The 2019 NBA Draft Lottery marks the dawn of a new era in many ways. NBA teams have been tanking for Zion Williamson, arguably the most hyped prospect in the league’s history. However, to combat this annual race for the bottom, the NBA has changed the lottery odds. Previously, teams with the worst three records had a 14% chance of gaining the first pick. Now, those same teams have a 25%, 19.9%, and 15.6% chance, respectively, to land the top pick. The basketball world was excited to see exactly how this new system would play out. The outcome of a few ping pong balls can have lasting implications on the NBA. Every draft has its winners and losers; we’re going to look at those players and individuals.
Winner: New Orleans Pelicans
It is difficult for a team to win the first overall pick and be considered a loser. However, this win is more significant for the Pelicans than it would have been any other year. With all the chaos that went on within the organization regarding Anthony Davis’ trade request and the subsequent fallout, securing the first pick was imperative, especially with their relatively low odds at just 6%. With a disgruntled star in Davis, the only perceived way the Pelicans would have landed the first pick was through a trade involving the superstar. Now, the Pelicans are in control of their destiny, still possessing their superstar and the ability to draft a possible generational talent in Williamson. Things are looking good in the Big Easy.
Loser: Tanking Teams
Say what you will about Adam Silver, but the NBA’s Commissioner has been proactive in handling issues around the league. One of the largest problems he targeted has been tanking and it is safe to say that this issue has been all but cured. Of the top three candidates in the race for Zion – The New York Knicks, Phoenix Suns, and Cleveland Cavaliers – only one actually finished with a top three pick, with the Suns falling outside the top five entirely. With this updated system, there is no guarantee that intentionally losing games during the regular season will pay off during the draft lottery, which means….teams will actually have to…compete?
Winner: Memphis Grizzlies & Ja Morant
The Grizzlies have had an unfortunate past couple of seasons. Gone is the “grit and grind” era as they have begun their rebuilding phase. However, the future of the team looked bright when they selected Jaren Jackson Jr. last year with the fourth overall pick; He has the unique ability to be a dominant defender while spacing the floor. Now, the team has the ability to select college phenom Ja Morant, who will certainly bring more excitement to Tennessee. With Mike Conley still on the team, Morant will learn how to be a successful floor general in the league from a true veteran. When the time is right, the Grizzlies will be led by Morant and Jackson Jr. Memphis just might be one of the more exciting teams to watch this upcoming season.
Loser: New York Knicks
Technically, I already covered this in the section on tanking, but I felt the need to reiterate this. For the past month, it has been a foregone conclusion that Zion Williamson will be a Knick. Discussions about New York’s free agency hinged on pairing Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving alongside Zion. Knicks fans across the globe prayed for the ping pong balls to deliver them their savior. However, fans should have been very worried when both the Suns and Cavaliers slipped out of the top four. Tensions eased when the Lakers got the fourth pick, but fans were completely and utterly devastated falling two picks short of glory. Sure, there is still solid talent with the likes of RJ Barrett and others available at that point, but that’s no Zion.
Winner: Los Angeles Lakers
The best explanation I have found for the Lakers magically receiving the fourth overall pick is “lottery mechanics”. Regardless, the Lakers jumped seven spots from their original projection. With this massive leap, the team has several options. They can use the pick to select a scoring guard like Jarrett Culver or an athletic big like Brandon Clarke. The team could also forgo that and use that fourth pick in a trade package for Anthony Davis; the Pelicans have already expressed interest in receiving that pick from the Lakers. Acquiring Davis would be huge for LeBron and the rest of the purple & gold.
Loser: Zion Williamson
With a talent like Zion Williamson, you can essentially place that individual anywhere and they will dominate. However, New Orleans is the lone team I did not want to see Zion go to (Bleacher Report agrees with me). The fit in NOLA is questionable with or without Davis. Beyond basketball, playing in NOLA would truly hurt Zion’s personal brand. Yes, he’s still going to be a star, but as great of a New Orleans is, it is a small market that lacks the appeal many other teams boast. We already know the media was all for Zion heading to New York. He could’ve been the second coming of Dominique Wilkins had the Hawks gotten the #1 pick. He even might have been deemed the next LeBron James had the Cavaliers been granted the first overall pick. To be blunt, there are so many better places that Zion could have landed.