Fourteen teams had the opportunity to have their franchise altered for the better and land the NBA’s most coveted prospect since LeBron James in Duke phenom Zion Williamson on Tuesday. And by the time the ping pong balls fell, it was, improbably, the New Orleans Pelicans who were awarded the league’s top draft prize — despite just a six per cent chance.
But the surprises weren’t limited to just the No. 1 pick, and the high-stakes draft lottery certainly delivered drama. Here’s a look at winners and losers from last night:
Winner: Pelicans fans
To call New Orleans hoop fans winners is an understatement. The fan base was put through an industrial-strength shredder last season when their homegrown superstar demanded out.
Whether Anthony Davis remains in their future or not, Pelicans fans were rewarded for having their franchise turned upside down on the whim of an entitled star, and will now get to cheer on one of the most likeable players on the planet and a walking highlight reel who will help bring wins, positive attention and legitimacy to the organization.
Loser: Anthony Davis
Tuesday night added a wild new chapter to the Davis-Pelicans saga, but Davis gets the “loser” tag for the simple fact that even after the team he still technically plays for landed a player that everybody should want to star alongside in Zion, Davis still reportedly wants out of New Orleans.
Winner: New York Knicks
Yes, the Knicks are technically losers seeing as they finished with the NBA’s worst record and went into the lottery tied with the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Phoenix Suns for the best chance to win the lottery land the No. 1 pick.
While both the Cavs and Suns fell out of the top three entirely, the Knicks wound up with the third overall pick in a draft with three high-end prospects followed by several less-than-sure things.
So they missed out on Zion, who would have been a smashing success in the bright lights of New York City. But with the third pick, they’ll be in a position to draft a promising rookie (likely either thrilling point guard Ja Morant or Canadian sensation R.J. Barrett), and still have the cap space and allure to draw marquee free agents such as oh, I don’t know, Kevin Durant. All in all, by staying in the top three, the Knicks ensured they’ll still have a chance for a very productive off-season.
Loser: Atlanta Hawks
Sure, the Hawks have two top-ten picks (8th and 10th overall), with the latter coming as a result of the 2018 draft night trade that sent Luka Doncic to the Dallas Mavericks, opening the door for Atlanta to select Trae Young.
Both players were impressive for their respective teams last season, posting among the most promising rookie seasons in recent memory. But part of the justification in dealing a player who was clearly destined for superstardom in Doncic was that it would yield the Hawks another top pick, given how Dallas appeared to be destined for another lottery-bound season.
Instead, they get the 10th pick, which amounts to a roll of the dice. Young is good and may be great. But Doncic is a generational talent and history won’t look back on trading him for Young as well as what now turns out to be the 10th pick all that fondly.
Loser: Washington Wizards
John Wall may not even play next season after undergoing knee surgery earlier this year and then tearing his Achilles in a freak accident at his home. Wall has a four-year, $169 million contract extension set to kick in next season. In 2022-23, Wall, at age 32 and with a lengthy history of serious injuries — the kind that would hamper a guard whose greatest strength is his blazing speed and powerful athleticism — will make $46.8 million.
It’s the kind of submarining contract that will likely set the Wizards back, and, despite having Bradley Beal (both a great player and trade chip), they’re a franchise with a bleak future. But, of course, the draft lottery can fix a broken team in a hurry. Unfortunately for Washington, it actually fell back three spots in the draft and will now select a ho-hum 9th. It’s looking as though it will be a long few years ahead but, hey, there’s always next year’s lottery!
Winner: LeBron and the Lakers
How does the Los Angeles Lakers’ incompetence and soap opera-esque season get rewarded? By getting extremely lucky on draft night, of course. Although they fell short of the top spot, the Lakers improbably climbed from 11th to 4th on lottery night, providing a lifeline to LeBron’s team this summer as they look to regroup and build a winner around their superstar.
Forget this year’s rookie class, with the fourth pick the Lakers have obtained, again, through nothing but sheer dumb luck — arguably their most valuable trade chip as they look to seek out impact players on the trade market. Beal, for example, is a player who could be had for a package centred around that pick and one or two of the Lakers’ young guns. No matter what happens, let’s see if the Lakers manage to screw this up this seemingly no-lose situation, too.
Winner: Zion Williamson
I thought about dropping the “loser” tag on Zion, if only because his larger-than-life game and personality felt tailor-made for a big market like New York or Chicago, which would help establish him as one of the NBA’s biggest and brightest stars.
He won’t get that same attention in New Orleans — just ask Anthony Davis — but the more I think about it, the more the Pelicans are a great landing spot for Williamson. Jrue Holiday is a nice complementary piece as GM David Griffin will look to build a roster around their new face of the franchise. And should Davis elect to stay, then that’s suddenly not only one of the more exciting teams to watch, but the most electrifying frontcourt duo imaginable — and a damn good team to boot.
If Davis leaves as is expected? Then Zion has a chance to be a hero in New Orleans, tapped as the young man poised to breathe new life into an organization and fanbase in need of a bonafide saviour. What’s more, he’ll have an opportunity to do what Davis never could: turn the Pelicans into a contender. That would make for a fine story, wouldn’t it?