With Zion Williamson’s rights at stake, this year’s May 14 NBA draft lottery promises to be a spectacle.
The team that lands the No. 1 overall pick should select one of the most marketable college athletes we’ve seen in years.
Williamson’s athleticism makes him a good fit for almost any situation, although some destinations make more basketball sense than others.
That’s what this list is about — identifying most enjoyable NBA landing spot for Williamson.
5. Phoenix Suns
Phoenix took DeAndre Ayton with the No. 1 overall pick in 2018. The Suns also claim Devin Booker, who at 22 years old has averaged 25 points in two NBA seasons.
Adding Williamson could give the Suns most dynamic under-25 core in the NBA.
But the Suns’ pieces already fit together awkwardly. Phoenix whiffed on lottery picks Josh Jackson, Dragan Bender and Marquese Chriss. That leaves the Suns with little else besides Ayton’s rebounds and Booker’s hero ball.
Earlier this year, owner Robert Sarver tried to bully the city into paying for a new arena, angering an old lady. Sarver also fired the previous GM, Ryan McDonough, who made those aforementioned draft picks.
McDonough’s replacement, James Jones, has drawn criticism for his “unorthodox” views on scouting, according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski.
Phoenix doesn’t have a point guard who can get Williamson the ball in the half court. Booker led this year’s team with 6.8 assists, but he’s a natural shooting guard.
Murray State’s Ja Morant would be a good fit with this roster, so getting the No. 2 pick in the lottery could be nice for the Suns.
4. Los Angeles Lakers
The Lakers are the most unlikely Williamson landing spot on this list.
But pairing Zion with LeBron James with another big-ticket free agent could transform the Lakers into Western Conference favorites, especially if Kevin Durant leaves Golden State.
Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, Kyle Kuzma and Josh Hart would have the luxury of being role players. Add Kawhi Leonard or Kemba Walker, and a few 3-point shooters, and the Lakers could be the best team in the NBA.
If the Lakers get lucky and win the lottery, they could also consider trading the No. 1 overall pick to New Orleans for Anthony Davis. James doesn’t like waiting on rookies (see: the Andrew Wiggins/Kevin Love trade).
3. Dallas Mavericks
Dallas’ first-round pick goes to Atlanta if it isn’t top 5. And as it stands today, the Mavericks hold an 8 percent chance of landing the No. 1 overall pick.
Pairing Williamson with Doncic could give the Mavericks the best players in back-to-back drafts, which arguably hasn’t been done since the Oklahoma City Thunder drafted Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and James Harden from 2007-09.
Pairing Williamson’s athleticism with Doncic’s craftiness could yield a combination we haven’t seen since LeBron James and Dwyane Wade in their primes in Miami.
The elephant in the room is Kristaps Porzingis’ legal situation. If he’s cleared of the accusations and healthy enough to play, he could add another element of intrigue to the Mavericks next season.
2. New York Knicks
The Knicks haven’t won a title since 1973. But the NBA is healthier when the Knicks are relevant.
Madison Square Garden fans haven’t seen much excitement in recent years, but “Linsanity” and Carmelo Anthony’s last playoff run in 2012-13 were memorable.
Williamson has the potential to be the highest-flying player in the NBA. His PER this season was 42.6, easily beating High Point’s John Brown (36.9) for the best mark this decade. The second and third Power 5 players are Wake Forest’s John Collins (35.9) and Kentucky’s Anthony Davis (35.1).
What better place for the most anticipated NBA rookie in years than the country’s most electric basketball venue?
The Knicks have enough cap space for two max contracts. Rumors have linked Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving to Big Apple when they become free agents. Adding that duo to Williamson and the existing young nucleus would make New York an instant favorite in the Eastern Conference.
1. Atlanta Hawks
I was tempted to put the Knicks in the No. 1 spot, but Atlanta makes too much sense as a basketball fit.
Williamson and John Collins would be perfect for floor spacing and defense. Williamson and Trae Young in the pick-and-roll could be lethal. And the Hawks have a nice floor-spacing wing in Kevin Huerter.
Young has exploded since the All-Star Break, averaging 25 points and 9 assists. His vision, range and playmaking ability is ideal for Williamson’s game. Think of the Lob City-era Clippers, but somehow with more athleticism than Chris Paul and Blake Griffin.
In addition to the core of Young, Collins and Huerter, Atlanta could inherit a second top-10 pick this draft (via Dallas). The Hawks also have Cleveland’s 2020 first round pick (top-10 protected), Oklahoma City’s 2022 first-round pick (lottery protected) and numerous future second-round picks.
Atlanta is big enough to become a free agent destination. The Hawks have $57 million committed for next season, and only $15.4 million for 2020-21. General manager Travis Schlenk already has a lot of flexibility, but the future gets even brighter if the Hawks land the No. 1 (or No. 2) pick.