Zion Williamson and everyone else who follow basketball have known for a very long time that he would be the top overall pick in the 2019 NBA Draft, but that didn’t make the moment any less special for the former Duke star.
Williamson was interviewed by ESPN after the New Orleans Pelicans officially selected him with the No. 1 pick, and the 18-year-old was overcome with emotion. He had to pause several times to fight back tears.
Zion Williamson breaking into sobs after being selected No. 1 overall. pic.twitter.com/MjsSw2RpFN
— Kyle Boone (@Kyle__Boone) June 20, 2019
Williamson said being drafted No. 1 overall is something he has been dreaming of since he was 5 years old, so you can understand the reaction. Even if it has been a foregone conclusion that he would be the top pick, knowing it’s coming and actually hearing the commissioner announce your name are two entirely different things.
The top of the 2019 NBA Draft appears to be finalized hours before the draft takes place.
Zion Williamson has long been expected to go No. 1 overall, while the Grizzlies have been tied to Ja Morant ever since winning the No. 2 pick in the lottery. RJ Barrett has also been expected to be picked by the Knicks at No. 3.
The Athletic’s Shams Charania reported Thursday that those picks are already set, meaning the mystery won’t begin until the New Orleans Pelicans pick at No. 4.
Top three picks in 2019 NBA draft are set, per sources:
1. Zion Williamson, Pelicans
2. Ja Morant, Grizzlies
3. RJ Barrett, Knicks
Pelicans hold cards at No. 4.
— Shams Charania (@ShamsCharania) June 20, 2019
Players like Darius Garland, Coby White, and De’Andre Hunter have been mentioned as potential picks at No. 4. New Orleans also has been interested in trading that pick.
The real fun will begin with that fourth pick.
Zion Williamson made sure to set the record straight about his first meal in New Orleans.
Williamson is widely expected to become the first overall pick in Thursday’s NBA Draft by the Pelicans. New Orleans is known for its cuisine, and Williamson was said to have ordered chicken strips during his first meal there. Word that Williamson ordered a fairly standard item rather than a city specialty did not sit well with the foodies out there, so Williamson had to clarify — he actually ate fried shrimp.
Zion: “New Orleans was very welcoming”
Joked report of him getting chicken tenders for his first meal are false
— New Orleans Pelicans (@PelicansNBA) June 19, 2019
That’s what happens when you go out to eat with a 5-year-old child. Chicken tenders are a popular item for the youngsters.
More important than all the food nonsense though is that Williamson told the media he is ready to be the face of a franchise. That’s a massive responsibility and expectation for an 18-year-old, but Williamson seems to have the impressive character to take on that task and thrive.
Larry Brown Sports college basketball correspondent Shane McNichol covers the NBA Draft every June. This year, his rankings and full prospect profiles are available as part of his Palestra Back NBA Draft Guide. For $3, readers have access to 70 player breakdowns that include more than 25,000 words, making it a must for any draft nerd. Learn more at PalestraBack.com.
The post below is an excerpt from this guide, breaking down the presumptive No. 1 overall pick, Zion Williamson.
WHAT HE DOES WELL:
Everything you read or watch about Williamson will lead with his forceful play above the rim, his effectiveness in transition, or his ability to drive the basketball with direct aggressiveness. Each of those elements is part of Williamson’s game, with each of those factors adding to his position as a top-tier prospect.
In truth, what really separates Williamson from other high-level athletes is his ability to use his speed, springiness, and quickness on the defensive end of the floor. Despite standing 6-foot-8, Williamson was an effective rim protector patrolling the paint in his year at Duke. His ability to nearly scrape the ceiling, jumping off of one foot or both, makes Zion Williamson a feared shot blocker. He swatted 2.4 shots per 40 minutes, posting a block rate of 5.8 this season.
Although Williamson was among the heaviest players in all of college basketball at 285 pounds, his foot speed allowed him to close out on shooters and into passing lanes. No player taller or heavier than Williamson recorded a higher percentage of steals this season on a per-possession basis than the Duke freshman.
His rejection of a De’Andre Hunter 3-pointer at Virginia was the perfect encapsulation of Williamson’s defensive abilities.
How did Zion get to this? pic.twitter.com/TFWbOQDu79
— CBS Sports (@CBSSports) February 10, 2019
Williamson reaches a closing speed that no one his size could even dream about reaching and a peak height that no one, no matter their size, could match.
There are maybe five NBA players who can even fathom trying to guard every single player in the NBA. LeBron James, Giannis Antetekuompo, Ben Simmons, and maybe Kevin Durant make up that entire list. From the second Williamson steps on the court, he joins that group. If he stays properly motivated and healthy, Williamson could be First Team All-Defense many, many times, beginning as a rookie.
