In October of 2018, everyone and their mother was buying lotto tickets to enter into the 6/58 Ultra Lotto. It didn’t really matter where people stood on the socio-economic ladder; Everyone headed to their local 7-Eleven and shelled out P24 with the hope that a tiny paper would be a ticket to a new and improved life.
Why was literally the entire country abuzz over a lotto where the chances of winning were 1 in almost 41 million? Because PCSO’s jackpot was at a Philippine-record P1.18 Billion. That’s a prize that comes once-in-a-lifetime.
And so does a player like Zion Williamson.
Yesterday, 14 teams entered the Hilton Hotel in Chicago for the NBA Draft Lottery, each with some percentage chance between 1% to 14% to earn the first pick in the 2019 NBA Draft and the right to draft Zion. None of them entered with particularly favorable odds, yet each in every one hoped.
They all hoped that this would be the launching pad that their franchise needed. That on Mount Zion’s massive rock formation-esque shoulders, they would mount the foundations of their franchise’s next seven years. Zion is, without a doubt, the best AND most hyped prospect since a certain King came out of Akron, Ohio in 2003.
When it was all said and done, the New Orleans Pelicans, with only a 6% chance to win the Draft Lottery, walked away the night’s jackpot winner.
But unlike the 6/58 Ultra Lotto where the winner/s and losers are clear cut, the Draft Lottery is not a zero-sum game. And in a year where this draft may just determine the destinations of several key free agents and superstar assets, the stakes were so much higher.
Also unlike the 6/58 lottery, winners (and losers) can actually be revealed. Let me do that for you.
WINNER: New Orleans Pelicans
The Pelicans were, quite literally, the winner of the night. Absolutely everyone (except maybe R.J. Barrett) knows that Zion will be drafted first overall on June 20th. And as I mentioned earlier, Zion is a generational talent that has the talent to turn any franchise upside down.
New Orleans was arguably the most deserving team of all to be gifted Zion, considering the shroud of drama that engulfed the team all season. Anthony Davis asked for a trade a week before the trade deadline, was benched in the few games heading into the deadline, and was presumed to have been traded. The deadline passed, Davis was still a Pelican, everything burst into flames, and Davis ended the season by wearing a Looney Tunes-inspired shirt saying, “That’s All, Folks!”
By getting Zion, the Pelicans now have the leverage against all the teams that want a shot at a rent-to-own with Anthony Davis next season. Zion was the best asset that could’ve been offered to them, but now, New Orleans actually has that asset. They can now milk everything else out of the desperate big market franchises.
Moreover, it’s important to note just how important this win was for the Pelicans’ survival in New Orleans. Zion is the restart button for a franchise that’s been hammered with rumors of being uplifted elsewhere due to an inability fill the Smoothie King Center (25th in attendance in 2018-2019). It might be time to forget about that issue for the next seven years, as Zion is probably already in the Top 10 most popular NBA players without even playing his first professional minute.
LOSER: New York Knicks
As I mentioned above, the Pelicans now have all the leverage in any Anthony Davis deal after securing the right to draft Zion. And for the Knicks — who have the least assets amongst all teams in the AD sweepstakes — this one really hurts.
Zion would’ve been the perfect asset to dangle in front of the Pelicans, and to entice a couple of marquee free agents all the more to head to New York. But despite riding Mario Hezonja to the worst record in the league, and having the best odds at the top pick, the Knicks had to settle in for third.
I want to say R.J. Barrett will be a nice consolation prize, but let’s be real: They could’ve had Zion. The Knicks better hope the KD rumors come to fruition, else it may be another miserable year in MSG.
WINNER: Los Angeles Lakers
The whole basketball universe, whether jokingly or not, felt that the same thing when Kyle Kuzma smiled on screen as the Lakers were passed on at 11. But conspiracy theorists were silenced when it was revealed that the Lakers received pick number…
#4 ? Beautiful.
