The theory never got tested. The Pelicans got the No. 1 pick and chose Williamson. The Suns got the No. 6 pick and traded it.
But there was apparently one Western Conference general manager who would’ve taken Williamson over Morant.
“I wouldn’t have taken him No. 1 even back then,” a Western Conference general manager said. “I would’ve taken Ja [Morant] or traded back to pick up as many picks as I could.”
Williamson – given his production at Duke, athleticism and youth – looked like an elite draft prospect. The only way I could justify passing on him at the time is injury concern. Williamson’s combination of size and hops is unprecedented. However, it’s not as if Morant’s high-flying style lends itself to perfect health.
Even now, Williamson probably has more upside than Morant. Morant has already shown a high floor, and he certainly has room to improve into superstardom. But Williamson’s ceiling remain extremely high.
It’s legitimately questionable which player teams would prefer going forward. It probably depends on each team’s appetite for risk.
Worth noting: Even if this general manager would have taken Morant No. 1 doesn’t mean his team actually would have.
For one, several Western Conference general managers aren’t the lead decision maker in their front office. General manager isn’t always the highest-ranking title.
Even if this general manager ran his front office, though, this is the type of decision that gets major ownership input. With his highlights and time at Duke, Williamson carried far more marketing cache than Morant, who played at Murray State. Owners care about that and sometimes overrule basketball operations.
And there’s also a matter of actually putting your reputation on the line. Even if this general manager had authority and ownership approval, actually picking Morant over Williamson would have put immense pressure on the general manager. Nobody wants to be Vlade Divac taking Marvin Bagley III over Luka Doncic. Drafting Morant over Williamson would have made this general manager ripe for criticism and second-guessing, far more than if the conventional move (picking Williamson) backfired. Bucking the mainstream opinion takes real guts, guts this general manager never had to show.
It’s much easier to talk anonymously after the fact.