Attacking the paint
Williamson’s ability to effectively spark his team offensively stems from his penchant to use his size and speed to slice into the painted area. Defenders are constantly forced out of position as Williamson uses his body to create space.
While he was at Duke, Williamson unleashed a siege on the paint, doing so by building a full head of steam, barreling from the perimeter, or establishing position on the block. Either way, once Williamson had the ball inside his optimal scoring range, he was unstoppable. As just a freshman, Williamson led the ACC in 2-point shooting percentage and field goal shooting. In conference play, he converted just under 77 percent inside the arc.
Williamson showed the ability to score in the paint with floaters, hooks, layups, and dunks. While Zion certainly could overpower college level opponents, and he did, his arsenal of ways to score proves that he’ll continue to be able to convert at the next level.
When Williamson doesn’t get the ball where he wants to, it’s often because he was fouled. In ACC play, Williamson drew 6.4 fouls per 40 minutes, the 2nd-highest rate in the conference. With defenders constantly out of place, many are left with no other option than to reach in or overextended their arms, sending Williamson to the free throw line.
This year’s Duke team was one of the worst shooting teams in all of college basketball. The Blue Devils shot in the bottom 8th percentile from outside the arc and the bottom 29th from the free throw stripe. Williamson was certainly part of that problem (more on that in a minute), yet he was surrounded by a crop of poor shooters for nearly all of his minutes on the floor this season. Duke’s offense struggled with spacing, without true shooters to stretch the defense to the 3-point arc.
Coach K also made the strategic choice to play Williamson at power forward this year rather than center. This left a big man in the paint, even further complicating Duke’s spacing issues.
For Williamson, this resulted in less room to operate when the ball was in his hands. Defenders were ready and able to double-team Williamson at a moment’s notice, or at least pay extra attention as he looked to operate in the paint.
As just a freshman, Williamson showed himself able to respond to those extra eyeballs, creating scoring chances for his teammates all year long. Williamson only averaged 2.1 assists per game, yet saw countless crisp, smart passes ruined by a subpar shooter missing the mark.
At the next level, Williamson may not be able to be a primary offensive creator early in his career, but has the court vision to develop into that kind of weapon with the ball in his hands. This season, playing as a power forward, he ranked in the 99th percentile as a ball-handler in pick-and-roll. For his size, that level of playmaking is mind-blowing.
WHERE HE STRUGGLES
Though he doesn’t lack shooting in the same way a player like Ben Simmons does, Zion Williamson’s jump shot leaves a lot to be desired. In Simmons’ case, he has chosen to exist completely without a 3-point shot. Heaven only knows if he could manage to even shoot 25 percent from beyond the arc or if that would be enough to at least make defenders stay within a car-length of the Sixers point guard. Instead, Simmons focuses his energy on attacking downhill and scoring on the interior.
Williamson looks to use his clunky jump shot to open up driving lanes to the basket. This season, he made 33.8 percent of his 71 collegiate long-range attempts, below the national average. He showed more issues in his shooting stroke at the free throw line, where he sank just 64 percent of his tries.
At the end of the day, Williamson can probably be a good enough shooter to open up the rest of his offensive game at the next level. Giannis Antetokounmpo attracted at least some perimeter attention, despite shooting just 26 percent from outside the arc. Draymond Green has been an effective playmaker when he was at least a threat to make shots, at 32 percent for his career. Joel Embiid suckers big men into his pump fake time-after-time, though he barely cracks 30 percent shooting as a pro.
If Williamson’s shot can at least make defenders commit to a cautious close-out on the perimeter, he’ll have no trouble blowing by them to the rim.
HOW HIS GAME TRANSLATES TO THE NBA:
Williamson will be able to compete in today’s NBA from day one due to his athleticism and high motor. He will be able to defend at an elite level right away, even when his offense is a work in progress. It may take Williamson time to adjust offensively, facing stronger defenders and more complete defensive schemes. He should find opportunities to score in transition or as a roll-man before finding and developing a smart, nuanced offensive identity.
His career will have extra life in the modern game, with positions becoming less and less important. Whereas a player the size of Zion Williamson used to be thought of as a “tweener” with no true position, we now know the value of a player able to switch defensively and exploit mismatches offensively. Williamson’s likely most valuable role will be as a small-ball center, protecting the rim with his verticality and spreading the floor offensively with his foot speed.
