As expected, the New Orleans Pelicans selected Duke freshman Zion Williamson first overall in the NBA draft on Thursday, replacing the face of their franchise within days of agreeing to trade superstar Anthony Davis to the Los Angeles Lakers.
This was inevitable once the Pelicans won last month’s draft lottery. Williamson is a 6-foot-7, 285-pound freak athlete who can play any position, on the ball or off it, from the perimeter to the rim, end to end. He has every skill imaginable and is considered the best prospect since either Davis in 2012 or LeBron James in 2003.
Williamson burst into the basketball consciousness as a high school recruit with an endless array of breathtaking dunks, and he entered another stratosphere in his lone year at Duke. There is no precedent for his 22.6 points (70.8 effective field-goal percentage), 8.9 rebounds, 2.1 assists, 2.1 steals and 1.8 blocks in 30 minutes per game for the Blue Devils, all of which solidified his status as a generational talent.
The final piece to the Williamson puzzle is a personality that leaves the NBA in good hands as James ages into his mid-30s. The 18-year-old comes with a smile that will light up New Orleans now that the dark cloud of the Davis trade drama has lifted. He deflected as much praise in his predraft interviews as he did blocks on the court.
Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski called Williamson “a gift from God” in a recent interview with Yahoo Sports’ Pete Thamel. “He may be an All-Star right away,” added Krzyzewski. “There’s no ceiling, really. He doesn’t have a weakness.”
Given what the Pelicans will get in return for Davis, Williamson walks into a rebuild well ahead of the schedules most top picks are plugged into. The addition of recent No. 2 overall picks Brandon Ingram and Lonzo Ball to the roster, along with the No. 8 pick in this draft — the Pelicans swapped their No. 4 pick in a deal with Atlanta on Thursday— gives New Orleans four of the league’s elite under-21 prospects.
Former All-Star guard Jrue Holiday will be tasked with leading this young group forward, so long as new vice president of basketball operations David Griffin keeps him in New Orleans. Griffin also has what amounts to two more unprotected first-round picks and a future pick swap from the Lakers and more draft capital from the Hawks deal with which to build during Williamson’s rookie contract. It is a remarkable starting point for the franchise.
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