Pelicans win first overall pick - News Coverage

Pelicans win first overall pick

CHICAGO — The Zion Williamson sweepstakes have been won.

The New Orleans Pelicans were fortunate to turn up the franchise-changing ping pong ball for 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. The Memphis Grizzlies got the second pick.   

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. Previously, the team with the worst record (New York went a league-worst 17-65 last year) had a 25% chance of getting the top pick. This year the team with the three worst records — the Knicks, Suns and Cavaliers — all had an equal 14% chance at the top pick. Last year the Knicks would’ve been guaranteed the fourth pick, but this year they were only guaranteed fifth — with the first four decided by the lottery draw.  

The Los Angeles 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.

The Cavs (fifth) and Phoenix Suns (sixth) were left out of the top four despite holding that 14% chance of getting the top pick alongside New York in the new lottery system, which also allowed for teams near the middle — like the Lakers and Pelicans — to move up easier.

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.

Draft order: 

1. Pelicans

2. Grizzlies 

3. Knicks

4. Lakers 

5. Cavaliers 

6. Suns

7. Bulls

8. Hawks

9. Wizards 

10. Hawks (via Mavericks)

11. Timberwolves 

12. Hornets

13. Heat

14. Celtics (via Kings)

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