It was a coronation 38 days in the making. Tonight, it became official. Zion Williamson is a New Orleans Pelican.
Amid great pomp and circumstance at the Barclays Center in New York on Thursday night, Williamson was selected with the No. 1 overall pick by the Pelicans in the 2019 NBA Draft. The former Duke basketball star, heralded as the greatest talent to enter the league since LeBron James, flashed a wide-brimmed smile as he stood next to commissioner Adam Silver, who announced his entry into the league.
Williamson instantly becomes one of the faces of the NBA, a league dominated by stars with oversized personalities. Zion seems to ditch the ego and self-aggrandizing many other young phenoms showcase in favor of a more down to earth, relaxed demeanor. Make no mistake, his magnetism is palpable for anybody who has been in the same room with the 18-year-old from South Carolina, but his laissez faire attitude should fit perfectly in New Orleans. The city is known as The Big Easy for a reason, after all.
The Pelicans now have their franchise centerpiece in place, and have already started to build around him. Williamson averaged 22.6 points per game on 68% shooting at Duke, and has a unique blend of size, strength, and natural basketball ability. He'll be surrounded by other young players, including Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, and Josh Hart, the franchise's newly acquired trio from the Lakers.
Veteran guard Jrue Holiday will be expected to mentor his young teammates as they lay the foundation to contend for NBA championships in future seasons.
Later in the night, the Pelicans added more first-round talent.
New Orleans took two more young prospects in the first round with picks they garnered earlier in the day by sending the fourth overall selection to the Atlanta Hawks, one of the picks acquired by New Orleans in the Anthony Davis trade to the Los Angeles Lakers.
Part of the Pelicans' return in that deal included picks 8 and 17 of the first round, and they bolstered the youth on their roster further with another pair of college stars.
At #8 overall, the Pelicans chose Texas center Jaxson Hayes. Hayes stands either 6'11" or an even 7 feet depending on who you ask. In his one season with the Longhorns, he averaged 10 points, five rebounds, and 2.2 blocks per game while shooting over 72% from the field.
ESPN's Chauncey Billups compared Hayes to former New Orleans Hornet Tyson Chandler.
With the 17th pick, the Pelicans took shooting guard Nickeil Alexander-Walker from Virginia Tech. Alexander-Walker played two seasons for the Hokies, upping his scoring average in his sophomore season from 10.7 to 16.2 points per game. He also averaged 4 assists and 1.9 steals.
But it's all about the charismatic kid from South Carolina. The Zion Williamson era is here for the Pelicans.