The NBA’s draft lottery is taking place on Tuesday night, and everybody knows what’s at stake. Zion Williamson, the viral, beefy Duke forward hyped as the best prospect in nearly a decade, is a near lock to be selected first. But which team will get the opportunity to pick him? Will it be a hopeless bottom feeder? A lowly team on the rise? Will a playoff team with another franchise’s lottery pick stumble into more riches? Ringer staffers are here to make the case for which team would make the best landing spot for Zion.
New York Knicks (14 percent odds of getting no. 1 pick)
Dan Devine: Zion Williamson is a mind-bending, beyond-belief sensation who inflames viewers’ passions and makes you think miracles are possible. Well, nobody in the NBA needs a miracle more than the Knicks. The past two decades of Knicks basketball have been marred by a dizzying array of fuckups and dysfunction, on and off the court, but the thing that has hurt fans most in that span is the gnawing absence of a true homegrown star. Williamson, on Day 1, would be the most beloved Knick of the past 20 years, a hero the likes of which the franchise hasn’t seen since Patrick Ewing.
The on-court fit might not be as immediately clean as it would be in some other locations, but Zion could still jell easily. Williamson could get the chance to be the top offensive initiator on a team he’d unlock with his open-court electricity and shot-creating skills; New York would need more shooters (who doesn’t?) but could become must-see TV in transition. And if free agency breaks the way the Knicks seem to believe it will, the not-yet-19-year-old could slide into a more complementary role, rampaging against opponents forced to stretch out to guard newly added lethal shooters. Defensively, he’d pair with shot-blocking second-round steal Mitchell Robinson to give the Knicks one of the most athletic, dynamic, space-eating young frontcourts in the league, perhaps providing the basis (maybe, he said hopefully, along with the still-octopus-armed Frank Ntilikina) for the first legitimately good Knicks defense since Tyson Chandler’s Defensive Player of the Year season.
While landing in the nation’s largest media market surely wouldn’t hurt his marketing potential, a figure as magnetic and engaging as Williamson doesn’t need Madison Avenue to burnish his brand. What he could use, though, is a stage befitting the larger-than-life character he cuts. I can’t argue that James L. Dolan’s franchise deserves the most invigorating prospect since Anthony Davis, or perhaps LeBron James. But I do think that if Zion lands in Madison Square Garden, the resultant roar might just be cacophonous and joyous enough to drown out all the noise that has enveloped the Knicks over the past two decades. The challenge of restoring the pride of a once-proud franchise has broken plenty of would-be saviors before; it might be too much to expect a teenage phenom to succeed where they failed. Maybe, though, it’s exactly what ought to come next for a young man whose life in basketball has been nothing but the stuff of legend. Maybe miracles really are possible, and it’s finally the Knicks’ turn to get one.
Los Angeles Lakers (2 percent)
Justin Verrier: You know when you miss a shot so badly that you try to get ahead of the shame by yelling out that it was a pass all along? That’s the foundation of this latest era of Lakers basketball. They sank to the dregs of the West in Kobe’s twilight and pretended it was a rebuild all along. They botched the development of their high draft picks—trading one elite point guard prospect just to select another in the process—and still signed LeBron. When bullying the Pelicans didn’t work, Jeanie Buss decried stories of her organization’s failures as “fake news.” The Lakers, more than ever before, look like the NBA’s empty suit.
It would only be fitting, then, if their recent front-office malfeasance led to falling ass-backward into the best prospect in almost a decade. And as frustrating as it would be to see dysfunction get rewarded yet again, adding Zion to the Lakers’ roster is one of the most tantalizing possibilities on the board, because what is Williamson if not LeBron in a mech suit? Zion and Lonzo Ball and Brandon Ingram and Kyle Kuzma in transition would be exhilarating, if James will allow for it. Elite-level free agents would Distracted Boyfriend Meme the Clippers for the Lakers, and all of a sudden, James’s title window would not only reopen, he would be surrounded by the best team he’s ever had. Maybe money can buy happiness.
Atlanta Hawks (10.5 percent)
Kevin O’Connor: Williamson will succeed no matter which team he lands with. What heights any player reaches, however, depends on his situation. It’s true for the great ones, and especially the potentially great ones like Williamson, who would fall into an ideal situation with the Atlanta Hawks. Williamson will shine brightest next to a playmaker like Trae Young. With Zion’s gravity-defying leaping and Young’s majestic passing serving as the foundation for coach Lloyd Pierce’s up-tempo offense, the duo would form an electrifying pick-and-roll tandem that’d resemble guard-big tandems like Steve Nash and Amar’e Stoudemire or Chris Paul and Blake Griffin. Those Suns and Clippers cores never won a championship, but Nash and Paul weren’t acquired until far later in their careers. The Hawks could instead build organically with a young core. Williamson’s own playmaking skill and his defensive versatility would enhance his teammates, too: He could generate buckets for a shooter like Kevin Huerter, or run the floor with another explosive big like John Collins.
The Hawks front office is also armed with assets and cap flexibility over the next four summers. What they do with that money remains to be seen, but they’ll have the ability to sign players who can accelerate or complete the rebuild. In a weaker Eastern Conference, it might not be long until the Hawks are back in the playoffs. And if they make smart decisions along the way, this promising, young core could soon be older, entering their primes and ready for contention.
