By, matt | April 16, 2019, 2 a.m.
This year, the NBA put forth some new rules to try and decentivize tanking and eliminate the electrifying race to the bottom. With that said, the top prospect in the draft happens to be a 6’8” 280lb monster who runs the floor like a guard, can defend multiple positions, and is appropriately hailed as the best prospect since LeBron in 2003. So you better believe a lot of teams have been perfectly fine racking up Ls this year, in hopes of getting better odds at being able to draft him. Let’s take a look at the three worst teams in the league and what drafting Zion would mean for their future.
The Suns might be the team with the most to lose if they don’t end up landing Zion. If they want to keep Devin Booker, they’re gonna have to start turning things around fast. And drafting guys like Mikal Bridges (indirectly) or signing guys like Trevor Ariza (lol) isn’t it. Bridges isn’t a bad player at all, but he’s not a guy who will get you a bunch of wins or make a huge impact. And Ariza, who they overpaid, got the fuck outta there before the trade deadline, just like Bledsoe and Dragic in years prior. These are the kinds of things that can’t keep happening if you want to keep your 22 year old superstar who almost dropped 3 consecutive 50-point games this year. He’s already voiced his displeasure
with the direction of the franchise, and we could easily be looking at another Porzingis situation here if things don’t change.
Luckily for them, they share the highest odds at landing Zion, which could be the first domino to fall in constructing an actual team. And even better news is that Zion would be the perfect
fit alongside their two young stars, Booker and Ayton, which might actually result in some wins right off the bat (I know, strange thought).
Offensively, Zion could immediately take some of the load off of Booker, who this year, put up a 32.9% usage rate, logged 35 minutes per game, and unfortunately missed time due to a number of injuries. The Suns could run Zion as point-forward, which would alleviate some of Booker’s playmaking duties and allow him to play his more natural off-ball game. Ideally, Booker would play more like Bradley Beal; he could split his time being the ball handler, running the pick and roll with Zion or Ayton, with more off-ball actions, coming off of more screens and not having to work so hard for every shot. With this, the Suns’ offense would become less predictable and more flowy… they wouldn’t be pigeonholed into Booker isos or Booker/Ayton PnRs anymore. They could and should still do those things, but with Zion, they’d be able to run more post ups, have more people slashing, more drive and kick opportunities, more guys crashing the offensive glass … they’d look like a whole new team.
Zion would also allow the Suns to really push the pace and look for more fast break opportunities. This year, they were just above league average in pace but pushing the break more would really play to the strengths of a lot of their guys. The Suns already have some really fast, athletic studs, like Josh Jackson and Kelly Oubre, and adding a 6’8” 280 lb freight train to the mix would be all the more reason to run… and we’d get to see more of this…
Defensively, the Suns can really use some help and Zion’s ability to lock down multiple positions would certainly plug up some glaring holes. Guarding NBA pros is obviously a much taller task than guarding college kids, but he should be able to at least defend the 2-4, which would put him in position to be able to clean up a lot of defensive mistakes made by Booker and Ayton… and really, the rest of their roster.
Now Zion does have a few weak points that the Suns will want to address ASAP. For one, his jumper is very
flat… he gets no arc on his shot and only hit the 3 ball at a 33% rate this year, and that’s with the closer college line. Improving his shot mechanics would theoretically result in a more consistent jumper, which would ultimately help him space the floor and keep defenders from sagging way off him.
And the Suns’ offense would be infinitely more dangerous if Zion’s able to space the floor, which would especially manifest in the PnR. On Booker/Ayton actions, if the defense goes over the screen, Booker can make a beeline towards the rim and draw in the defense. When help comes, Zion can camp in the corner and become the world’s most dangerous kickout recipient… with an even semi-lethal long ball, we’d be seeing some nasty pump and drive opportunities, as defenders would be forced to sell out more on closeouts.
He’ll also need to improve from the charity stripe as well… like his jumper, his free throws are very flat looking and he only converted 64% of them last year. And because of Zion’s size, we’ll probably be seeing him at the line a lot next year, as guys will likely resort to just hacking him in the paint. So he’s gonna have to shoot in the 70-80% to avoid any hack-a-Shaq scenarios.
