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Pelicans, Zion Williamson, Anthony Davis

Editorials

Zion Williamson is a generational talent, but not enough to force Anthony Davis to stay with the Pelicans

Zion Williamson is a generational talent, but not enough to force Anthony Davis to stay with the Pelicans

The New Orleans Pelicans defeated all odds and lucked their way into the No. 1 overall pick of the 2019 NBA Draft, effectively changing the scope of what was already bound to be a mind-blowing summer of free agency. Yet even if the consensus top-overall pick Zion Williamson makes his way to The Big Easy, his presence and potential as a once-in-a-generation talent isn’t enough to keep The Brow in New Orleans.

For one, let’s examine the Pelicans core with Williamson in it — it could look a bit like this:

It is wild, but wildly inefficient.

Discounting Williamson, who was a 33.8% 3-point shooter in his lone year at Duke, no player in this lineup is capable of shooting the three at a proficient level, with Julius Randle being the best of the four other starters at 34.4% last season.

Without that 3-point shooting, it’s tough to see the Pelicans getting past the first round of the Western Conference playoffs, let alone making it there to begin with.

Sure the raw talent is there, but there is a difference between what is on paper and what takes place on the court. Teams without 3-point shooting just don’t cut it in today’s league.

Take this for example: 13 of the top 15 3-point shooting teams made the playoffs – the only exception? The Sacramento Kings (37.8%) and the Cleveland Cavaliers (35.5%).

Also worth noting: Five of the seven-worst 3-point shooting teams (including the Pelicans), finished at the bottom of their respective conferences.

The way the league is trending now, there is a very direct correlation between 3-point shooting and winning basketball games — and it’s never been more stark than this 2018-19 season.

It would be “wild” to image Davis, who has never shot better than 34% from three in his career or Williamson, who has yet to feel the change of shooting from an extended 3-point line to suddenly become marksmen that can give this team a well-rounded level of perimeter offense.

While Davis has become a better passer and a more perimeter-oriented player, his game simply doesn’t complement Zion’s, making it best for the two to go their separate ways.

. . .

Besides their poor fit on the court is the aspect of what the Pelicans can build my moving on from Anthony Davis.

The Pelicans no longer have to reach for the team that has the No. 1 draft pick in a trade scenario, as it sits in the palm of their hand. Instead, they can now choose one of three pathways — trade for immediate value (a strong supporting cast full of veterans, shooters, and able contributors to put around Williamson), trade for future value (young players or draft assets), or a mix of both.

Option No. 1 would be to try and reap the most from the Boston Celtics, who could be operating from a position of desperation, now that they view a trade for Davis as the lone sweetener to keep Kyrie Irving beyond this offseason. A package including Jayson Tatum could be formidable, giving them shooting and more athleticism, while others like Jaylen Brown and Marcus Smart could prove to be the difference.

Option No. 2 relies on young talent, and what better than to draft first and fourth by getting the Los Angeles Lakers’ No. 4 overall pick. The pick could be consummated on various options like De’Andre Hunter, Jarrett Culver, Darius Garland, or Williamson’s Duke teammate Cam Reddish. That No. 4 pick could come with the addition of other young pieces like Kyle Kuzma, Lonzo Ball, Josh Hart and maybe even Brandon Ingram — though the recent blood clot that ended his season has concerned the Pelicans’ front office.

The third and last option would be to get a mix of the two — and that would put the New York Knicks right back on the hunt for Davis.

New Orleans has been devoid of a young perimeter-oriented forward, especially more so after trading Nikola Mirotic to the contending Milwaukee Bucks. While the Knicks did not score the much-awaited No. 1 pick, they did net the third overall selection, which could transform into R.J. Barrett; another of Williamson’s teammates at Duke.

The Knicks could offer that third overall pick and a point guard like Dennis Smith Jr. along with some big contracts to even up the trade, opening up room for a pairing with Kyrie Irving or Kemba Walker — two of the most sought-after talents at the point guard position.

In this case, New Orleans would get both young and veteran talent to surround Zion Williamson with — and while they won’t be immediate contenders — they will accelerate their rebuild by making one of these three moves, all while having one of the most exciting basketball players of this new era as their next franchise player.