Ranking the best and worst NBA fits for Zion Williamson

At some point Tuesday night, we’re going to expect a comment from assumed No. 1 overall draft pick Zion Williamson about whichever team lands the opportunity to select him during the NBA draft lottery in Chicago. 

Of course, we more or less already know what Williamson is going to say. He’s going to smile and talk about how it’s been his lifelong dream to go No. 1 and how he’s going to be extremely grateful to whichever franchise decides to draft him. 

Zion Williamson is waiting for the NBA draft lottery and to see which team gets the first overall pick in June. (Photo: Jeremy Brevard, USA TODAY Sports)

But of course, it’s human nature to have preferences about where you’re going to start your career. Being part of a good franchise can help define a players’ legacy. Being stuck on a team with bad ownership that can’t be trusted to put a competent supporting cast around a star player is a recipe for dysfunction. 

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With that in mind, here’s how excited Williamson should be on a scale of 1 to 10 if these teams come up with the No. 1 pick on Tuesday night (8:30 p.m. ET, ESPN). 

New York Knicks

Chance to land Williamson: 14 percent.

It goes without saying that the opportunity to play in Madison Square Garden could lift Williamson to international mega-star status – if he’s the actual savior the Knicks have been looking for. But can you really trust a franchise that James Dolan has thus far run into the ground? 

Williamson has a big enough personality to endear himself to New York fans and news media. But if the Knicks end up with the pick, the focus will immediately turn to the supposed free agency pursuit of Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving, not to mention being thrown into Anthony Davis trade rumors. This is a high-risk, high-reward destination for Williamson.

Excitement scale:

Cleveland Cavaliers

Chance to land Williamson: 14 percent.

The Cavs have won the lottery an incredible four times in the past 16 years, so if Williamson is Cleveland-bound nobody would be too surprised. But it absolutely shouldn’t be his preferred destination. Cleveland is at the beginning of a rebuild and it’s going to take time to unload some of the bad contracts left over from the end of the LeBron James era.

Although last year’s lottery pick, Collin Sexton, put up some decent scoring numbers late in his rookie season, it’s unclear whether he’s really going to be a point guard in this league. Cleveland struggled to attract big free agents when James was there, so could Williamson really count on doing it? 

Excitement scale: 3

Phoenix Suns

Chance to land Williamson: 14 percent.

Through their years in the lottery, the Suns have collected a lot of players that NBA experts seem to like. But thus far, they’ve been unable to do anything with them. In theory, you could slot in Williamson at power forward next to DeAndre Ayton with Devin Booker on the wing alongside Mikal Bridges and have a core worth getting excited about. But point guard is still a glaring problem for that group, and at some point the Suns may need to trade off one of their more valuable pieces to get someone who can run an offense. Also, you also have to wonder if the Suns’ culture of losing – they haven’t made the playoffs since 2010 and have finished last in the West for three straight years – is too pervasive to ovecome.

Excitement scale: 5

Chicago Bulls

Chance to land Williamson: 12.5 percent.

The tough part about this fit is the Bulls already drafted their front court of the future with Lauri Markkanen and Wendell Carter, Jr., and it would make far more sense for them to land at No. 2 somehow in order to take Ja Morant as their point guard. If the Bulls did land at No. 1, it might turn into an interesting trade discussion with whoever gets the No. 2 pick, though they should absolutely keep it and figure out the rest later.

Chicago would be a great market for Williamson, and there’s a certain appeal in trying to bring the Bulls back to prominence. But the Gar Forman/John Paxson front office combination doesn’t have the greatest track record. 

Excitement scale: 5

Atlanta Hawks

Chance to land Williamson: 10.5 percent.

Anyone who paid attention to the passing wizardry Trae Young displayed in his rookie season would have to be excited about the possibility of him throwing lobs for Williamson and John Collins to put on highlight reels for the next decade or so. Though the offensive fit alongside Collins in a halfcourt scenario might not be perfect, Williamson’s defensive talent would significantly boost a team that was among the worst in the league last year.  

