. That team is deemed to have won the first pick at the upcoming 2019 NBA draft, and in that same instant, its franchise will be instantly revitalised and revalued.
For that team will become the likely home of 18-year old Duke phenomenon Zion Williamson, whose highlight reels from his one and done collegiate season will surely have crossed your timeline. While Ja Morant (the somewhat consensus number 2 pick at the time of going to press) is undoubtedly a talent, the perceived drop off from Zion’s NBA-ready skill and athleticism to Morant and other potential lottery picks is stark.
In recent memory there have only been four similar ‘absolutely certain’ number 1 selections, where the college (or high school in Lebron’s case) prospect has been so universally highly regarded that there was no debate who was going to be chosen first as soon as the lottery winner was announced:
- 1992 Shaq
- 1997 Duncan
- 2003 Lebron
- 2012 Davis
And now Zion. It is impossible to predict quite how successful his NBA career will be but it is already clear he possesses the physical and mental gifts to succeed at the highest level and improve his new team almost immediately. The instant media focus and revenue from ticket sales and merchandising cannot be overlooked either in terms of benefiting a franchise.
So in advance of the lottery let’s take a quick look at all of the lottery teams with a chance, no matter how small, at landing Zion and how he might fit there, ranked in order of percentage chance of success.
New York Knicks (14.0%)
It is difficult to foresee how they will line up next season with some young but raw talent and persistent rumours of a big free agent (Kevin Durant) or agents (and Kyrie Irving?) that will not seem to go away. If either (or both) of these were to arrive it might allow him to develop without being the focal point of the team, but the media glare of New York is tough to ignore. The salary cap space the team possesses, even without landing a marquee free agent, means that they could potentially build around Zion well. However, this is the Knicks, and management decisions have not been their forte over the past couple of decades.
Cleveland Cavaliers (14.0%)
Almost undeserving of a fifth number 1 pick in the last 16 years, it is tough to root for them to receive another generational talent, especially on a team somewhat bereft of quality players currently. However, they do have a developing young point guard in Colin Sexton.
Phoenix Suns (14.0%)
An exciting young mix with Deandre Ayton and Devin Booker, and a team that would instantly have much higher expectations that currently. Similar to the Knicks, it is difficult to trust their management to ensure the correct complementary pieces are put in place, akin to New Orleans and Anthony Davis in recent years, but with three stars of the future, the potential would be undeniable.
Chicago Bulls (12.5%)
Possibly the worst fit with no standout point guard and a glut of forwards (Zion is expected to play the 4), however, his skill set suggests his positioning could be flexible and the Bulls showed signs of promise late last season.
Atlanta Hawks (10.5%)
A team on the rise with Trae Young and their young talent, a few analysts suggest they are a piece or two away from a return to winning ways. Zion would make a huge difference and fit in with their up-tempo athletic style.
Washington Wizards (9.0%)
Another interesting choice now with a new GM and playing alongside Bradley Beal. Expectations would be low for the team, as with Atlanta above, and, therefore, Zion would be given time to develop. John Wall’s contract will prevent them from making considerable roster moves over the next couple of years, but medium-term they could still be a good fit.
New Orleans Pelicans (6.0%)
This really comes down to whether Anthony Davis stays in New Orleans, and considering how the Pelicans struggled to find help him help, this does not immediately appear a good home for Zion. If Davis remains and the new GM is able to make some intelligent moves then it could be an intriguing destination and provide the interest the team sorely needs.
Memphis Grizzlies (6.0%)
The Grizzlies owe their pick to the Celtics if it falls outside the top eight, but we are concerned here with the number 1 pick only. Zion would be the star they need to engage the fan base but the team is currently bereft of talent so it is difficult to get excited about Memphis being his new home.
Dallas Mavericks (6.0%)
The Mavericks owe their pick to the Hawks if it falls outside the top five but again we are concerned here with the number 1 pick only. An intriguing and almost unfair prospect of the creativity of Luka Dončić, the length of Kristaps Porzingis and the athleticism of Zion would raise considerable interest in a team that has been relatively unsuccessful recently and has not looked like making the playoffs but all that could change quickly if they land the top pick. A three-headed monster of elite talent similar to Phoenix’s potential above.
Minnesota Timberwolves (3.0%)
Zion could link up well with Karl Anthony-Towns but would they play a similar role? It is difficult to get too excited about their prospects and potential but Minnesota showed signs of progress in the latter part of the season after the Butler trade.
Los Angeles Lakers (2.0%)
One that would send NBA Twitter and conspiracy theorists running to their nearest phone or laptop, but this is oddly a bad fit with a finally declining LeBron James and a mix of young players that have not yet developed as originally expected. Chemistry problems and a bad front office means Zion may be better placed elsewhere.
Sacramento Kings/Philadelphia 76ers (1.00%)
The Kings owe their pick to the Boston Celtics unprotected, but the 76ers will get the selection if this becomes the number 1 pick so again that is what we are concerned with here. With the recent flame out of the NBA Playoffs, Zion would allow Philly to make the moves they need to make in terms of restructuring a roster that is top heavy. On a contender, Zion would have an immediate impact but it also add to the pressure to succeed.
Miami Heat (1.0%)
Slim chances but a good home for Zion in that Miami has cultivated young talent over the years and have a solid leadership and managerial structure already in place. With Dwyane Wade’s retirement it would be a great time to land the next South Beach star.
It is hard to get excited about the Hornets with Kemba Walker either going to be signed to a large contract potentially making further signings difficult or alternatively him leaving, in turn meaning one of their best players off the roster. However, Zion is familiar with North Carolina having played not far from Charlotte and the support would instantly be there for him. Being somewhat away from the media focus in such a small city might enable him to thrive.
Zion Williamson Feature photo – AP / Patrick Semansky / Getty Images / Double Clutch illustration – Matthew Wellington