Zion Headlines Talent at 2019 NBA Draft

 

The Big Easy has a new reason to celebrate up and down Bourbon Street: Zion Williamson is coming to New Orleans. Or is he?

 

Ever since the Pelicans edged out the 13 other draft lottery teams on May 14, it has been widely projected that they will select Duke’s freshman phenom with the first overall pick in the 2019 NBA Draft on June 20. Using his remarkable combination of size and speed, the 6’7 forward averaged 22.6 points per game (shooting a whopping 68.0% from the field) and added 8.9 rebounds per game en route to being named the 2019 Naismith College Player of the Year and a consensus first team All-American in his lone NCAA season.

 

The last freshman to win the Naismith Award before Williamson happens to be the number one overall pick by the New Orleans Pelicans in 2012: Anthony Davis. The six-time NBA All-Star is coming off a season marred by injury and a mid-season trade request that was not granted. While Davis, who averaged 25.9 points per game and 12.0 rebounds per game in 2018-19, is still under contract with the Pelicans through this upcoming season, it is reportedly unlikely that he and Williamson team up in NOLA.

 

With Williamson presumably off the board, Murray State’s Ja Morant is expected to be selected by the Memphis Grizzlies with the second overall pick. Morant’s two years at the college level were highlighted by a sophomore season in which he averaged 24.5 points per game, 10.0 assists per game, and 5.7 rebounds per game. The 6’3 guard was named a consensus first team All-American and led his team to an NCAA Tournament first round victory over Marquette.

 

Morant’s selection could indicate that star Grizzlies guard Mike Conley could be on the move this offseason. The 12-year veteran is coming off a 2018-19 campaign in which he averaged 21.1 points per contest over 70 games.

 

The New York Knicks are slated to select third overall and Williamson’s Duke teammate, R.J. Barrett, is expected to call Madison Square Garden his home. Barrett, whose father Rowan played at MSG collegiately at St. John’s, averaged 22.6 points per game and 7.6 rebounds per game in his lone season in Durham. The 6’7 wing was also a consensus first team All-American.

 

Barrett is one piece of a major overhaul that the Knicks are hoping to execute after finishing 17-65 last season. With a young nucleus like Barrett and last year’s 8th overall pick Kevin Knox presumably in tact, New York is hoping to make a splash in free agency. Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving and Kemba Walker are reportedly on the Knicks’ wish list and only time will tell if one of those superstars calls The Big Apple their home starting next season.

 

While Williamson, Morant and Barrett stand out as the “first tier” of NBA prospects, the Los Angeles Lakers own the fourth overall pick. LeBron James’ first season in L.A. was largely considered a disappointing one, as the team finished 37-45, missed the playoffs and President of Basketball Operations Magic Johnson resigned from his post. The first step to regaining their historical success is by selecting a talented young player to compliment James.

 

Given the globalization of basketball over the last few decades, the number of international prospects continues to grow. Sekou Doumbouya (6’9 forward, France) and Rui Hachimura (6’8 forward, Japan) are two prospects who grew up on different continents who could be lottery picks in this year’s draft.

 

Many of the top selections in the 2018 NBA Draft made immediate impacts in the league. The third overall selection, Luke Doncic, led all rookies with 21.2 points per game as a member of the Mavericks. The top pick, Phoenix’s Deandre Ayton, led the pace with 10.0 rebounds per game and Trae Young, the fifth pick, led all rookies in assists with 8.1 per game as a member of the Hawks.

 

Located in Brooklyn, New York, the Barclays Center has hosted the NBA Draft since 2013. That year, the Cleveland Cavaliers selected UNLV’s Anthony Bennett with the first overall pick. Victor Oladipo (Orlando, 2nd overall), Giannis Antetokounmpo (Milwaukee, 15th overall) and Rudy Gobert (Utah via Denver, 27th overall) have highlighted the class so far.

 

Andrew Wiggins (Cleveland, 2014), Karl-Anthony Towns (Minnesota, 2015), Ben Simmons (Philadelphia, 2016), Markelle Fultz (Philadelphia, 2017), and Ayton (Phoenix, 2018) round out the group of top picks who have heard their names called first in the home of the Nets. Will Zion Williamson be next on that list?

 

Tune in to ESPN at 7:00 ET on Thursday, June 20 for coverage of the 2019 NBA Draft. Tickets for the draft can be purchased here.

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