Springier Larry Johnson
Explosive Draymond Green
More Skilled Kenneth Farried
If you enjoyed this scouting breakdown, be sure to visit Palestra Back to purchase Shane McNichol’s full draft guide.
Shane McNichol covers college basketball and the NBA for Larry Brown Sports. He also blogs about basketball at Palestra Back and has contributed to Rush The Court, ESPN.com, and USA Today Sports Weekly. Follow him on Twitter @OnTheShaneTrain.
The New Orleans Pelicans have set up a formal pre-draft meeting with likely top pick Zion Williamson, but it sounds like they’re already in love.
The Pelicans had already met with Williamson in Chicago in May, and they made no secret of how impressed by him they were, according to Scott Kushner of the Advocate.
The Pelicans’ top brass loved basically everything they’ve learned about Zion Williamson on background, & raved about meeting with him & family in Chicago.
This week’s visit to New Orleans is a chance for Zion to cement all of those fond notions and lock down No. 1 pick.
— Scott Kushner (@ScottDKushner) June 10, 2019
Williamson becoming the No. 1 pick is a virtual formality at this point, and this meeting should only cement it. With Anthony Davis’ impending departure, Williamson will immediately become the face of the franchise from the moment he’s selected.
An old quote Zion Williamson had a few years back about signing autographs went viral this week, but the way it is being presented is not entirely accurate.
Williamson made it a point to spend extra time signing autographs during his lone season in Duke, and that is something he has been passionate about since high school. When he was 16, Williamson said in a documentary about his team that he tries to sign every kid’s autograph because he knows how he would feel if an athlete he looked up to snubbed him.
“When I was little, I looked up to high school players and wanted their autographs and sometimes I couldn’t get it, I’d be hurt,” Williamson said at the time, via Marc Berman of the New York Post. “I said when I grew up, I don’t want to be like that. I want to sign every kid’s autograph. No matter how long it takes me.
“I try to sign every kid’s autograph. I don’t want to turn a little kid down because I know it will hurt them because it hurt me. Anthony Davis, John Wall turned me down. So I try to sign everybody’s.”
Apparently what Williamson said came off wrong. According to Shams Charania of The Athletic, he didn’t mean that Davis and Wall actually turned down his autograph request. He was simply using them as part of an analogy.
Some context on Zion Williamson/Anthony Davis/John Wall autograph story being rehashed: Williamson has never met Davis or Wall, per source close to him. Neither snubbed him. Williamson was providing analogy using athletes he looked up to in high school, on why he signs for kids.
— Shams Charania (@ShamsCharania) May 21, 2019
That makes sense, because Williamson said in the video clip that he never actually got a chance to see Wall and Davis play:
I checked the video And it seems Zion was misquoted by they NY Post, he not only says he’s never met AD and John Wall but he also says he always signs autographs for kids because he would have been hurt “IF” AD and John Wall wouldn’t have signed their autograph for him https://t.co/E8LaDBeQRJ pic.twitter.com/AWRmdvR0XW
— gifdsports (@gifdsports) May 21, 2019
Everyone can relax now. Davis and Wall aren’t heartless autograph snubbers — at least not that we know of.
For such a young guy, Williamson seems to have the right attitude about being a superstar player. We saw that with the way he handled his unique situation at Duke, and the fact that he goes out of his way to sign as many autographs as possible is another great example.
Zion Williamson is doing everything he can to put to rest any talk about him not wanting the New Orleans Pelicans to draft him.
On Thursday morning, Williamson’s stepfather told ESPN Radio that Zion returning to Duke for his sophomore season is “nothing that we have even considered.” There was also a report that Williamson had a positive meeting with the Pelicans this week, and now we have the 18-year-old’s high school coach saying he spoke with Williamson’s family and Zion would be “honored” to play for New Orleans.
Breaking: Zion Williamson’s high school coach (Lee Sartor) just joined us live and said Zion will not be returning to Duke nor will he ask for a trade.
In communication with Zion’s family, they’ve said Zion will be honored to be drafted by the @PelicansNBA.
— Marc Ryan (@MarcRyanOnAir) May 16, 2019
In other words, that narrative can go away.
Williamson went against the advice of many people by even playing an entire season for Duke last year, as he was considered the consensus No. 1 pick all along and was risking a potential injury. While he remained committed to Duke, playing another season when he is about to become the top pick in the NBA Draft would be an insane decision.
The reports about Williamson reacting a certain way during the draft lottery may have been true, but that does not mean he is going to go to great measures to avoid playing for the Pelicans. Every star player would like to hand-pick the team that drafts him, but it doesn’t work that way.