Dallas Mavericks (6 percent, via Atlanta)
Jonathan Tjarks: Luka Doncic and Zion Williamson would fit so well together that it’s almost criminal. A pick-and-roll between those two would be unguardable. Luka can pull up from anywhere, Zion is one of the best playmaking bigs we have seen in a long time, and both could be devastating against switches. You could even flip the play and have Luka setting screens for Zion. And then you would also have Kristaps Porzingis, if he’s not in some beef with the Russian mob, dragging the opposing big man out of the paint on the opposite side of the floor. This would be a really special combination of players. We are talking about the best collection of young talent in the NBA since Oklahoma City in 2010. Luka and Zion would be like Steph Curry and Draymond Green if Steph were five inches taller and Draymond had a 45-inch vertical. Or if Bird and Magic were on the same team. Am I being too hyperbolic? Probably. But I just get excited thinking about the possibility. Here’s my only concern: Luka could introduce Zion to European clubbing and partying on yachts on the Mediterranean, and Zion could introduce Luka to down south cooking. They are both carrying a lot of weight on their bodies already, so they have to be careful. We don’t need them looking like they could play on the Cowboys defensive line.
Phoenix Suns (14 percent)
Haley O’Shaughnessy: I wouldn’t wish a bad owner on anyone. But what’s been so infuriating about the Suns is how close they could be right now to being decent, had another coach been hired a couple of coaches ago, had a couple of trades happened, had a couple of trades not happened, had anything other than what’s been done since Devin Booker was drafted been done. Now Phoenix has Booker and Deandre Ayton and new coach Monty Williams, and the timing is perfect for Zion to swoop in to save a once-great franchise. The Suns need a point guard, sure, but Booker played the part last season. Besides, Zion is good enough to transcend positional needs, and Phoenix [checks 2018 draft] seems fine with passing on point guards.
Philadelphia 76ers (1 percent, via Sacramento)
Michael Baumann: First of all, this would be hilarious, a literal 100-to-1 shot panning out and scuttling the deus ex machina plans of the serial incompetents in New York, Cleveland, and Phoenix. We’d have another chance to relitigate the Process, as this pick was part of Sam Hinkie’s greatest draft heist and the bizarre historical misfire that was the Markelle Fultz trade. After years of turning middling veterans into valuable theoretical assets and turning those theoretical assets back into middling veterans, the Celtics would end up with a pick in the 20s, rather than the low teens. The Kings, a year after passing on Luka Doncic, would watch another generationally fascinating prospect slip through their fingers because they needed to create the cap space to sign Rajon Rondo four years ago. And the Sixers would get another young star to fill out the rotation with Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons, but said star would be an even more awkward on-court fit with Embiid and Simmons than Simmons and Embiid are with each other. The wheel in the sky keeps on turnin’.
Chicago Bulls (12.5 percent)
Paolo Uggetti: I’m here for the positional chaos, for Chicago having its own version of Ben Simmons but bigger, and having to figure out how to play him alongside Lauri Markkanen and Wendell Carter Jr. while still not having a reliable point guard. I’m here for the Jim Boylen–Zion relationship, the stories they will tell us about how they’re just two guys who want to compete and that Boylen is watching Rick and Morty and listening to Drake to relate to him. I’m here for Zion, all 285 pounds of the greatest prospect we’ve seen enter the NBA since Anthony Davis or LeBron, adorned in Bulls red, ready to dunk on the league for the team that had the best player of all time. There are better basketball fits, including far better ones like Atlanta or Dallas (the latter of which is my personal best-case scenario), but tell me you wouldn’t want to watch Zion play for a historic franchise like the Bulls—and deal with everything that could come with it, only to transcend it—and I would tell you that you’re lying to yourself.
Cleveland Cavaliers (14 percent)
Daniel Chin: After trading Kyrie Irving and losing LeBron James, the Cavaliers are in need of a savior just as much as anyone. The team followed up its fourth straight Finals appearance last season by going 19-63 this season, tied for the fourth-worst record in franchise history. Since Cleveland will be far from the most desirable destination in free agency come July 1, the best that Cavs fans can hope for is a little bit of luck at the lottery to jump-start their rebuild under the leadership of new head coach John Beilein. Collin Sexton had a strong finish to his rookie season after a shaky start, and together he and Zion could usher in a new era for Cleveland in a post-LeBron world.
And rather than developing in the shadows of possibly two max-contract stars on the Knicks (as well as JD & the Straight Shot frontman James Dolan), or under the goat-shit front office of the Suns, or in Jim Boylen’s Bootcamp on the Bulls, the Cavs’ relatively blank slate might actually be the ideal fit for Zion out of the teams with the best lottery odds.
I gotta say, though, as both a Knicks and a Giants fan, I’d rather Zion go pretty much anywhere else right now. Cleveland, you already have Odell, please don’t leave us in the hands of the wrong guy from Duke.
Washington Wizards (9 percent)
Katie Baker: The Washington Wizards have a 9 percent chance of winning the Zion sweepstakes, which is actually relatively decent odds when you consider that, under the new lottery configuration, the league’s three worst finishers have only a 14 percent shot at glory themselves. With the Wizards, Williamson would be joining a franchise that until the past couple of seasons had started to emerge as a perennial playoff contender, albeit in an extremely frustrating manner. When (if?) John Wall is healthy, Washington already theoretically has a talented backcourt featuring him and the team’s more consistent star, Bradley Beal. Williamson, then, would give the team a boost where it has always needed it most: down low, under the basket. The Wizards imploded last season, losing Wall to a freak Achilles injury and firing longtime embattled GM Ernie Grunfeld. But if Washington were to strike gold at the lottery, the team could still make for an exciting and even seamless situation for basketball’s most absolute unit. Or they could go wild and trade everyone except him and start over. Your call, Ted!