NBA Powerless Rankings: Ping-Pong Ballin’ and Dreamin’ on Zion


Zion Williamson is arguably the best NBA prospect to step foot on a college basketball court in some time, which is something the eye test and statistical models wholeheartedly agree on. And so this Tuesday promises to change the fortune for one fortunate franchise (or perhaps even two). We’re headed toward another frenetic and fascinating offseason, one that will drastically shift the league’s landscape, and this is the first shoe to explode drop. The NBA sure picked a heck of a year to smooth out the lottery odds more evenly among the 14 non-playoff clubs, effectively turning each of them into a Dumb and Dumber meme. [soyouretellingmetheresachancedotgif]

Lottery odds (top four, top pick and current selection order) are listed in italics, and there will be a re-ranking once the lottery order is determined. As such, this edition of the powerless rankings should be taken with a grain of sea salt (table salt has dextrose in it, so be sure to sprinkle it into the trash, not onto your food).

14. Atlanta Hawks (29-53)

fifth-best odds, 42.1 percent, 10.5 percent

Trae Young’s superb second half of the season sent shockwaves around the association. Fellow rookie Kevin Huerter had his fair share of memorable moments and seems to be a strong fit in the backcourt. John Collins continues to steadily progress. And Taurean Prince fits the highly-coveted 3-and-D mold. Atlanta is likely to walk away from the lottery with two top-10 picks, and landing Zion (10.5 percent chance) would transform the Hawks into the top League Pass team.

13. Dallas Mavericks (33-49)

ninth-best odds, 26.3 percent, 6.0 percent —> Atlanta Hawks (top-five protected)

Despite the likelihood that Dallas sends a top-10 pick to Atlanta, the Mavericks are more promising than powerless. Luka Doncic exceeded even the most optimistic expectations, and Kristaps Porzingis is a worthy running mate for the Rookie of the Year. Whether the Mavs move into the top four or not, the franchise is in an enviable spot heading into the summer.

With that being said, the rape allegation hovering over Porzingis, as well as recent video footage which shows him shoving a woman, are red flags that (for now) necessitate a fall from the top spot in these rankings. Also, we’re supposed to trust the same franchise that allowed constant in-house sexual harassment and domestic violence to investigate the recent altercation when the former (rape allegation) didn’t stifle their desire to complete the trade in the first place?

12. New York Knicks (17-65)

best odds, 52.1 percent, 14.0 percent

The Knicks need Zion; and should the basketball gods choose to reward the fanatics in Madison Square Garden rather than punish their petulant owner, New York should not trade him under any circumstances. Nevertheless, even if the Knicks don’t end up with the first overall pick, the constant free agency chatter involving the likes of Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant—whether warranted or not—keeps New York toward the top of this list, at least for now.

11. New Orleans Pelicans (33-49)

seventh-best odds, 26.3 percent, 6.0 percent

Both the Knicks (14.0 percent) and Lakers (2.0 percent) would seriously consider swapping Zion for Anthony Davis. Thus, one can make the case that the Pelicans actually boast the best odds of winning the Williamson sweepstakes, one way or another. As unlikely as it is, winning the lotto outright (6.0 percent) may be the only way David Griffin can convince AD to stick around long-term. (A trio of Zion, Davis and Jrue Holiday would compete immediately.) The only bad news for New Orleans, which seems to be in very good hands with Griffin at the helm: Boston’s playoff flameout could ultimately eliminate the Celtics from the upcoming bidding war.

10. Memphis Grizzlies (33-49)

eighth-best odds, 26.3 percent, 6.0 percent —> Boston Celtics (top-eight protected)

Having gone out on a limb in comparing Jaren Jackson Jr. to the great Kevin Garnett last year, the fact that KG has become Triple J’s mentor makes me downright giddy about the Grizzlies going forward. This organization likely waited too long to trade Marc Gasol and Mike Conley. However, based on the quality return for the former (Jonas Valanciunas and Delon Wright), there’s reason to be optimistic about what they’ll bring back for the latter this offseason.

9. Minnesota Timberwolves (36-46)

10th-best odds, 13.9 percent, 3.0 percent

Karl-Anthony Towns keeps Minnesota afloat in these rankings almost by himself, but there are other positives: After taking a while to settle into his new habitat, Dario Saric ended the campaign on a high note, and rookie Josh Okogie showcased offensive potential and admirable defensive grit along the wing. The Timberwolves would’ve finished with a better record if Robert Covington hadn’t been sidelined since December. On the other hand, Andrew Wiggins is still disappointing, still one of the worst contracts in the NBA. All in all, the franchise may find itself in position to snag a sleeper (Brandon Clarke) who projects as a perfect fit next to KAT.

