Zion Williamson is, quite simply, a player worth tanking for. We try to pretend that there are transcendent players in every draft, and that isn’t entirely fair. It has as much to do with media hyperbole as much as anything else, but Williamson is as advertised. He might be even better. No matter what you think of Duke overall, you have to admit that the Blue Devils have become must-see television.
Lost in the Zion Williamson show on Tuesday night was the fact that teammate RJ Barrett scored a game high 33 points in the 118-84 victory. Barrett entered the year as the top rated high school prospect and showed off his silky smooth game. Williamson, Barrett and Cam Reddish combined for 83 points while handing the Kentucky Wildcats their worst loss since Calipari took over. Duke is now a +550 favorite to win the national championship in April, and those odds are only going to get tighter and tighter as the national spotlight focuses in on their highlight factory.
People may consider this an overreaction to one game, but the fact is that Duke is now a runaway freight train powered by an actual runaway freight train in Zion Williamson. You can’t overstate how good he is. Anyone wondering what LeBron James would’ve looked like in college finally have an answer. The short version: it’s categorically unfair.
Of course, anything can happen between now and April. Duke is by no means a lock, but they’re a very, very strong play at just over 5-to-1 right now. The hype is well justified and is going to create a veritable rat race, not only in the college basketball betting sector fo the sportsbook, but in another area all together. That’s right – Tankapolooza for the top pick in the 2019 NBA Draft is on!
Look at this from the prospective of NBA teams – Zion Williamson is an athlete that we’ve only seen once before. Comparisons to LeBron James don’t compute because The King is on a different planet, but it’s easy to see where the dots connect. They’re both huge (Williamson is 6-foot-7 and 285 pounds), both rim rockers and both have complete games. At no point can people say that Zion will challenge LeBron or MJ for the Greatest of All Time title – at least for now – but he is absolutely worth dragging your fans through a terrible season if you’re an NBA franchise. He ticks all the boxes on the court, and is a seemingly bottomless marketing gold mine that will sell a billion jerseys and as many season tickets as a stadium will allow.
“The benefit of tanking for Zion Williamson if you’re a bad NBA team is that you get Zion Williamson. And the downside play is that you get RJ Barrett or Cam Reddish.”
And wouldn’t you know it, the Cleveland Cavaliers are sitting right there as the only one-win team in the NBA right now. At 1-9 SU and 5-5 ATS, the Cavaliers are by far the worst team in the league and are somehow finding new ways to make a bad situation even more unpalatable. JR Smith wants out, they fired Ty Lue, and had trouble getting a contract settled with interim head coach Larry Drew. Kevin Love is hurt and probably won’t play until at least the New Year (I mean, what’s the point?), and the team is rocking a brutal -10.2 point differential right now that isn’t even helping them cover the spread all that much.
Cleveland has either decided to tank for Zion already, or they’re just a totally terrible, mismanaged, tire fire of an organization. Both are completely in play, and can actually co-exist alongside each other. When you consider the obnoxious trend of bad Cleveland teams lucking in to the number one pick, it’s something that’s going to hang over both the college season and the NBA season.
Glossing over the anticipated cellar dwellers in the NBA, there are plenty of teams that are going to benefit long-term from losing as many games as possible in the near-term. At least two of them are actually great destinations for either Barret or Williamson, starting with…
New York Knicks (3-8 SU and 5-5-1 ATS) – This is by far the best possible destination for Zion or Barrett. The player personnel is one thing, and the chances of the Knicks rolling out a recovering Kristaps Porzingis when he’s had trouble rehabbing a torn ACL are very low. The Knicks have a clear shot at being the worst team in the league, and are only winning games because of their bench boss, David Fizdale. From marketing to coaching to a returning Kristaps, the Knicks would be the most ideal landing spot for either of the two Duke prospects.
Phoenix Suns (2-8 SU and 4-6 ATS) – Here’s the weird thing about the Suns – they shouldn’t be this bad. Phoenix ranks dead last in scoring with 100.6 points per game (yup, everybody’s hitting triple digits this year apparently). Deandre Ayton is leading the team with 10.9 rebounds, and Devin Booker continues his ascension to superstardom. Booker would probably already be there if he wasn’t trapped in the desert. They also swapped around for the 10th overall pick, Mikal Bridges, who is going to be a totally serviceable NBA player. Add either RJ or Zion Williamson to the mix and you have the Western Conference version of the Philadelphia 76ers. This team would be loaded with starter-worthy talent, youth, cap-friendly contracts for the next three seasons and would instantly become an attractive destination for free-agents. Haven’t Suns fans suffered enough?
Atlanta Hawks (3-7 SU and 4-6 ATS) – If you ever wondered what LeBron and Curry might look like playing together, then a combination of Trae Young and Zion Williamson would be like a “lite” version.
Orlando Magic (4-6 SU and ATS) – The Magic are the second worst scoring team in the league, a by-product of Nikola Vucevic being their best player. He leads the team with 17.9 points and 10.5 rebounds. They are both weirdly bad enough to always miss the playoffs, but just good enough to pick outside the top-5. They’ve selected 6th in the last two drafts.
Sacramento Kings (6-4 SU and 7-3 ATS) – The Kings have done two astonishing things so far this year: they have a winning record and become a spread busting machine. They probably won’t be bad enough to earn the worst record in the league, or win the lottery, but they’re the Kings. There’s always a chance that their envelope is opened last. Also, if the basketball gods are reading this, please don’t let this happen.
Chicago Bulls (3-8 SU and 7-4 ATS) – The Bulls are plucky enough to do some damage in the win column, and also play in the woeful Eastern Conference. Those two factors alone sort of kybosh their hopes of being caught in the dredges, but I would not be surprised if Chicago lampooned themselves somehow. Considering that their last two first overall picks were Jay Williams and Derrick Rose, I’d say that the universe sort of owes them one. But then again, owner Jerry Reinsdorf is also a parasite.
Until the NBA season shakes out, Duke rolls on to play Army on November 11th and then gets to decimate Eastern Michigan University on November 14th. Get your popcorn ready. This show is worth tuning in to.