Anytime there’s an obvious projected No. 1 overall pick — like in 2003 with LeBron James, in 2009 with Blake Griffin, or in 2012 with Anthony Davis — most conversations about the NBA Draft tend to focus on those players. Everybody else becomes consolation prizes. Nobody else seems to matter much.
And so here we are with THE ZION DRAFT.
Leading into the lottery, the only thing most cared about was finding out which franchise would get lucky with ping pong balls and secure the right to draft Duke star Zion Williamson. As you know, the fortunate franchise was New Orleans. So now the CBS Sports National Player of the Year will replace A.D. on billboards all around Bourbon Street as thesince The King himself.
That’s the big headline of the 2019 NBA Draft. But there’s so much more to care about in the 2019 NBA Draft. Because, trust me when I tell you, other stars — assuming Williamson does in fact prove to be a star — will emerge from Thursday night’s stage inside Brooklyn’s Barclays Center. And if you’re wondering how I know that, the answer is simple: I know that because other stars always emerge from drafts that, in advance, are largely centered around a single prospect — evidence being how THE LEBRON DRAFT also gave us future Hall of Famers Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and Carmelo Anthony, how THE BLAKE DRAFT also gave us future MVPs James Harden and Steph Curry, and how The A.D. DRAFT also gave us multi-year All-Stars Bradley Beal and Damian Lillard.
In other words, yes, you’re more likely to get a star when picking first in a draft where there’s a clearcut No. 1 guy. But other stars are always out there. You just have to identify them, select them and develop them. They’re less of a sure thing. But, make no mistake, they absolutely exist and can change franchises.
And sometimes they can even be found outside of the lottery.
That’s the other remarkable thing about the NBA Draft. Nobody ever thinks they’re getting a difference-maker outside of the lottery because, let’s be honest, teams rarely do. But it does happen. As proof, consider this: if you eliminate the previous five drafts (only because players from those drafts are largely still entering their primes) and focus only on the drafts between 2000 and 2013, what you’ll find is that 33 future All-Stars were selected outside of the lottery in those 14 years. There were as many as five in one draft (2001), at least one in all but one draft (2010), and an average of 2.4 future All-Stars selected outside of the lottery per year. It’s a list that includes the presumed 2019 NBA MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo, who was drafted 15th in 2013. It’s a list that includes three starters from the 2019 NBA champs — namely Kyle Lowry (No. 24 in 2006), Marc Gasol (No. 48 in 2007) and Kawhi Leonard (No. 15 in 2011).
“So that’s why this part of the year is exciting,” Orlando executive Jeff Weltman, who previously helped build Toronto’s title-winning roster, recently told NBA.com.
And I couldn’t agree more.
Absolutely, this is THE ZION DRAFT; nobody would dare suggest otherwise. But if THE LEBRON DRAFT also gave us future Hall of Famers Dywane Wade, Chris Bosh and Carmelo Anthony, how crazy is it to think THE ZION DRAFT could maybe also give us future Hall of Famers Ja Morant, RJ Barrett and Darius Garland? And if THE BLAKE DRAFT also gave us future MVPs James Harden and Steph Curry, how crazy is it to think THE ZION DRAFT could maybe also give us future MVP Coby White? And if THE A.D. Draft also gave us future multi-year All-Stars Bradley Beal and Damian Lillard, how crazy is it to think THE ZION DRAFT could maybe also give us future multi-year All-Stars De’Andre Hunter and Cam Reddish?
That almost nobody thinks of any non-Zion player in this draft that way is largely irrelevant considering nobody, in advance of them being drafted, thought Wade would be Wade, Curry would be Curry or Lillard would be Lillard. So just keep that in mind as you watch Thursday night’s festivities.
The biggest star will be picked first. But there are more stars to be had.
They’re always out there.
The trick is finding them — or, of course, just getting lucky.