I do think these are relatively easy fixes tho… he’ll have elite shooting coaches working with him from day one and by all accounts, he’s a hard worker. So I do think he’ll be able to bring these numbers up to at least league average but this will be something to look out for… if he can develop a consistent outside shot and improve his free throw percentage, it’ll really open things up for him offensively.
Now all that sounds great, but If the Suns don’t
win the lottery this summer, they’ll be in some trouble, as there’s a significant drop off after Zion. Prospects like RJ Barrett, Ja Morant, and Cam Reddish look promising for sure, but they don’t project to be franchise guys like Zion. And like I said before, if the Suns continue to swing and miss on draft picks and free agent signings, it won’t be long before Booker starts “accidentally”
posting tweets like his former teammates…
New York Knicks
If the Knicks land the top draft spot this year it’ll be the first time they’ll have won anything significant since the league rigged the lottery for them in ‘85. That year, they were put in a position to draft a generational talent, the dominant big man from Georgetown, Patrick Ewing, who was to re-establish a winning culture to the biggest market team in the league, which hadn't sniffed a ring in over a decade.
Ewing indeed made an immediate impact on the Knicks, winning ROY, and would go on to lead the Knicks thru a dozen playoff and two finals appearances over a 15-year span. And while his illustrious career produced a plethora of individual awards and accomplishments, like 11 All-Star appearances, 7 All-NBA and 3 All-Defensive teams, multiple Olympic runs, and a first-ballot Hall of Fame induction, he never was able to fill those MSG rafters with any championship banners.
You can’t pin this solely on Ewing though... the Knicks never really surrounded him with talent in his prime and in the ‘99 Finals run, when he did have some help, he was injured and entering the tail end of his career. At his peak, the next best guys with him were Charles Oakley and John Starks. Oakley was a defensive menace for sure, but was only really a 10 and 8 guy for most of his career, and Starks was streaky as shit and couldn’t be relied on in crunch time. Had the Knicks been able to surround Ewing with a legit second option, I think they could have taken the ‘94 series against Houston and probably given Jordan and his Bulls a tougher time as well. But instead, he’ll always have the asterisk next to his name as an all-time great who never won a ring, alongside Barkley, Reggie, Malone, Stockton, and anyone else unfortunate enough to play in Jordan’s era. And he’ll continue to be subject to horrible takes and revisionist analysis, like “the Ewing Theory
” for the rest of his life...
And almost 20 years after the Knicks traded the washed up version of Ewing to the Sonics, things have gone from shit to fuckin’ shit. The Dolan-era Knicks, in my mind, have to be the saddest franchise in pro sports. From mind-boggling coaching hires to shortsighted trades to players forcing their way out to uh… JD and the Straight Shot…
(Yep, that’s James Dolan and his blues band. But I mean come on, billionaire hedge fund babies can make great blues singers too, right??)
Anyways, this year it looks like the Knicks finally figured out how to tank and have landed the worst record in the league, so they’ll share a 14% chance of winning the lottery with the Suns and Cavs. It’s a chance for them to finally turn things around and with Mills and Perry vowing to do things the right way and build through the draft instead of overpaying B-list stars, they’ll be in a good position to do so in June.
If they do land Zion, he’ll undoubtedly make in immediate impact on their culture in every way. He’ll be doing stuff like this
, and more importantly, will overnight, turn the Knicks into a compelling free agent destination. And this is really what Mills and Perry are hoping for. By drafting a guy like Zion, a projected superstar and the most anticipated prospect since LeBron, free agents will look at the Knicks and think, “ok, I like what I see here… biggest market team in the league with enough cap room for 2 max contracts, competent coach, competent front office, Zion, other young guys with potential, weak conference… yeah, this is a team I could see myself signing with.”
And when you have guys like KD and Kyrie, whose allegiance to their current squads have been in question all season, becoming UFAs this summer, the Knicks have a real opportunity to become Eastern Conference contenders overnight. Their ideal scenario of landing KD and Kyrie in free agency and drafting Zion with the first pick would instantly transform them from a team actively trying to lose to a playoff team with home court advantage.
