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New Orleans Pelicans win NBA draft lottery, get No. 1 overall pick

Published 9:00 p.m. ET May 14, 2019 | Updated 10:19 p.m. ET May 14, 2019


SportsPulse: In stunning fashion, the New Orleans Pelicans land the first pick in the NBA Draft and will likely acquire transcendent talent Zion Williamson. USA TODAY’s Jeff Zillgitt breaks down how this year’s new lottery system, at least in its first year, devalued tanking.

CHICAGO — The Zion Williamson sweepstakes have been won.

The New Orleans Pelicans were fortunate to turn up the franchise-changing ping pong ball to win the No. 1 pick at Tuesday night’s NBA draft lottery, despite entering the day with just a 6% chance of winning. They beat out 13 other hopeful teams looking to draft Williamson, the Duke sensation who’s the presumptive top pick in June after a highlight-reel freshman season in which he was college basketball’s national player of the year.

It was New Orleans’ first No. 1 pick since Anthony Davis in 2012. The Memphis Grizzlies got the second pick, another surprise. 

The New York Knicks, a storied franchise looking to transform into a contender via the draft and free agency after years of struggles, received the third pick in this year’s draft. They were on the wrong side of a new system implemented by the NBA designed to discourage tanking.

Previously, the team with the worst record (New York went a league-worst 17-65 this past season) had a 25% chance of getting the top pick. This year the team with the three worst records — the Knicks, Cleveland Cavaliers (fifth) and Phoenix Suns (sixth) — all had an equal 14% chance at the top pick. But the new system benefited teams near the middle more — allowing the Pelicans, Grizzlies and Los Angeles Lakers to move up. 

The Lakers (fourth) moved up the most of the 14 teams in the lottery, and now the LeBron James-led team will get an impact player for trading or adding to its young nucleus.

Williamson made Duke a must-watch team all season long before the Blue Devils bowed out in the Elite Eight of the NCAA tournament. He averaged 22.6 points and 8.9 rebounds a game as a freshman, taking the college basketball world by storm with his windmill dunks and brute force as a 6-7, 285-pound forward. Coach Mike Krzyzewski calls Williamson the “most unique athlete he’s ever coached.”

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Yet Williamson, also an elite passer and shot-blocker, wants to be known as more than a highlight reel. “I want to be defined as a player that could do everything for his team,” Williamson said Tuesday at the lottery. “When I was a kid, my dream was just to get to the NBA. …A lot of people see me as a superstar. I’m an 18/19-year-old rookie.”

Williamson’s All-American teammate, RJ Barrett, is also considered a top-three pick alongside Murray State point guard Ja Morant. Barrett led Duke in scoring with 22.9 points a game and carried the Blue Devils during Williamson’s six-game injury absence late in the season. Before Williamson’s celebrity dominated headlines, Barrett was considered a viable No. 1 pick. Asked Tuesday whether he felt like the best player in the draft, Barrett didn’t shy away despite his bond with Williamson: “Of course. …Yes, I do believe I’m the best player (in the draft class).”

Morant, who led the nation in assists, played for a mid-major program but made a giant splash in the NCAA tournament’s first round when he recorded a triple-double to help the Racers upset Marquette. Gonzaga’s Rui Hachimura, Virginia’s DeAndre Hunter, Texas Tech’s Jarrett Culver, North Carolina’s Coby White and Duke’s Cam Reddish are a handful of the other expected top-10 picks.

Draft order: 

1. Pelicans

2. Grizzlies 

3. Knicks

4. Lakers 

5. Cavaliers 

6. Suns

7. Bulls

8. Hawks

9. Wizards 

10. Hawks (via Mavericks)

11. Timberwolves 

12. Hornets

13. Heat

14. Celtics (via Kings)


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