On the other hand, Atlanta doesn’t have a great reputation as an NBA market or a big draw for free agents. Could Williamson be the player that changes it? 

Excitement scale: 8

Washington Wizards

Chance to land Williamson: 9 percent.

Basically, the Wizards are in salary cap hell, and the largesse of John Wall’s contract makes him impossible to trade for at least three years. Whoever Washington hires as general manager will have a long, hard road ahead and may even be forced to trade Bradley Beal to get some value for the future. 

If you want to see Williamson in playoff games in the near future, pray he doesn’t end up in D.C.

Excitement scale: 1 (If there was a negative number available, we’d use it)

New Orleans Pelicans 

Chance to land Williamson: 6 percent.

Though Anthony Davis has handled his impending exit terribly with a public mid-season trade request, you can understand his frustration. The Pelicans just haven’t been very well run, and after just two playoff appearances in seven years, Davis lost confidence in their ability to get him enough help play meaningful basketball in April and May. 

Hiring former Cavaliers general manager David Griffin to run basketball operations should give Williamson more confidence the Pelicans can turn it around. Griffin can get some significant assets from a Davis trade to reboot this thing around Williamson, the future might not be so bleak. 

Excitement scale: 6

Memphis Grizzlies

Chance to land Williamson: 6 percent.

Uncertainty throughout the franchise probably makes this a place Williamson would rather avoid. Who’s going to be the new coach? How effective will the new basketball operations team led by 30-year old Zach Kleiman be? Will the Grizzlies finally trade Mike Conley or cling to the last shred of hope that they can compete in the West in their current form? Jaren Jackson, Jr., the No. 4 overall pick last year, looked like a nice piece who could potentially turn into an elite defender in the NBA. But the Grizzlies are a long, long way from getting into contention. 

Excitement scale:

Dallas Mavericks

Chance to land Williamson: 6 percent.

Dallas keeps this pick if it’s in the top-four; otherwise it will go the Hawks from the Luka Doncic-Trae Young swap at last year’s draft. If the Mavericks somehow hit the jackpot, they’ve got the makings of a really fun lineup. And Williamson wouldn’t really have much immediate pressure since he'll share the focus with newly acquired Kristaps Porzingis. 

Excitement scale:

Minnesota Timberwolves 

Chance to land Williamson: 3 percent.

Remember a few years back when the Timberwolves looked like they were a year or two away from taking over the West? Yeah, that didn’t happen. And since it now looks like they’re going to continue to be mediocre, there’s really no appeal to landing here. Plus, it’s really cold in the winter. 

Excitement scale: 2

Los Angeles Lakers

Chance to land Williamson: 2 percent.

Even though Pelicans owner Gayle Benson supposedly doesn’t want Anthony Davis traded to the Lakers under any circumstances, who knows how much that stance might soften if Williamson is part of the package. That wouldn’t be a terrible outcome for Williamson, but it would be a bummer to get drafted by the Lakers and all the glitz that comes with it, only to get shipped off to New Orleans. 

Excitement scale: 4

Charlotte Hornets

Chance to land Williamson: 1 percent.

If the Hornets added Williamson and re-signed Kemba Walker, they’d probably make the playoffs next season. But ultimately, Charlotte is going to have to shed some of its big contracts and hit on some younger players to be a factor in the East. 

Excitement scale: 4

Miami Heat

Chance to land Williamson: 1 percent.

One of the real underplayed stories in the NBA is how poor of a job Pat Riley has done with the roster in recent years. Starting anew with Williamson would be an absolute coup for Miami and perhaps set the table for future glory.

Excitement scale: 7

Philadelphia 76ers 

Chance to land Williamson: 1 percent

This pick belongs to the Sacramento Kings but could move due to past trades. If it lands at No. 2, 3 or 4, it goes to the Celtics. If it’s No. 1 overall, the 76ers will own it. This is obviously going to be a huge offseason for Philadelphia with Jimmy Butler and Tobias Harris entering free agency. No doubt getting extremely lucky here would impact their plans. For Williamson, there are lots of worse situations than teaming up with Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid.

Excitement scale: 8

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