Zion Williamson Or Ja Morant: Time To Rethink No. 1 Pick In 2019 NBA Draft?

Ja Morant, Zion Williamson, NBA Draft
NBA Analysis Network

The 2019 NBA Draft, like many, had a clear top-tier of prospects. As time went on leading up to the draft, the top-two picks were all but solidified. 

The Memphis Grizzlies sat in the No. 2 spot knowing they were about to land their franchise point guard. Ja Morant of Murray State fell into their laps and the front office was given player to build around. The New York Knicks selected RJ Barrett with the third-overall pick after Morant but it was another Duke Blue Devil that stole the show.

Zion Williamson spent one season at Duke and was the clear-cut top prospect entering the draft. In fact, he was one of the most-anticipated players in years. The New Orleans Pelicans won the lottery and were given the chance to change the franchise. 

As we sit here in 2021, into the third year following the draft, the Pelicans should not be second-guessing themselves just yet but the question could be coming awfully close. Was Williamson the right selection?

LATEST NBA NEWS: Grizzlies’ Ja Morant Must Be An All-Star This Season

There was no question about Williamson’s athleticism and overall basketball ability coming out of college. The concern was his conditioning and if his body could endure an 82-game season. It did not get off to a good start right away.

Zion Williamson averaged 22.5 points and 6.2 rebounds per game as a rookie. The problem was he played just 24 games. During year two, Williamson played 61 games, in a 72-game season, and averaged 27 points and 7.2 rebounds. He finished as the eighth leading scorer in the league.

In year three, Williamson has yet to step on the floor and it is unknown when he will. He has been dealing with a foot injury and during his time on the sideline, his weight has been brought into question.

LATEST NBA NEWS: Grizzlies’ Ja Morant Must Be An All-Star This Season

When looking Ja Morant in Memphis, he suffered a knee injury but was off to a hot start. Morant has played 28 games this season, scoring 25.0 points and dishing out 6.6 assists per contest. This goes along with 5.8 rebounds and 1.4 steals as well. Morant played in 67 games as a rookie and 63 in year two. He is averaging 7.2 assists per game during his career and his scoring numbers have gone up each season.

Most importantly, the Memphis Grizzlies are beginning to win. Memphis qualified for the postseason as the eighth seed last year and stole a game from the Utah Jazz in round one. This season, Memphis is currently fourth in the Western Conference with Morant on his way to becoming the next Grizzlies All-Star.

At this point, it is a bit early for fans to jump ship on Zion Williamson but it is getting close to questioning whether Ja Morant would have been a better pick. He has shown great progression over his career while Williamson struggles to get on the floor. This also causes headaches for the front office when thinking about his contract situation.

LATEST NBA NEWS: Grizzlies’ Ja Morant Must Be An All-Star This Season

Williamson is still playing on a rookie deal that he signed. This was good for four years and $44 million. This is a generational talent that the New Orleans Pelicans want to have around long term but he is not worth much on the sidelines. On Williamson’s end, these injuries could give him an option to forgo a max deal and sign a qualifying offer for the 2023 or 2024 season, which would pay him $17.6 million. This would allow him to enter free agency the following season and weigh his options.

As time goes on, the two sides will sort this all out and it will be interesting to see what happens. What we do know is that the Pelicans let Lonzo Ball walk and Brandon Ingram has come up in some trade rumors. All signs pointing to Williamson being the max player for the future and this was the plan all along. They can’t take back their draft pick and remain desperate to get Williamson back on the floor.

Where both players sit today, it seems clear which was the right pick. As for the New Orleans Pelicans, they cannot harp on this and have to focus on Zion Williamson’s health and contract situation.