If you oversaw an NBA team, would Zion Williamson, he of the infamous busted sneaker that shifted the stock market, be your surefire top selection this June?
 
While blowing out both his sneaker and Nike’s reputation on Wednesday, Williamson also suffered a minor knee sprain, thus throwing his status for the remainder of his amateur career in question. By all accounts, Williamson will be fine, but did his stock shift at all for you after seeing him suffer a scare on a national stage?
 
DraftKings Sportsbook currently hosts NBA Draft prop bets with an eye on speculating the top pick in June’s draft, so you can take your shot at projecting the top prospect. Yes, NJ Online Sportsbooks are offering these prop bets and it is amazing!

NBA Draft #1 Pick Prop Bets

Michael “G.O.A.T” Jordan went third in the draft in 1984, famously behind Sam Bowie. Kevin Durant, one of the best scorers in history, went second in the summer of 2007 behind, once again, a tragically flawed big man for Portland. Just a few summers back, Jayson Tatum, now considered a potential franchise player and elite asset, went third behind two guards still searching for their respective jumpers.
 
The premise being — some of the greatest players and prospects in the game were once overlooked or afforded longer NBA Draft Betting odds as prospects. Even those in powerful front office positions around the NBA often misread and miscalculate the draft process (looking at you, Colangelo).
 
Put another way, how would you evaluate the upcoming 2019 edition of the world’s
most popular job fair?

Could R.J. Barrett, Cam Reddish, or Ja Morant Go #1?

In a guard-centric NBA that celebrates space and pace more than ever in this Warriors-driven era, a wild card prospect like Ja Morant out of Murray State is an intriguing consideration for the #2 pick as the player with the third-highest odds to be the top pick come June.

This Westbrookian athlete is an exciting prospect despite questions about his level of competition in college. A modest 31.9 percent career 3-point shooter across 57 college starts, Morant would need to enjoy an incredibly productive and deep NCAA run to challenge Williamson’s entrenched perch as the expected top pick.

Barrett’s case is most interesting in that he could potentially shine with more offensive usage and opportunities if Williamson sits out for a sizable stretch with his knee ailment. Reddish’s stock is similarly tied to a potential surge sans Williamson, but the line of demarcation between Williamson and his teammates is likely too bold and too well established for these Duke wings to significantly change the discussion.

I’d love to identify a potentially profitable target of this collective, but this might just be a case where a massive favorite also bears a level cost certainty.

Bet The Field?

The temptation to bet the house on a guy named Bruno Fernando is quite strong, but if we aren’t identifying top talents such as Reddish or even Nassir Little to emerge as strong threats to Williamson, then it seems wise to leave the field alone, as well.


The Case for Zion At -2000 Odds

On DraftKings, Williamson sits as a massive -2000 favorite to be the top selection come June.

This isn’t very surprising — Duke entered Wednesday’s rivalry matchup with UNC as healthy favorites thanks to Williamson’s absurd statistical dominance; the Blue Devils average 134.6 points per 100 possessions on offense with this generational talent on the floor while allowing 83.8 points per 100 possessions on defense. Some simple subtraction reveals Duke has outscored foes by 50.8 points per 100 possessions with Williamson on the floor. The generational tag seems to apply for Williamson via both the eye test and through a statistical lens.

The case for Williamson, as evidenced by lapping the field as such a colossal favorite, is well established. This prop reads like pricing a Floyd Mayweather fight to me — even what appear to be dramatically unfavorable odds can still hold some value given the cost certainty of the outcome. Which is to say, you can allow the public to consider an outlier surge by Barrett, Morant, or the field, thinking that just maybe McGregor might hit Mayweather flush. History tells us, Mayweather doesn’t hit the canvas, and a prospect like Williamson is likely a lock for the top pick.

Odds on Which Team Will Draft Zion?

If this is all merely a race for Zion, then it’s fun to consider that DraftKings’ Sportsbook also hosts odds on the franchise that will win the lottery in May’s crucial drawing of ping pong balls. Leveraging Tankathon’s easy-to-read odds chart is helpful when evaluating these odds.

You’ll notice that the Knicks, Cavs, and Suns all share identical odds for the top pick, which is due to the fact the NBA reconfigured how draft odds are proportioned and now afford an equal 14 percent chance at securing the top pick. Previous years offered the worst record a 25 percent chance, with the second-worst team netting a 19.9 percent chance at top honors. This leveling or grading of the field has thus resulted in these three teams sharing top honors.

The gap between this trio of tankers to the next crop of teams, the Bulls and Hawks, is proportioned to the shift in odds, as the Bulls have a 12.5 percent shot at the first pick and the Hawks a 10.5 percent chance given respective standings.

If there is any value to be found in this team prop, what stands out to me is the gap in wins between the Hawks and the Grizzlies. The Hawks, fueled by a surging Trae Young and John Collins and a pace-fueled scheme, are 13-16 in their last 29 games. The Grizzlies, meanwhile, are 7-22 during their past 29 outings and have seemingly pulled the emergency brake to retain their pick this summer. Memphis owes a first-round pick to the Celtics dating back to a Jeff Green trade years ago — no really — and this year, the pick is protected in the top eight picks. Which means Memphis keeps the pick if it’s within the top eight picks, and it conveys to Boston if it’s ninth or later.

The Grizzlies appear to be without a real coaching philosophy or an on-court steward when Mike Conley isn’t playing (and sometimes when he does), thus I’d make Memphis my value pick of this group given the very real chance they surpass the Hawks in losses and could even challenge a Chicago team that could improve with Otto Porter in the fold. Memphis is currently priced with the sixth-highest odds to secure the top pick in the lottery, while their actual odds could prove far more favorable come May.

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Jim McCormick

NBA and NFL Fantasy writer for ESPN
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