— LeBron James (@KingJames) May 15, 2019
The number four pick is widely regarded as having a significant drop off in talent in this year’s draft, with most pundits locking up Zion, Ja Morant and Barrett as the top three prospects. However, in their chase for Anthony Davis, the fourth pick is still a significant asset upgrade over what was projected to be eleventh.
Ultimately, the weight of this Lakers ‘win’ will be determined if the Pelicans view Jarrett Culver, Darius Garland, Cam Reddish or DeAndre Hunter as enough of a game changer in the AD deal.
For now, let’s all give this one to Lakers fans. After all that’s transpired in the last six months, I think they deserve some sort of positivity.
LOSER: Picks 5 to 9 (Cleveland Cavaliers at 5, Phoenix Suns at 6, Chicago Bulls at 7, Atlanta Hawks at 8, and Washington Wizards at 9)
Lost in the shuffle of the high lottery leapers was the damage caused to the other teams originally above them in the standings. The five teams listed in the subheading above all dropped three slots down.
While the Suns and Cavaliers wouldn’t have been ideal destinations for Zion, both teams could’ve at least benefited from a top three talent after an abysmal season.
The Bulls have talent in their starting line-up sans for the PG position, and the 7th pick should still give them an opportunity at Darius Garland or Coby White. But in a roster without a real superstar, a shot at Zion, or even Ja Morant, would’ve been absolutely perfect.
The Hawks were every basketball Twitter nerd’s hopeful destination for Zion, but it was not meant to be. The dream for an accelerated growth spurt for the franchise will just have to stay a dream, lest Trae Young and John Collins turn evolve into Steph Curry and Blake Griffin by next season.
As for my Wizards, well, here:
After the first 3 of 4 lottery numbers were drawn, the Pelicans had the most winning combinations, followed by the Wizards. In the room, Washington’s Tommy Shepherd tracked numbers & knew exactly how close franchise came to winning the Zion draft. Later, he declined comment.
— Ben Golliver (@BenGolliver) May 15, 2019
We were one pingpong ball away from Zion. Not only that, but we had just a 3.8% chance (the lowest of all of these teams) to fall three spots.
Yet, here we are. The Wizards just can’t have nice things.
WINNER: Memphis Grizzlies
This was a massive win for the Memphis Grizzlies, a team that prior to that was in prime position to convey its pick to Boston, and actually wanted to.
The Grizzlies, who had the 8th best odds to win (also 6% due to a record tie with the Pelicans), were to convey their pick to Boston had it fallen past 8th. The reason they were completely fine with this is because keeping their pick this year would mean sending just a Top-6 protected first-round selection in 2020, or unprotected selection in 2021.
But of course, they’d live with a top four pick in this draft, and that’s exactly what the basketball gods granted the anti-tankers.
The Grizzlies are expected to draft Murray State standout Ja Morant with the second pick, and he’s set to be the heir apparent of Mike Conley. Morant and Jaren Jackson Jr. make a terrific one-two punch as Memphis digs out the final remains of the Grit and Grind era.
WINNER: The NBA Lottery Reform
This played out exactly how the NBA
wrote wished. The league ushered in a new lottery format this year, flattening the odds with the hope of lessening the incentive of tanking teams.
While teams like the Suns, Cavs and Knicks still blatantly trotted out incompetent rosters to lower their draft odds, they did so without fully concretizing how drastic the new odds would affect the outcome. There just wasn’t any basis to say tanking wouldn’t work.
Well, here you go, guys. Three of the top four selections were made by teams that were in the range of 7 to 11, and the other top four selection (Knicks) still fell down a couple of slots.
Now, this result may not exactly eliminate tanking. Better odds still give teams more likelihood to win, and it doesn’t take a math major to know that each lottery is independent of another.
But in a results-oriented league like the NBA, this may very well be the start. And at the very least, it makes for a whole lot of drama.
Photos from Getty Images