NEW YORK — Welcome to the NBA, Zion Williamson.
The superstar forward out of Duke was selected No. 1 overall by the Pelicans in Thursday night’s NBA draft at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, confirming what had been inevitable once New Orleans won the draft lottery last month.
Williamson, a generational talent because of his combination of size, strength, speed and skill, was the dominant force in college basketball last season. As a freshman, he averaged 22.6 points, 8.9 rebounds, 2.1 steals and 1.8 blocks, all while shooting 68% from the field as he wowed with one spectacular highlight play after another en route to being named the Wooden Award winner as the nation’s top player.
“I don’t think it’s feelings I can really describe,” Williamson said. “You know, as a little kid you say you want to go to the NBA. People basically say, you’ve got to have a Plan B because the chances of doing it is just little to none. For me to be selected No. 1, I mean, I can’t dream it no better than that.”
Williamson immediately steps in as the centerpiece for a new-look Pelicans team that agreed to trade star big man Anthony Davis to the Los Angeles Lakers last week. Williamson said he was excited about the challenge of turning things around in the Big Easy, and of partnering with Lonzo Ball and Brandon Ingram, two of the players who will come in the Davis trade.
“What excites me the most is the fact that they’re young and they’re close to my age so they can help me a lot more, like how to deal with this transition,” Williamson said. “I think we can build something over there.”
Like Williamson, the second and third picks also went according to plan. Murray State point guard Ja Morant went second to the Memphis Grizzlies, and Williamson’s teammate at Duke, swingman RJ Barrett, went third to the New York Knicks.
Morant, an explosive athlete with a solid 3-point shooting stroke, led the Racers to the second round of the NCAA tournament, averaging 24.5 points and 10.0 assists while going from a mid-first-round pick before the season began to the clear No. 2 prospect entering draft night, according to ESPN’s Jonathan Givony and Mike Schmitz.
Morant steps in to a Grizzlies team that on Tuesday agreed to trade point guard stalwart Mike Conley to the Utah Jazz for forwards Jae Crowder and Kyle Korver, the No. 23 pick Thursday night and a protected future first-round pick. Memphis later used that No. 23 pick to trade up to No. 21 and select Gonzaga‘s Brandon Clarke.
“It’s been crazy,” Morant said. “Obviously a wild moment for me, coming from my story, what I’ve been through to get to this point. I’m just very excited to be able to accomplish my dream.”
Barrett, meanwhile, had been hoping to join the Knicks all along. Barrett’s mother, who is from Brooklyn, met his father, Rowan, while she was a track star and he was a basketball star at St. John’s in Queens.
“It would mean a lot,” Barrett, who was born in Canada, said Wednesday of getting the chance to play for the Knicks. “My late grandfather, rest in peace, he was the biggest Knicks fan. He’d always tell me I’d play for the Knicks. It would mean a lot to me.”
When he got his wish, the crowd at Barclays Center exploded in cheers, and Barrett — resplendent in a pink suit and black shirt — walked onto the stage as the crowd chanted his name. Barrett cried into his father’s shoulder after his selection.
“That was crazy. That was one of the reasons why I was crying, because [my grandfather and I] used to watch the Knicks growing up and he would always tell me I was going to be a Knick,” Barrett said. “I’m sad he can’t be here to see it. But I’m just very happy, man.”
The presumptive No. 1 pick entering the college basketball season, Barrett’s star was surpassed by the comet