New Orleans Wins Zion Pick, But Don't Sleep On Morant or Barrett

CHICAGO -- The New Orleans Pelicans won the Zion Williamson Sweepstakes, but the Memphis Grizzlies and New York Knicks can land franchise-altering players, too.

The Pelicans entered the NBA Draft Lottery Tuesday night with a 6 percent chance of landing the left-handed Duke star, who is viewed as a franchise-changing star and instant box office draw.

"Whatever NBA team I land on, that's where I want to be," the 6-foot-7 Williamson said last month at the Final Four.

Memphis finished second and the Knicks third, giving them access to Murray State point guard Ja Morant and Duke wing R.J. Barrett.

"If they get either one of those guys, it's worthy of a No. 1 pick in most any year," ESPN's Jay Bilas said.

Hall of Famer Isiah Thomas, for one, thinks the 6-3 Morant can be a special point guard at the next level. He averaged 24.5 points and 10.0 assists for the Racers while regularly making highlight-reel plays.

"He's another freak athlete, the way that he can jump," Thomas said here before the lottery. "But also his passing skills are very unique also. He passes it left hand, right hand, passes it off the dribble. Shoots the ball pretty well.

"And he's a confident defender so a basketball standpoint, he checks all the boxes when you talk about athlete, passing ability. His shooting is good and it will get better. The more he practices, the more he'll get better. And then his attitude is good, too. So I really like him as a player also."

Bilas compared Morant, who was lightly recruited before being discovered by then-Murray State assistant James Kane, to Russell Westbrook.

Asked about potentially playing for the Knicks, Morant said, "I’ll feel good going anywhere, honestly. Just to hear my name called, go across the stage, shake the Commissioner’s hand, that would be good."

Some think the 6-7 Barrett could end up being a better pro than his teammate Williamson. Barrett averaged 22.6 points, 7.6 rebounds 4.3 assists while setting an ACC freshman scoring record.

"R.J. is one of those players," Thomas said. "Not only did he show it at Duke, but he showed it in high school. He's been one of the top-rated players in the country and also in basketball over the last four or five years so he's not a surprise to anyone."

Said Bilas: "A year ago, R.J. Barrett was considered the presumptive No. 1 pick and he's [James] Hardenesque in his ability. He's got to improve his shooting but so did Michael Jordan. I'm not saying he's Michael Jordan, but he's got the capability of doing it. He's a great young man, and he's a great teammate."

Of course, all the hype Tuesday was about Williamson, who was the third freshman to win the Wooden Award, after Anthony Davis (2012) and Kevin Durant (2007). He is expected to become just the second freshmen to win the Wooden Award and become the No. 1 overall pick.

Everyone from Thomas to Coach K to LeBron James to Steph Curry to Oscar Robertson has praised the South Carolina native as a once-in-a-generation athlete.

"Zion is the most unique athlete I've coached at Duke," Coach K said.

King James flew to Charlottesville, Va., to watch Duke play at Virginia. Williamson has drawn comparisons to James because of his combination of size and agility.

"What strikes me? His agility and his quickness," James said in February, according to ESPN. "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 obviously, that's ridiculous. But the speed and the quickness that he moves [with] at that size is very impressive."

Thomas also raved about Williamson.

"The sky's the limit for him," Thomas said. "His athleticism is eye-opening. Very few people have come into our league with his type of athleticism. His marketability right now is off the charts. only been a few players that have come into our league right out of college and they were very marketable not only to their home fanbase but also to the domestic fan base. He also has international appeal from a marketing standpoint, so it's a bonanza for whatever team gets him. And from a playing standpoint, if he continues to grow and mature he can be quite special."

For all the top players, it may depend on where they wind up and what system they're in.

"If you end up with the right system and the right coach that understands how to exploit and display your talents," Thomas said, "you can be quite special."

Adam Zagoria is a Basketball Insider who runs and contributes to The New York Times. Follow Adam on Twitter.

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