1. Zion is the only player who can replace Anthony Davis
The 2019 NBA Draft has plenty of players with bright futures in the league, both the ones we expect such as Ja Morant and those we don’t yet know will become stars. Look at the NBA’s final four teams and see a collection of stars not taken in the top-five, from Stephen Curry (seventh) and Damian Lillard (sixth) to Giannis Antetokounmpo (15th) and Kawhi Leonard (15th).
Even so, there is a different threshold for certain can’t-miss NBA superstars. Tim Duncan in 1997. LeBron James in 2003. Anthony Davis in 2012. The loftiest of pre-draft evaluations has never failed to produce a superstar. Zion Williamson is that kind of prospect.
New Orleans failed to deliver a contender around Davis during his time on the team, making the postseason just twice. Part of that failure falls on the front office trying to rush things by trading for and signing veterans who did not pan out. Part of it falls on coaches who did not maximize the talent. Part of it falls on either bad luck or the training staff, as injuries have plagued this team throughout Davis’ tenure.
In the end that failure has Davis demanding a trade out, and until the draft lottery, the Pelicans were staring at the mystery of a future without their star. Now that mystery has become glorious expectation with Zion Williamson on the board and the first pick in their hands.
New Orleans is a football town, and the Saints will likely always be more beloved than the Pelicans. Even with Davis, the team has struggled with attendance and is in both a small market and a relatively poorer market than many other teams. Luxuries such as basketball games sometimes are out of reach, especially if you’re saving your money for a Saints game.
Enter Zion Williamson, the league’s most marketable athlete since LeBron James. He will immediately bring the national spotlight to New Orleans in a way that even Davis did not. He is not only incredible on the court — highlight blocks, thunderous dunks, incredible spins and passes and screams of joy — but imminently likable off the court too. His humble demeanor and infectious smile should draw fans in. Think Stephen Curry rather than Chris Paul.
The Pelicans’ franchise will print money in jersey sales and a packed house. Zion is that kind of star. He will almost certainly win the hearts of fans in New Orleans and across a region without another basketball allegiance to make. Football fans in Alabama and Mississippi tend to root for the Saints, and now they may be drawn to root for New Orleans’ hoops as well. Once Drew Brees retires, the Big Easy will almost certainly be Zion’s town.
There are technically no guarantees, and Williamson may not be able to deliver the contender that this city wants. Yet he has a better chance of doing so than any player in this draft or likely the next few. Rather than taking their chances in a rebuild searching for a star, the Pelicans will have theirs in the fold.
The Pelicans should do their due diligence, examining other top prospects and listening to trade offers. Yet holding the rights to take Zion Williamson is probably worth more than 440 of the 450 or so players in the league. In the end, the Pelicans must conclude they should draft Zion Williamson. In doing so they will bring a generational talent to lead their franchise into a suddenly bright future.