The New Orleans Pelicans selected Duke forward Zion Williamson with the first overall pick Thursday in the 2019 NBA Draft. The Pelicans missed the playoffs in 2019 and are hoping to replace superstar Anthony Davis, who the Pelicans dealt to the Lakers after he requested a trade.
Williamson, a 6-foot-7, 285-pound forward, compiled a career worth of highlights into just one season, becoming the third freshman to be voted player of the year by The Associated Press. His assault on the rims made him a favorite of college basketball fans, but his game is more than just dunks. Williamson averaged 22.6 points and 8.9 rebounds while shooting 68% from the field.
Wearing a white suit, he hugged members of his family and NBA Commissioner Adam Silver after his name was called first Thursday night at Barclays Center.
Murray State’s Ja Morant was the second player off the board and will begin his professional career with the Memphis Grizzlies.
The New York Knicks then selected Duke guard RJ Barrett who lead the Atlantic Coast Conference in scoring. Knicks fans hoped they would get Williamson after finishing with the worst record in the league but seemed happy to end up with Barrett, loudly cheering and chanting “RJ! RJ!” when the pick was announced.
De’Andre Hunter of national champion Virginia was taken fourth but won’t be teaming up with Williamson. The Pelicans acquired the rights to the pick in the Davis deal but agreed to trade it shortly before the draft to Atlanta. The original trade can’t be official until July 6, so Hunter was outfitted with a Lakers hit and the draft board behind the stage listed the pick as belonging to the Lakers.
The Cleveland Cavaliers then took Vanderbilt guard Darius Garland, who played in just five games because of a knee injury.
The trades caused some confusion in Barclays Center beyond just players wearing hats of teams whose uniforms they won’t wear. A brief “Brooklyn! Brooklyn!” chant broke out when the Nets were on the clock at No. 17, but the Nets had already agreed to deal that pick to Atlanta in yet another trade that won’t become official until July 6.
Nickeil Alexander-Walker, Brandon Clarke and Mfiondu Kabengele followed Barrett into the NBA, giving Canada its best showing with four first-round picks. The overall record for draft picks from outside the U.S. was set when France had five players selected in 2016.