Published 11:22 PM EDT May 14, 2019
CHICAGO — The Zion Williamson sweepstakes have been won.
The New Orleans Pelicans were fortunate to turn up the franchise-changing ping pong ball to win the No. 1 pick at Tuesday night’s NBA draft lottery, despite entering the day with just a 6% chance of winning. They beat out 13 other hopeful teams looking to draft Williamson, the Duke sensation who’s the presumptive top pick in June after a highlight-reel freshman season in which he was college basketball’s national player of the year.
It was New Orleans' first No. 1 pick since Anthony Davis in 2012. The Memphis Grizzlies got the second pick, another surprise.
"We have a lot of work to do. This will certainly jump-start the process," David Griffin, the Pelicans' executive vice president of basketball operations, told reporters. "I look at this as a situation where (Zion) is a wholly and unique talent. And we feel what we’re going to build is going to be wholly and unique as well. Hopefully all of this sort of comes to a place where we all feel like we’re meant to be together."
The New York Knicks, a storied franchise looking to transform into a contender via the draft and free agency after years of struggles, received the third pick in this year’s draft. They were on the wrong side of a new system implemented by the NBA designed to discourage tanking.
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Previously, the team with the worst record (New York went a league-worst 17-65 this past season) had a 25% chance of getting the top pick. This year the team with the three worst records — the Knicks, Cleveland Cavaliers (fifth) and Phoenix Suns (sixth) — all had an equal 14% chance at the top pick. But the new system benefited teams near the middle more — allowing the Pelicans, Grizzlies and Los Angeles Lakers to move up.
The Lakers (fourth) moved up the most of the 14 teams in the lottery, and now the LeBron James-led team will get an impact player for trading or adding to its young nucleus.
Williamson made Duke a must-watch team all season long before the Blue Devils bowed out in the Elite Eight of the NCAA tournament. He averaged 22.6 points and 8.9 rebounds a game as a freshman, taking the college basketball world by storm with his windmill dunks and brute force as a 6-7, 285-pound forward. Coach Mike Krzyzewski calls Williamson the “most unique athlete he’s ever coached.”
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Yet Williamson, also an elite passer and shot-blocker, wants to be known as more than a highlight reel. “I want to be defined as a player that could do everything for his team,” Williamson said Tuesday at the lottery. “When I was a kid, my dream was just to get to the NBA. …A lot of people see me as a superstar. I’m an 18/19-year-old rookie.”
Williamson’s All-American teammate, RJ Barrett, is also considered a top-three pick alongside Murray State point guard Ja Morant. Barrett led Duke in scoring with 22.9 points a game and carried the Blue Devils during Williamson’s six-game injury absence late in the season. Before Williamson’s celebrity dominated headlines, Barrett was considered a viable No. 1 pick. Asked Tuesday whether he felt like the best player in the draft, Barrett didn’t shy away despite his bond with Williamson: “Of course. …Yes, I do believe I’m the best player (in the draft class).”
Morant, who led the nation in assists, played for a mid-major program but made a giant splash in the NCAA tournament’s first round when he recorded a triple-double to help the Racers upset Marquette. Gonzaga’s Rui Hachimura, Virginia’s DeAndre Hunter, Texas Tech’s Jarrett Culver, North Carolina’s Coby White and Duke’s Cam Reddish are a handful of the other expected top-10 picks.
10. Hawks (via Mavericks)
14. Celtics (via Kings)