NEW YORK (AFP) – Teenage star Zion Williamson is set to be chosen with the top pick in the NBA Draft on Thursday as the New Orleans Pelicans launch their quest to build a team of championship contenders.
Williamson, who turns 19 on July 6, is the overwhelming favorite to be chosen with the No. 1 selection after a dazzling season in college basketball with Duke University.
The 6-foot-7in (2.01m) teenager, who weighs in at 285 pounds (129kg), is regarded by many experts as the sort of once in a generation talent capable of reaching the pinnacle of the NBA.
Williamson, who averaged 22.6 points, 8.9 rebounds and 2.1 assists per game for Duke before declaring for the draft in April, offers a rare mix of imposing size and explosive athleticism.
“There are some things he obviously needs to work on, but at 6-7, 285, people ask who does he remind me of? Nobody,” said NBA TV analyst Steve Smith.
“There is not anyone I’ve seen like this (at that size). No one has jumped like this. There is nobody he reminds me of.”
While Williamson’s skills were not enough to carry Duke to the championship, his talent did see him win the Naismith College Player of the Year award.
That achievement placed him in elite company alongside Kevin Durant and Anthony Davis as the only freshman winners of the honor.
Las Vegas bookmakers, meanwhile, have already installed Williamson as a 2/9 favourite to win the NBA’s Rookie of the Year Award in 2020.
For Pelicans president of basketball operations, David Griffin, Thursday’s draft is a chance to reshape the franchise.
The Pelicans and Los Angeles Lakers agreed to a blockbuster trade on Saturday which will see Anthony Davis heading to the Lakers to form a partnership with LeBron James.
In return, New Orleans acquired the Lakers’ Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram and Josh Hart as well as three first-round picks – including the number four overall selection in Thursday’s draft.
The Davis trade has given New Orleans added negotiating muscle for the draft. Reports on Monday said the Pelicans were contemplating swapping the number four pick in exchange for a more proven player.
The New York Post meanwhile reported that the Pelicans were even exploring the possibility of trading up to secure the number two pick in order to land Williamson’s former Duke team-mate and close friend R.J. Barrett, who had been expected to be chosen third by the New York Knicks.