Thursday night saw the 2019 NBA Draft start off exactly as expected—with the first pick, the New Orleans Pelicans selected Duke forward Zion Williamson. It didn’t matter that it was New Orleans, who recently agreed to trade Anthony Davis. Whoever had the No. 1 pick Thursday night would have taken him.
Yes, he is that good—or at least perceived to be that good. He was an absolute superstar during is one season of college basketball. But it is not unusual for a college superstar to be a bust in the NBA. No one has publicly entertained the notion that he could be a bust.
But the possibility exists until he steps on the court.
Oddsmakers don’t seem to think he is going to be one. Before the draft, many already had him as the odds-on favorite to win Rookie of the Year next season. BetOnline.ag has posted the following odds for the top candidates:
- Zion Williamson -200
- Ja Morant +400
- RJ Barrett +600
- Darius Garland +1000
- De’Andre Hunter +1400
- Jarrett Culver +1600
- Coby White +2000
- Cam Reddish, Jaxson Hayes +2800
- Nassir Little, PJ Washington, Rui Hachimura, Sekou Doumbouya +3300
- Bruno Fernando, Keldon Johnson, Mfiondu Kabengele, Tyler Herro +5000
- Bol Bol, Nickeil Alexander-Walke +8000
- Goga Bitadze, Kevin Porter Jr., KZ Okpala +10000
There are a number of promising young players with good odds, but the world is enamored with Zion Williamson. So, even though he will be on a team that is essentially reloading (or rebuilding) following the departure of Anthony Davis, he is expected to have the kind of season that will warrant Rookie of the Year honors.
That is not to say the other guys are not going to have great seasons; just that his will be greater. However, history tells us it might not be.
No. 1 picks do not always experience success as rookies. As the guy considered the best that college basketball has to offer, he is expected to see success early. But it doesn’t always happen—or someone else could see more.
Since 1985 there have only been a dozen No. 1 picks that went on to win Rookie of the Year. They aren’t even always the preseason favorite to win sometimes. In fact, should Williamson go on to win the award next season, he will be only the second preseason odds-on favorite to win (dating back to 2006).
Kevin Durant is the only other one to have done so—and he was the No. 2 pick!
But that entire case against him is not based in anything other than statistical coincidences. However, there is reason to believe Williamson’s game will not translate as well as expected and as quickly as expected.
As impressive as he is, he does have his faults. They are not easy to find, but they do exist (i.e., average shooter; not much of a three-point shooter, etc.).
If he is not in the right system, those flaws will be magnified. If he isn’t playing with the right guys he may fail to live up to his potential. If the coaching staff doesn’t know how to make the most of him, he will underperform and be dubbed a disappointment—and not win Rookie of the Year.