All the things Pelicans fans can expect from phenom Zion Williamson

CHICAGO — The city of New Orleans has been handed a basketball blessing, as winning the NBA draft lottery Tuesday night means the imminent arrival of a transformational figure. Not only is Zion Williamson the most intriguing NBA prospect since LeBron James, he also brings with him an aura and presence that will immediately energize a languishing franchise. What will the Pelicans be getting in Zion when they inevitably pick him first? Here’s a look at five things the giddy residents of New Orleans should expect.

1. What’s he bring to the floor?

Yes, there will be dunks. Dunks with both hands, tomahawks, alley oops and devastating putbacks. Think Forrest Gump talking about shrimp — there are that many kinds of dunks. Williamson made the 2018-19 season his own personal highlight film, a résumé destined to lather any fan base — even an apathetic one like New Orleans — into excitement.

“He’s a transcendent talent,” said recruiting analyst Corey Evans, who got one of the first seats on the Zion bandwagon when evaluating him early in his high school career. “He’s someone that brings people to the seats and makes the game entertaining for the old and young,” Evans said.

And he dunks. A lot.

Duke's Zion Williamson stands with his young brother Noah Anderson before the NBA basketball draft lottery Tuesday, May 14, 2019, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Nuccio DiNuzzo)
Duke's Zion Williamson stands with his younger brother, Noah Anderson, before the NBA draft lottery Tuesday in Chicago. (AP Photo/Nuccio DiNuzzo)

2. Is he a finished product?

Not even close. And this is the most intriguing part. If you talk to NBA scouts and executives, they’ll tell you that Williamson’s energy and devotion to defense guarantee that he’ll be a high-end NBA starter for a decade. Whether he becomes a consistent All-Star and eventual Hall of Famer will depend on refining his game, which is based exponentially more on power than polish.

Williamson averaged 22.6 points and 8.9 rebounds, but his midrange and outside game need significant work. His jump shot is nearly a set shot, as he barely leaves the floor. (Ironic, for a player with a game defined by defying gravity). He shot a respectable 33.8 percent (24-for-71) from 3-point range, but that’s clearly the place his game needs the most work. Williamson played most of the season around 285 pounds, and there appears to be some baby fat that could get trimmed off to make him — gulp — even more explosive.

“He’s one of the most unique basketball players [I’ve] seen or coached against,” said Notre Dame associate head coach Rod Balanis. “The size, power, speed and strength. The crazy part about it: He kept getting better as the year went along. It’s scary how high his ceiling is. It’s through the roof.”

3. How will he impact an organization?

This is the most difficult part of Zion to quantify, as his ability to energize a team, franchise and city can’t be overstated. Think of all the elite players who’ve gone through Duke, and few have brought with them the aura of Zion.

“He’s got the ability to impact any organization and any community,” Duke athletic director Kevin White told Yahoo Sports. “He does that just by being himself. He’s truly that authentic.”

At Duke, his presence was felt with unprecedented demand at the box office, blockbuster television ratings and the unique buzz he brought to every venue. “There’s a Zion effect,” White said. “He’s got a bigger-than-life personality. He’s a kid who people find it easy to attach themselves to. Everything you see is what you get.”

White was also quick to point out the ratings boom that Zion brought, as New Orleans transforms from an Anthony Davis divorce sideshow to a good story on the floor.

4. How will Williamson mesh with his new teammates?

If Duke is any indication, Williamson’s permanent smile and gregarious nature made him an ideal teammate. There’s a unique energy he brought both on the floor and in the locker room, as his season at Duke brought with it a halo of good vibes. Williamson got a cascade of attention, but handled it deftly and there was no apparent jealousy.

“[His energy] reverberates through the team that he’s on and also the entire arena, or wherever he is, there’s a buzz about him,” Evans said. “Guys around him feed off that. Guys like to play with him. And for how special he is, how good he is, people don’t get jealous of him. It reflects his character traits and all the intangibles that make him what he is.”

5. What can the city expect from Williamson off the court?

There’s a genuine joy that accompanied Williamson’s time at Duke. His halogen grin, on-court flexes and backboard trembling dunks even had Duke haters tuning in to do more than root against the Blue Devils.

Off the floor, there were zero issues with Williamson, as White said he deftly navigated campus life and didn’t limit his friend circle to just athletes during his year there. Williamson will be billed as the potential savior of a vulnerable franchise in New Orleans, and he’s shown the personal polish to carry the off-court duties that will accompany that.

“He’s a once-a-generation player, and also a generational human being,” White said. “They’ll never be another kid like him. And kid is the right word. He’s just comfortable in his own skin.”

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