For the Knicks, drafting Zion isn’t just about landing a generational talent like they did with Ewing 35 years ago. You better believe they’ll do everything in their power to prevent that piece of their history from repeating itself. In their ideal world, drafting Zion would be the first domino to fall in their quest to construct a superteam… and if the stars align just right, they could see a 2019-20 opening day lineup of Kyrie, Kevin Knox, Zion, KD, and Mitchell Robinson. 🔥🔥🔥
With that lineup, you have three guys who can run the offense (Kyrie, KD, and Zion) and attack in a multitude of ways. If Zion plays point-forward, he could run pick and fades with KD, pick and rolls with Robinson (lob city), and drive and kick opportunities to Kyrie and Knox. If Kyrie runs point, Zion could be the pick setter and roll hard to the rim for his patented, nasty oop finishes. And off-ball, he could slash and post and just be a general pain in the ass for defenses. With that many options, defenses would basically have to just pick their poison, as it’d be almost impossible to stop all of the possible permutations, let alone keep track of them all.
And defensively, the Knicks would have no problem switching on everything, with the only real weak defender being Kyrie. But the safeguard of Zion and KD’s switchability and Mitchell Robinson’s length at the rim would significantly lessen the impact of Kyrie getting switched onto bad matchups.
Now that’s a lot to bank on and Mills and Perry better have a backup plan if one or all of these things don’t go their way... but seeing Zion, KD, and Kyrie wearing blue and orange next year isn’t just a pipe dream anymore. And It gives Knicks fans, who are just getting over the devastation of losing their unicorn superstar, a chance to be hopeful for the future, which hasn’t happened in a long, long time.
Since LeBron left his hometown team for a bigger-market town with year-round beautiful weather (again), the Cavs haven’t had a lot to be optimistic about. They went from an Eastern Conference powerhouse to a 19 win shitshow in the blink of an eye and they should expect to see more of the same over the next few years. Kevin Love played just over 20 games this year, missing most of the season due to a big toe injury that required surgery. Their first round pick, Collin Sexton, struggled big time and only started to live up to the hype after All-star break. And the rest of their roster is barely worth mentioning and it remains to be seen what they’ll do with Love this summer.
If they do flip Love’s contract for picks or younger guys, they’ll be looking at another sub-20 win season for sure. Not to say that this is the worst thing ever… they can stockpile picks and young guys (shout outs to Hinkie) and build slowly through the draft and try to put together a Sixers-esque team over the next few years... it’s just not very exciting for the fans, especially for a small market team who just lost their hometown hero.
Drafting Zion wouldn’t magically turn them from a 15 win team to a 55 win team overnight, but it would give them an opportunity to build around a generational talent from the ground up. Sexton will be good, it just might take him a year or two to get comfortable playing at this level. And adding Zion, someone for Sexton to spark a bond and create chemistry with, would only aid his development as a player.
Zion’s potential fit with the Cavs is difficult to comment on tho. Yeah, the Sexton/Zion pick and roll actions would be tough as shit, and Zion’s grit and toughness would certainly improve the Cavs’ 28th ranked defense, but with an approaching offseason that could result in a completely overhauled roster, it’s hard to speculate how Zion would fit with the supporting cast. But this could actually be a huge advantage for the front office... they’ll have the opportunity to build around Zion from the bottom up, instead of trying to fit Zion into an existing squad. And with Zion’s versatility on both ends of the floor, the Cavs can experiment with different types of lineups until they find the one that works best.
If the Cavs continue to suck for a couple more years, they could find themselves on the same trajectory as the Sixers… Zion could be their Embiid, Sexton could be their Simmons… ok maybe a bit of a stretch… but if they continue to draft in the top five for a few years, they could find themselves with some real young talent on their roster.
Maybe more importantly tho, is the idea that Zion could fill the void that was created when Lebron left for LA. I’m not saying Zion will
be the next LeBron, but drafting a guy with franchise-altering potential, on the heels of losing the best player of the last 20 years, would be huge for the Cavs… fans would readily embrace Zion and christen him as their savior. Yeah, Zion’s stardom would unquestionably reach greater heights in New York, but he wouldn't have the same folk-hero allure as he would in Cleveland. And there’s something to be said about watching a small-market franchise flourish in a league dominated by superteams. For the storyline alone, Zion to the Cavs would certainly be the most wholesome.