8. Sacramento Kings (39-43)

—> Boston Celtics (but No. 1 pick would belong to Philadelphia)

Everyone and their mother picked Sacramento to finish last, and everyone and their mother was wrong. It’s more fun when we’re all wrong, and that we were. The long-term questions about fit and cost of keeping veteran talent are boring in comparison. Regardless, this collection of young talent (De’Aaron Fox, Buddy Hield, Bogdan Bogdanovic, Marvin Bagley, Harry Giles) is enough to keep hope alive that better days do indeed lie ahead. Here’s to hoping the lack of a 2019 first round pick is the last kick to the crotch for the league’s most starved fanbase.

7. Los Angeles Lakers (37-45)

11th-best odds, 9.4 percent, 2.0 percent

In all likelihood this Lakers club makes the playoffs if LeBron James doesn’t get hurt this season. Sadly, James finally showed himself to be a mere mortal just like the rest of us. While the breaking down of one’s body is inevitable, LeBron could really benefit from the extra time off following eight straight years of competing into June and may feel rejuvenated heading into 2019-20. If James coaxes a two-way star into joining the Lakers this ranking will look silly in hindsight. But how likely is that? Better than their odds of acquiring Anthony Davis or winning the lottery, sure, but how much better?

6. Phoenix Suns (19-63)

third-best odds, 52.1 percent, 14.0 percent

I’d be a lot more stoked about the Suns if they had drafted Jaren Jackson Jr., Luka Doncic or Trae Young. Deandre Ayton was predictably a double-double machine this season, but I still have a tough time picturing him as a positive playoff performer. If Phoenix ends up with Williamson, I’m sure I’ll talk myself into a duo of Zion and Devin Booker. If that doesn’t pan out though, Mikal Bridges and Kelly Oubre can’t cover five guys by themselves.

5. Chicago Bulls (22-60)

fourth-best odds, 48.0 percent, 12.5 percent

The front office remains a mess, but sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good. And boy do the Bulls have a chance to get lucky on Tuesday night. Though at first glance it would appear to create a logjam in the frontcourt, landing Zion would provide combo guard Zach LaVine another playmaker to share the burden of setting the table. Furthermore, the outside shooting of LaVine, Lauri Markkanen and Otto Porter (and the theoretical range of Wendell Carter) would facilitate decent floor spacing for the starting five, thus allowing Williamson plenty of room to drive, at least compared to his experience at Duke.

4. Miami Heat (39-43)

13th-best odds, 4.8 percent, 1.0 percent

The combination of warm weather and winning culture (Pat Riley and Erik Spoelstra) may still attract some star free agents. But if not, Miami has just two years to reap the benefits of landing in the lottery, as their 2021 first round pick continues to change hands in trades. Josh Richardson, Justise Winslow, Bam Adebayo and Derrick Jones Jr. is a fairly talented young core, but there’s not a lot to get excited about now that Dwyane Wade’s retirement tour is complete.

3. Cleveland Cavaliers (19-63)

second-best odds, 52.1 percent, 14.0 percent

Losers of 10 straight games to end the season, the coaching hire of John Beilein doesn’t move the needle much (if at all) for the Cavaliers. Even this ranking may be fortuitous, as Washington’s best trade chip (Bradley Beal) would fetch far more than Cleveland’s (Kevin Love). The recurring image of Cleveland winning the lottery multiple times across the last couple decades lingers, like a lingerer, and that nonsensical reason is the best one I’ve got to explain why the Cavaliers aren’t last on this list.

2. Washington Wizards (32-50)

sixth-best odds, 37.2 percent, 9.0 percent

It’s not entirely his fault, but John Wall is the owner of the worst contract in the league (yes, worse than Wiggins). Bradley Beal’s steady rise to stardom should be enough to counteract the immovable presence of Wall, but there is a dark cloud of dysfunction stationed over the nation’s capital, and it already cost them Otto Porter and Kelly Oubre. The only man that can save them in the short term is the same man that can save every one of these other 13 teams—Lord Zion.

1. Charlotte Hornets (39-43)

12th-best odds, 4.8 percent, 1.0 percent

I’ll let the founder of The Lottery Mafia have the final word on the Hornets, who seem to be doomed regardless of whether Kemba Walker re-signs.

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