NBA draft 2019: Zion Williamson era set to begin

Jun 20, 2019, 3:54 PM
NBA draft zion williamson...
Zion Williamson speaks to the media ahead of the 2019 NBA draft at the Grand Hyatt New York on Wednesday in New York City. Photo: Mike Lawrie/Getty Images

(CNN) — Zion Williamson going No. 1 to the New Orleans Pelicans may be all but certain, but the NBA draft still has the potential to be a roller coaster ride.

It would be crazy if New Orleans doesn’t take Williamson as the No. 1 overall pick Thursday in New York. It’s also assumed the the Memphis Grizzlies will select Murray State point guard Ja Morant at No. 2 and the New York Knicks will take RJ Barrett, Williamson’s teammate at Duke, at No. 3.

But things got shaken up over the weekend. According to ESPN and other outlets, the Pelicans are trading Anthony Davis to the Los Angeles Lakers, sending Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, Josh Hart and three first-round draft picks — including the No. 4 overall selection — to New Orleans (It’s expected the deal will be completed July 6, so the official draft order still shows the Lakers at No. 4).

There’s been another deal since, as the Grizzlies are trading their longtime point guard Mike Conley to the Utah Jazz.

Things could be interesting with that No. 4 pick. Will New Orleans keep it? Does anyone want to trade up for Vanderbilt’s Darius Garland?

Williamson, meanwhile, is the most hyped prospect since LeBron James. That was apparent on Wednesday, when reporters flocked to Williamson during a media session.

Per league rules, Williamson, who turns 19 on July 6, had to wait one year after graduating from high school to be eligible for the draft.

In his lone season at Duke, Williamson was the biggest draw men’s college basketball saw in years. Listed at 6 feet, 7 inches tall and 285 pounds, Williamson was a human highlight reel — not just with his explosive dunks but with his all-round game.

“I don’t know how I’m going to react (on draft night),” Williamson said Wednesday. “I don’t know if I’m going to cry; I don’t know if I’m going to have this giant smile on my face. I guess we’ll see.”

Coverage of the NBA draft begins at 7 pm ET on ESPN.

The Pelicans and their fans celebrated when the team won the NBA draft lottery in May. And a chain restaurant that started in Louisiana now has gotten in on the action.

On Thursday, a Popeyes in downtown New Orleans will have a “Wingspan Box” to celebrate Williamson. It’s an 82-inch-long box full of chicken, with 77 boneless wings, 11 biscuits and 11 series of fries for the price of $74.69.

International prospects also will take center stage

The NBA truly has become a global game, as several international players likely will take center stage on draft night.

In the last three NBA drafts, a combined 52 international players were drafted, including last year’s No. 1 overall pick in Phoenix’s Deandre Ayton of the Bahamas. Since 2009, there have been 27 international players drafted in the top 10, including 17 in the top five.

Canada has the chance to surpass France, which had five selections in 2016, for the record for most draftees from a non-US country in one draft. Leading the Canadian group is Barrett, whose godfather is former NBA star and fellow Canadian Steve Nash. Before Williamson’s stock took off, Barrett was seen as the potential top pick. Also notable, Rui Hachimura is poised to be the first Japanese player to be drafted in the first round.

The Toronto Raptors — the first NBA champion outside of the US — featured five international players from five countries on their roster, and team president Masai Ujiri is Nigerian.

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NBA draft 2019: Zion Williamson era set to begin