Zion Williamson’s college season is over. Ja Morant is done, too. And if you listen to 99% of the talking heads out there, those are the two guys who are going No. 1 and No. 2 in the 2019 NBA draft.
But if you sit back and think about it, and you consider history, there is a case to be made: What everyone is predicting in early April will not come to fruition in late June.
Which then brings us to Jarrett Culver.
Potential draft raider
Only one lottery-bound player competing in the NCAA Final Four this weekend in Minneapolis, and it is the Texas Tech Red Raiders swingman who is averaging 18.9 points, 6.4 rebounds and 3.8 assists.
I am told that the New York Knicks are dialed in on him as the No. 3 pick if they fail to win one of the top two spots in the lottery. It is time to take a close look at whether he may move up to No. 2 with a breakout performance this weekend.
The bottom three teams in the NBA each have a 14% chance at winning the lottery. Right now, the Knicks, Cavaliers and Suns appear to be those three teams — especially with Trae Young making a late push for rookie of the year as the Atlanta Hawks are knocking off quality teams.
Under the old system, which encouraged taking, the top seed had a 25% chance of winning the lottery, the second seed had a 19.9% chance and the third seed had a 15.6% chance.
Under the new system, the difference in lottery odds between the first three seeds (14%) and the fourth seed (12.5%) will be 1.5%. The difference between the fourth seed and the fifth seed (10.5%) will be 2%, and the difference between the fifth seed and the sixth seed (9%) will be 1.5%.
So, let’s imagine that a random team, perhaps the Washington Wizards, win the draft lottery. Williamson would be a no-brainer — unless the person taking over for the fired Ernie Grunfeld can package the No. 1 pick and John Wall’s burdensome contract to move down a few spots.
The Wizards are already overloaded at Williamson’s position with Bobby Portis and Jabari Parker (although Parker has a $20 million contract that will likely be declined). The opportunity to shed Wall’s contract (he is due $38 million, $41 million, $44 million and $47 million over the next four seasons) will allow the Wizards’ new head honcho to clear $58 million in cap space if Parker’s option is not renewed.
This would incentivize the Wizards to trade away the draft right to Williamson and allow them to become players on the free agency market (Kevin Durant grew up in Maryland).
If the team picking No. 2 was so ga-ga over Williamson that they would take on Wall’s contract, it makes sense. Then it would be a question of whether the Wizards would want Morant at No. 2, or whether Culver might be a better fit next to Bradley Beal and Durant.
And much of that might depend on whether the new person in charge is sold on Tomas Satoransky as a long-term option at point guard.
Why are we kicking this idea around?
Because DraftKings Sportsbook has Culver listed at 70-1 to be the No. 2 pick in the draft, with Williamson listed at 11-2. Coby White, of North Carolina, and Rui Hachimura, of Gonzaga, are both on the board at 16-1.
And the history of No. 2 overall picks is a checkered one.
The jury is still out on the 2018 No. 2 pick, Marvin Bagley III, who has battled injuries throughout his rookie season in Sacramento but has been a favorite of the front office and the coaching staff because of his work ethic.
Lonzo Ball went No. 2 in 2017 — one pick after Markelle Fultz, whose tenure in Philadelphia was unremarkable at best (and that is being generous).
Brandon Ingram went No. 2 in 2016, and he has done well in his Lakers career but will no doubt be playing for the Pelicans next season after the Anthony Davis-to-LA deal finally gets done.
D’Angelo Russell went No. 2 to the Lakers in 2016 but is now plying his trade in Brooklyn, where he is an all-star but rarely goes to the free throw line.
Jabari Parker went No. 2 in 2014, and Victor Oladipo went No. 2 in 2013 after the Cavs sort of whiffed on Anthony Bennett.
Michael Kidd-Gilchrist has been unremarkable ever since being the No. 2 pick in 2012, and we haven’t heard much from Derrick Williams since he went No. 2 in 2011.
Evan Turner (2010) and Hasheem Thabeet (2009) were not exactly the greatest No. 2 picks of all time, and we still have not even mentioned the words “Darko” and “Milicic.”
So, keep something in mind when locking in Williamson and Morant as sure things at No. 1 and No. 2: Things change, and if Culver wins a national championship for Texas Tech with the whole country watching, there is going to be some serious reconsidering going on.
Culver at No. 2 is worth a flyer at 70-1, but the folks at DraftKings are pretty sharp and will not leave him at that price is they see sharp money coming in.
Timing is everything, as they say, and the time to place that wager is now if you choose to go against conventional wisdom. Good luck.