Zion Williamson created the type of viral anticipation reserved only for the great ones in his single season at Duke.
Only a few players of recent vintage — LeBron James in 2003 is the standard bearer — elicit the type of response from fans that Williamson did with the Blue Devils.
The New Orleans Pelicans’ timely lottery win puts a franchise in transition into position for an about face with Williamson as the new building block around which vice president of basketball operations David Griffin can erect a contender in the Western Conference.
As former No. 1 pick Anthony Davis (2013) celebrates his new start alongside James with the Lakers, the stage is set for Williamson and a new cast likely to include another top-five pick Thursday.
How will the first round play out?
1. New Orleans Pelicans: Zion Williamson, F, Duke
Williamson is an athletic freak of nature with Defensive Player of the Year instincts and explosiveness to challenge any shot he wants to swat. Less certain is how his game evolves from dunk-a-thon to his future fit as an NBA power forward.
2. Memphis Grizzlies: Ja Morant, PG, Murray State
Maybe the most natural playmaker in the draft, Morant has All-Star ability as a passer and scorer. Even if the Grizzlies show up in the lottery again next summer, a core taking shape shows there’s a path out of the Western Conference cellar.
3. New York Knicks: RJ Barrett, F, Duke
Maybe the Knicks’ reported love for Darius Garland is genuine, but Barrett is built for the NYC spotlight and suits the blueprint in place for the evolving Knicks.
4. New Orleans Pelicans: Jarrett Culver, SG, Texas Tech
There is some Joe Johnson in Culver’s game. He projects as a plus scorer and defender while fitting a need in New Orleans immediately alongside Jrue Holiday.
5. Cleveland Cavaliers: Cam Reddish, SG, Duke
Culver would be the preference, and the Cavaliers could opt for Virginia forward De’Andre Hunter, but Reddish gets the nod because of his range.
6. Phoenix Suns: Darius Garland, PG, Vanderbilt
If the Knicks go Garland, the Suns are a candidate to trade out with the Atlanta Hawks or select the next best point guard in North Carolina’s Coby White. Garland paired with Devin Booker and Deandre Ayton would be a godsend for first-year coach Monty Williams’ building project.
7. Chicago Bulls: De’Andre Hunter, F, Virginia
Bigs have been the trend recently for the Bulls with Lauri Markkanen and Wendell Carter. Hunter does many things well but isn’t the big-ticket splash Chicago hoped for amidst a season of stockpiled losses.
8. Atlanta Hawks: Jaxson Hayes, C, Texas
A modern-day version of Marcus Camby, Hayes enters the NBA needing physical development to bring his game to the next level.
9. Washington Wizards: Coby White, PG, North Carolina
White becomes the salve the Wizards needed — but never expected to be able to get in this draft — to survive without John Wall in 2019-2020. A high-energy, ball-dominant point, White and Bradley Beal would work well together.
10. Atlanta Hawks: Tyler Herro, SG, Kentucky
A perimeter marksman who could play well off of Trae Young, Herro is known for his in-the-gym range and serves as a luxury pick who also should be a safe-ish selection.
11. Minnesota Timberwolves: Sekou Doumbouya, France
Doumbouya is raw and recognized more for his defense at this stage, but Ryan Saunders and the Wolves can buy into a high upside project at this spot.
12. Charlotte Hornets: Nickeil Alexander-Walker, G, Virginia Tech
A combination guard with length to be a plus-defender, Alexander-Walker is the type Michael Jordan can envision an immediate role for.
13. Miami Heat: Nassir Little, SF, North Carolina
Pat Riley likes proven players from proven programs. Little is explosive and competitive with the type of natural gifts that indicate he’ll be much more than he was at North Carolina.
14. Boston Celtics: Rui Hachimura, PF, Gonzaga
Already seasoned as the pace-and-space 4 in Gonzaga’s offense, Hachimura contributes quickly and becomes the heir to Marcus Morris in 2020.
15. Detroit Pistons: Kevin Porter, Jr., SG, Southern Cal
Detroit’s wing players leave a lot to be desired, and Porter brings one definite skill: scoring punch.
16. Orlando Magic: PJ Washington, PF, Kentucky
An athletic and versatile piece to mix into the still-developing equation in Orlando, Washington is unlikely to fall beyond the middle of the first round because NBA scouts are sure he’s going to contribute.
17. Atlanta Hawks: Goga Bitadze, C, Georgia/Serbia
An NBA rarity these days, Bitadze was evaluated as a true center. Some see potential for him to develop into a stretch option and down-the-road answer at the 5 for the Hawks.
18. Indiana Pacers: Keldon Johnson, G, Kentucky
Johnson should be a rotation guard at the very least, and with Victor Oladipo recovering from quadriceps surgery, starting isn’t out of the question as a rookie.
19. San Antonio Spurs: Brandon Clarke, PF, Gonzaga
There’s a lot to like about Clarke, including his size and defensive potential, but Gregg Popovich will most value his versatility.
20. Boston Celtics: Matisse Thybulle, F, Washington
The best defensive player in the draft in the notebook of many scouts. Thybulle, whose wingspan is 7-foot-1, paired with Marcus Smart would mean a long day at the office for Eastern Conference combo guards.
21. Oklahoma City Thunder: Romeo Langford, SG, Indiana
A gamble on upside and potential after Langford grinded through injuries during his only season at Indiana.
22. Boston Celtics: Cam Johnson, SF, North Carolina
At next to no cost, the Celtics land one of the best pure shooters in the draft. He’ll catch and shoot no matter who does the table-setting for Boston this season.
23. Utah Jazz: Nic Claxton, F-C, Georgia
A defensive presence behind Rudy Gobert who showed at the NBA Scouting Combine he could evolve as a stretch 4.
24. Philadelphia 76ers: Bol Bol, C, Oregon
With Joel Embiid likely in need of skimmed minutes, Bol is not ready to contribute in a big way. But as a 7-foot-1 perimeter player, the 76ers could add him to their intriguing blend of young talent for the matchup-minded Brett Brown.
25. Portland Trail Blazers: Bruno Fernando, F-C, Maryland
Strong and springy, Fernando would add a physical presence who can block shots and scrap for leftovers. He’s not LaMarcus Aldridge but brings enough of a mid-range shot to be a regular.
26. Cleveland Cavaliers: Chuma Okeke, F, Auburn
Likely a non-contributor as a rookie coming off of a torn ACL, Okeke can get to know the cast in Cleveland while training for a role as Kevin Love Light.
27. Brooklyn Nets: Carsen Edwards, G, Purdue
Microwave offense behind the already established offensive options for the Nets, and a ready spot starter should the Nets lure Kyrie Irving in free agency.
28. Golden State Warriors: Ty Jerome, PG, Virginia
Calm and clutch under pressure with enough range to play here tomorrow, Jerome bears some similarity to Klay Thompson but lacks the bounce and explosiveness to become a lockdown defender.
29. San Antonio Spurs: Dylan Windler, SF, Belmont
With the selection shipped from Toronto via the Kawhi Leonard trade, Windler brings a deep shooter who doesn’t shy away from any competition, He could be the perfect fit for the Spurs.
30. Milwaukee Bucks: Mfiondu Kabengele, C, Florida State
Brook Lopez could be lured away in free agency, and Kabengele is not the same type of player, but he’s an energy-and-effort, athletic big man who can mop up misses and operate the pick-and-roll.
—By Jeff Reynolds, Field Level Media