CHICAGO — The Pelicans bucked seriously long odds Tuesday night, winning the NBA draft lottery and the right to have the first chance at selecting former Duke star Zion Williamson next month, and potentially pairing him with Anthony Davis, in what would immediately become one of the league’s most intriguing frontcourt duos.
“I don’t believe the universe makes mistakes,” said David Griffin, who is barely a month into his tenure as New Orleans’ executive vice president of basketball operations.
“I just think we have something special going on.”
Griffin doesn’t play the lottery, unless the jackpot is one of those billion-dollar-type enormous ones.
Maybe he should. The ping-pong balls seem to bounce his way a lot.
Griffin was with Cleveland when the Cavaliers won the lottery in 2011, 2013 and 2014.
And now it’s the Pelicans, his new employer, which has struck lottery gold. They defied the odds to do it; the Pelicans entered the lottery with a 6% chance of winning the No. 1 pick for the 20 June draft.
So now, instead of going into a summer where they may have traded Davis — the player New Orleans got when it won the lottery in 2012, the player who was openly disgruntled this season — the Pelicans have a chance at becoming much better, and fast.
“This just jumpstarts the process,” Griffin said. “It will be harder for me to mess it up than it would have been before this.”
Memphis will choose second, New York third and the Los Angeles Lakers will pick fourth. The Pelicans, Grizzlies and Lakers all moved up to get a top-four spot; New York, Phoenix and Cleveland had the best odds of winning the lottery at 14 percent each, and none of those clubs even got a top-two pick.
The lottery had a new format this year, one that the league hoped would even the playing field in a number of ways and didn’t make all-out tanking a more enticing option to teams looking to maximize their chance at securing the No. 1 pick.
“I don’t think you should ever not play to win basketball games,” Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry said. “I don’t see where it would help you.”
Cleveland will pick fifth, followed by Phoenix, Chicago and Atlanta. Washington has the No. 9 pick, Atlanta goes again at 10 and Minnesota is at No. 11. Charlotte is next up, followed by Miami at 13 and Boston at 14. That pick was conveyed to the Celtics by Sacramento as part of an earlier trade.
The Hawks felt they were big winners, too, after getting two top-10 picks.
“There are always good players,” said Hawks guard Kevin Huerter, the No. 19 pick in last year’s draft and part of Atlanta’s contingent at the lottery.
“Every team just has to go out and find them.”