Zion Williamson and the ascendant Pelicans could hardly be in a better spot

first_img Since you’re here… Williamson is poised to join an unusually competitive team for a franchise who held the top pick. The Pelicans, who had a 6% chance at the first pick heading into the lottery, traded All-NBA star Anthony Davis a week ago, acquiring a treasure trove of future assets.And they’re still dealing. An hour before the draft, ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported the Pelicans had dealt the fourth pick to the Atlanta Hawks – due to an arcane rule, teams cannot officially announce trades until the end of the league’s moratorium period, leading to awkward moments where drafts players are forced to wear one team’s hat on draft night, knowing they have already been traded to another.The Pelicans could be really, really good, really, really fast. All the pieces they’ve acquired in recent weeks are a perfect fit for coach Alvin Gentry’s go-go offense. If they gel quick, they could blitz everyone.Along with Williamson, the Pelicans added Jaxson Hayes and Nickeil Alexander-Walker in the first round on Thursday night. A young team just got younger. A fast team just got faster.New Pelicans head honcho David Griffin has now turned Davis into: Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, Josh Hart, Hayes, Alexander-Walker, Cleveland’s 2020 pick, the Lakers pick in 2021 (if not in the top eight), the Lakers pick in 2022 if they don’t acquire the 2021 pick, the ability to swap pick with the Lakers in 2023, the Lakers pick in either 2024 or 2025, and stay with me, dumped Solomon Hill’s bloated contract – on the books for $12m. That, people, is the mother lode.It’s really fun to dream; cap room and picks could be anything! New Orleans is now building around Zion, a bunch of cap room, five (!) first-round picks, and a couple of former high picks – two back-to-back second overall picks – who could become quality running mates alongside Williamson.Only one player on the Pelicans roster is making more than $10m over the next three years. And that player, Jrue Holiday, who is on the books on a deal that escalates to $27m, will likely be moved on – for even more assets – now that the Pelicans have committed to a youth movement. Read more NBA draft 2019: Zion Williamson goes No 1 to Pelicans – as it happened Share on Pinterest Share on Twitter Share on LinkedIn Topics features Support The Guardian Pinterest Share on WhatsApp The history of first overall picks is the history of stars ending up on dud teams; there’s a reason a team selects at the top of the draft. Either the player flames out or he transforms the culture of the team from a lousy one into a winning one.When LeBron entered the league with Cleveland, he joined a dysfunctional operation. He did his best to drag the Cavs to success, taking them almost single-handedly to a NBA finals in 2007. But he had to ditch Cleveland to sniff championship success (incidentally, the Cavs returned to stinking as soon as James left … which allowed them to acquire the assets to entice James to return).Anthony Davis also got stuck with a lousy front office, staff, and organizational structure … in New Orleans. The Pelicans tried to turbo-charge the Davis timeline, hoping to become competitive right away and convince Davis that New Orleans was the right spot for him to stay long-term.With Davis onboard, the Pelicans sunk fat contracts into average players – the only kind who would move to New Orleans as free agents – and dumped draft picks in the hunt for All-Star or borderline All-Star caliber players to surround their prized asset.Things will be different for Zion – the highest rated prospect since Davis or James. Griffin seems content to build slowly, methodically. It’s the right way. Zion is going to be good right away. But he will still need some years to find his NBA legs. The season is long. The playoffs are a grind. He will need to get used to the rough and tumble of the pro basketball calendar.He could hardly be in a better spot. He will be able to grow and develop without the pressure of needing to win right away. He’s surrounded by players who are young but have been in the league long enough to know how to conduct themselves: how to get on a plane; how to manage a schedule; how to practice; when to hit the club. Those things sound dopey but they’re important. It’s why superstars, most notably LeBron, like to encourage their teams to jettison draft picks and rookies for veterans.There’s some veteran presence, but they’re not old guys. They can grow and build with Zion. And with the treasure trove of assets heading their way via the Lakers and Hawks, the Pelicans have plenty of chances to land one or two more stars through the draft or trade market. And while New Orleans hasn’t historically been a free agent destination, once Zion is up and running and [Insert Other Draft Pick] shows signs of stardom, there will be a queue of elite caliber players looking to team up for a tilt at the title.Zion is the league’s next super-duper star. No one can quite find a player comparison; we’ve just never seen someone built this thick be this agile. The only two former first overall picks who weigh the same as Zion – 285lbs – are Shaquille O’Neal and Yao Ming. Both of them towered over seven foot. Zion is 6ft 9in.“What strikes me? His agility and his quickness,” LeBron James said of Williamson at the All-Star break. “For his size, how strong he is, to be able to move like the way he moves, he’s very impressive. I mean, everybody can see the athleticism. That’s ridiculous. But the speed and the quickness that he moves [with] at that size is very impressive.”Zion has Defensive Player of the Year upside, with the attributes to be a volume scorer and the first-option on an elite offense. He can run plays or play off the ball. He’s a battering ram to the rim who can bounce and jump and slam over anyone.Zion doesn’t have any holes in his game. Scroll through draft guides and you will see the only listed concern as his ability to shoot. But that’s overstated. Firstly, we just watched Giannis Antetokounmpo romp to the MVP crown rarely shooting. Secondly, Zion can shoot. He hit 33% of his three-point shots in college, averaging two attempts a game. Now that he can swap sociology for basketball-ology, he could push that number closer to 40%. At that figure, Zion’s offensive game would be diverse and borderline unstoppable.There’s rarely such a thing as a can’t-miss prospect. And it’s hard to pull off the perfect rebuild. But Zion and his Pelicans are coalescing into something truly special. Williamson is the future of the NBA, and so are the Pelicans. Share via Emailcenter_img … we have a small favour to ask. More people are reading and supporting The Guardian’s independent, investigative journalism than ever before. And unlike many new organisations, we have chosen an approach that allows us to keep our journalism accessible to all, regardless of where they live or what they can afford. But we need your ongoing support to keep working as we do.The Guardian will engage with the most critical issues of our time – from the escalating climate catastrophe to widespread inequality to the influence of big tech on our lives. At a time when factual information is a necessity, we believe that each of us, around the world, deserves access to accurate reporting with integrity at its heart.Our editorial independence means we set our own agenda and voice our own opinions. Guardian journalism is free from commercial and political bias and not influenced by billionaire owners or shareholders. This means we can give a voice to those less heard, explore where others turn away, and rigorously challenge those in power.We need your support to keep delivering quality journalism, to maintain our openness and to protect our precious independence. Every reader contribution, big or small, is so valuable. Support The Guardian from as little as $1 – and it only takes a minute. Thank you. Share on Facebook New Orleans Pelicans US sports Pelicans fans celebrate as Zion Williamson is selected first overall in the NBA draft at Fulton Street Square in downtown New Orleans on Thursday night. Photograph: Derick E Hingle/USA Today Sports The Pelicans made official what we’ve known for a month now, drafting Zion Williamson first overall in last night’s NBA draft. In truth, we’ve known Zion would be selected first overall for close to sixth months. Where he would launch his new office, however, was dictated by a bag of ping pong balls four weeks ago at the NBA lottery. 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