Duke basketball: LeBron James regrets passing up Blue Devil

Duke basketball great Zion Williamson (Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports)
Duke basketball great Zion Williamson (Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports) /

Duke basketball gem Zion Williamson may make Team LeBron pay for a mistake.

Los Angeles Lakers superstar LeBron James took a risk by using his first two picks in the “reserve round” of Thursday evening’s NBA All-Star Draft to snag talents other than former Duke basketball one-and-done and current New Orleans Pelicans sophomore sensation Zion Williamson.

But the gamble didn’t pay off for Team LeBron.

Instead, Williamson came off the board with Kevin Durant’s next selection, making him the fifth of 14 chosen reserves between the two captains.

Granted, it’s tough to fault Team LeBron for instead drafting two fellas who now combine for nine All-Star nods in Damian Lillard and Ben Simmons. However, James seemed to be kicking himself immediately after watching Durant acquire the 20-year-old Williamson, who is arguably in line to be the showcase’s No. 1 attraction — if not this year, then at least in years soon to come.

Here’s what 17-time All-Star LeBron James had to say to Durant and the TNT crew at that moment:

“I wanted that pick. Oh, that’s a good pick right there, KD.”

Less than two years removed from becoming the No. 1 overall pick at the 2019 NBA Draft, Zion Williamson is averaging 25.6 points, 7.2 rebounds, and 3.4 assists for the Pelicans (15-21) this go-round. Most of his points have come by simply — simple for Zion, anyway — bullying past one giant defender after another and capitalizing on his absolutely buttery touch around the basket.

The 6-foot-7, 285-pound magic rock is shooting a ridiculous 61.4 percent from the field this season, boasting the most 2-point field goals (329) in the entire league. His whole shot chart almost fits inside the restricted area, with 407 of his 546 attempts coming at the rim.

Before missing the franchise’s 103-93 home loss to the Miami Heat (18-18) on Thursday night while nursing a right fifth toe irritation — it isn’t expected to prevent his All-Star debut — Williamson had scored 20 or more in 14 straight games. Plus, he’s scored 25-plus 19 times this season, 14 more times than any other current players with less than two full years of experience.

Summarizing Duke basketball’s 2021 All-Star representation

By landing with Team Durant, Zion Williamson joins a squad that just so happens to also include the other two 2021 NBA All-Star Blue Devils in Boston Celtics forward Jayson Tatum and Brooklyn Nets guard Kyrie Irving.

Both Tatum and Irving are in the starting five alongside Joel Embiid, Kawhi Leonard, and Bradley Beal (Tatum is the replacement for Durant, who won’t be in action due to a hamstring injury).

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Irving was Kevin Durant’s first pick, which makes sense considering the two are teammates in Brooklyn.

Tatum, meanwhile, was Durant’s final chosen starter. He’ll also compete in the 3-Point Contest before the All-Star Game’s 8 p.m. ET tipoff in Atlanta; Devin Booker, Jaylen Brown, Stephen Curry, Zach LaVine, and Donovan Mitchell are the other five participants.

Then at halftime, 2019-20 Duke basketball jet Cassius Stanley, a two-way player with the Indiana Pacers, will take part in the Slam Dunk Contest against Anfernee Simmons and Obi Toppin.

Finally, former Duke basketball player and assistant Quin Snyder, whose Utah Jazz own the NBA’s best record entering All-Star Weekend, is on tap to be the head coach of Team LeBron, featuring a starting five of LeBron James, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Stephen Curry, Luka Doncic, and Nikola Jokic.

So will any of these names be able to slow Zion Williamson’s ascension? Nobody much has recently. And it sounds as if LeBron James has some concern.

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