The Try-Ons for Zion: Ranking the Duke Star’s Best Fit in the NBA
Photo credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports. Pictured: Zion Williamson
- Duke's Zion Williamson is one of the most anticipated NBA prospects in recent history -- perhaps since LeBron James.
- Let's dive into the likely lottery teams in this year's NBA Draft and rank each team's potential fit with the freshman superstar.
There’s one story in the NBA Draft, and it’s Zion Williamson. There will be consolation prizes: Ja Morant, Jarrett Culver and others. But Williamson projects not only as the definitive best player in this draft, but the best prospect since Anthony Davis… if not since LeBron James himself.
So how does the superbeast fit with various franchises in the lottery with a chance to get him? Let’s go team-by-team, and I’ll rank each fit on a 0-5 scale at the end.
New York Knicks (14% chance of No. 1)
The immediate response here is “… Anthony Davis?” The idea is that with Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant possibly coming, you then throw the No. 1 pick and whatever else to the Pelicans to get Davis and form a super-duper team.
Now, what winning the lottery would allow for is the Knicks to not need the Diva Duo to sign up. If they swing and miss, as they have in every single free agency attempt since Tyson Chandler (and most before that), they would still be set. Even with Frank Ntilikina not looking like a player, Emmanuel Mudiay looking similarly ineffective and with Kevin Knox’s rookie year struggles, the Knicks would still have a young core built around a dominant big man.
Additionally, pairing Zion with Mitchell Robinson, who leads the league in blocks per 36 minutes, would make for a beastly combo. The spacing might suffer unless Williamson can develop a reliable 3-point shot, but the sheer athletic monstrosity would overwhelm teams if they find any guard — literally any guard — who can provide starter-caliber play.
Could they just pair Kyrie and/or KD with Williamson? Sure, but I think this year shows the dangers of putting a young guy with big dreams on a team next to Irving.
Rating: 3 out of 5
Phoenix Suns (14% chance of No. 1)
I mean, on the surface, this is incredible. Devin Booker gets someone to run with; they have Tyler Johnson to play point guard now. You can run Johnson-Booker-Oubre-Zion-Ayton, and that’s just crazy athleticism. Igor Kokoskov can run constant sets with the bigs both screening and one diving as the guards dart around.
That said, Booker is 72nd percentile shooting out of the pick-and-roll, but he has a 13% turnover rate when passes are included. That’s also a team with a lot of mouths to feed… and very little spacing on account of Ayton. This isn’t a great fit, honestly, and not just because Phoenix is where young careers go to vanish into the ether or score 59 in a loss.
Rating: 2 out of 5
Cleveland Cavaliers (14% chance of No. 1)
On the one hand, giving them another No. 1 pick after they landed three in four years seems ridiculous, and giving Dan Gilbert another gift after how he’s handled things feels like rewarding at-best questionable owner behavior…
And yet, this would be a pretty fun team. You’re going to run small with Zion at the 5, and that’s OK, because Kevin Love is going to help you with your rebounding and floor-spacing. Collin Sexton has been really good offensively for the last few months. He’s shooting 41% from 3 on the season, with a 43% eFG mark on pull-up shots. He’s averaging only 2.9 assists and is 30th percentile in pick-and-roll pass-out situations, but, hey, he’s young; he can learn.
The Cavs can, if they so choose, move Love for complementary pieces if Love-Zion doesn’t work out as a tandem. In that case, you can take a little less than market value for Love because, well, you got Zion, so who cares.
Throw in Cedi Osman to space the floor and you got a little something. It would be best if they brought in Pelicans assistant Chris Finch to run some DHO with those guys and let Zion work out of the pinch post — driving, shooting if opponents sag off or attacking with a head of steam. This would be a pretty great fit.
Rating: 4 out of 5