2019 NBA Draft lottery primer: Who, what, where, when and Zion

NBA-Duke-Williamson-dribbles-against-Florida

Duke forward Zion Williamson (1) dribbles the ball against Central Florida. (Sean Rayford/AP)

The 2019 NBA Draft lottery is one of the most anticipated in years, and with a top-heavy group of prospects headlined by a generational talent poised to become one of the faces of the league, it’s no wonder why.

Here’s what you need to know ahead of tonight’s lottery:

The essentials:

Who: Top NBA prospects such as projected No. 1 pick Zion Williamson, R.J. Barrett, Ja Morant and others, along with team reps from the 14 teams, including last year’s top selection DeAndre Ayton (Suns), Patrick Ewing (Knicks), Kyle Kuzma (Lakers), Horace Grant (Bulls), Jami Gertz (Hawks) and Alonzo Mourning (Heat).

What: …The NBA Draft lottery

Where: Chicago

When: Tuesday night, 8:30 pm ET

Why: To determine the order for the 2019 draft, and see which team lands a franchise-changer like Zion.

The Zion Williamson era begins

In five words, the reason to tune in. With the draft rights to Williamson up for grabs, the lottery will provide a live look at a handful of NBA franchises completely at the mercy of ping pong balls and a plastic tumbler. After all, teams tank for a chance to land this type of player (and in the cases of many of this year’s hopefuls, did so unabashedly).

Williamson enters the draft as the most coveted prospect since LeBron James, and that’s not an exaggeration. His lone collegiate season provided a jaw-dropping highlight reel that shows a physical freak who should be able to translate his one-of-a-kind skillset and surprisingly versatile game to the NBA.

It’s not recency bias, or a case of a runaway hype train. As an NBA prospect and projected first-overall pick, he’s absolutely the real deal. And after tonight, we’ll know which team he’ll begin his career with.

The Canadian kid

Canadian basketball fans have been looking forward to taking one step closer to the 2019 draft, which also stars Barrett, Canada’s most promising draft prospect since Andrew Wiggins.

After impressive high school and international performances, the Mississauga, Ont., native was projected as the No. 1 pick heading into the 2018-19 college season, and it took a phenom like his Duke teammate Williamson to supplant him. Barrett remains a high-end prospect, a potential go-to scorer, who did little to dissuade scouts last season:

The favourites

Three teams are tied for the best odds to land the No. 1 pick. The New York Knicks, Cleveland Cavaliers and Phoenix Suns each have a 14 per cent chance of landing the first selection.

With new rules in effect, the NBA has granted equal odds to the bottom-three teams. Last season, the Suns landed the No.1 pick and had the best odds at 25 per cent, compared to second-best Memphis at 19 per cent.

Phoenix drafted Ayton, and if they get lucky again will have to debate whether or not to go with another big man in Zion, or pass on a generational talent to draft for a position of need, such as a point guard.

The Knicks are simply in need of talent, especially after trading Kristaps Porzingis to the Dallas Mavericks last season, and will be active in the free-agent market in hopes of adding a superstar. If they get lucky Tuesday and were to add a top-three pick, in addition of a star free agent or two, New York can turn its franchise around in a hurry.

As for Cleveland, wouldn’t it be something if they landed Zion a season after losing LeBron, just like Kyrie Irving in 2011?

What team has the most at stake?

The Washington Wizards need a miracle. With John Wall’s season-long injury and terrible contract at the forefront, Washington’s prospects are bleak. They have an all-star in Bradley Beal, who is also a high-end tradable asset, and little else. But they do have a nine per cent chance of landing the top pick, which right now looks to be among their only chances of avoiding a catastrophic stretch of seasons ahead.

Also keep an eye on Dallas and the Memphis Grizzlies, whose picks will be transferred to the Atlanta Hawks and Boston Celtics, respectively, should they get lucky.

Is this a deep draft?

No, and that’s why Tuesday’s lottery outcome is so important. Beyond Williamson, Barrett and electrifying point-guard prospect Morant, the 2019 draft class lacks marquee talent. Collectively, the group may yield valuable starters and role players, but the consensus from most scouts is that there’s a fairly significant dropoff after the first three or four picks.

What would be the wildest outcome?

The Los Angeles Lakers have a two per cent chance at the No.1 seleection, and while a franchise that dysfunctional doesn’t deserve to be rewarded after seasons worth of incompetence… LeBron, Zion and free agent x? It’s the NBA, so you can’t rule anything out.

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