Since the Pelicans landed the first overall pick in Tuesday night’s draft lottery, there has been speculation that top prospect Zion Williamson may not want to play in New Orleans. That idea has prompted reporters like ESPN’s Brian Windhorst (video link) and Marc Stein of The New York Times (Twitter link) to point out that Williamson could technically decide to return to Duke before the NCAA’s May 29 withdrawal deadline for early entrants.
However, according to Williamson’s stepfather, Lee Anderson, that’s not a scenario that Zion’s camp is seriously weighing.
As Jeff Duncan of NOLA.com relays (via Twitter), Anderson said today in a radio appearance in Baton Rouge that Williamson is “excited about the prospect of getting down there and getting settled” in New Orleans, adding that returning to Duke “is not something that we have even considered.”
The idea of Williamson withdrawing from the draft, spending another season with the Blue Devils, and entering the 2020 draft always seemed highly unlikely. The No. 1 pick in the 2019 draft projects to earn over $9.7MM in his rookie year, so the Duke forward would have had to pass up on that salary to play for free in college for another year. It also would’ve pushed his first big NBA free agent payday back by a year.
Beyond the money aspect, there’s also no guarantee that the team landing the No. 1 pick in 2020 would be any more favorable. While New Orleans is considered a small market by NBA standards, there are certainly worse places to live and worse places to play — with Jrue Holiday under contract and a trade haul for Anthony Davis possibly on the way, it’s not as if the Pelicans’ cupboards are bare.
On top of all that, Shams Charania of The Athletic reports (via Twitter) that Williamson had a positive meeting with the Pelicans this week in Chicago at the draft combine. Prior to the lottery, Zion had cited New Orleans as one of his preferred landing spots, according to Charania, who adds that the youngster also met with the Grizzlies in Chicago.
We won’t have a clear picture of which NCAA prospects are remaining in the draft until after May 29, and the full early entry list won’t be officially announced until after the NBA’s own withdrawal deadline of June 10, but it seems pretty safe at this point to say that Williamson won’t be among those prospects pulling out of the 2019 draft pool.