Duke star Zion Williamson’s knee injury – called a minor sprain by the team – should have no impact on his draft stock, multiple NBA team executives told USA TODAY Sports.
They requested anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly about Williamson, who sustained the injury in Wednesday’s high-profile game against North Carolina.
Even in a worst-case scenario in which Williamson needs knee surgery, teams will still want to draft Williamson with a high pick.
Right now, Williamson is the projected No. 1 overall pick in the June draft, and given his extraordinary combination of skill, size, strength, quickness, agility and playmaking, it’s difficult to see a team passing on him with his latest injury.
At stake for Williamson? Potentially millions of dollars. The first in salary for the first pick and the fifth pick in the 2019 draft over four NBA seasons is $12.6 million.
Teams drafting in that position are looking long term and are willing to select a guy with so much difference-making ability even if the player will miss some, or all, of the next season.
It’s not unheard for teams to select injured players in the draft. In 2014, Joel Embiid had just had surgery on his right foot when the Philadelphia 76ers selected him with the No. 3 overall pick. Embiid missed the 2014-15 and 2015-16 seasons with another surgery and rehabilitation.
It was worth it for the 76ers who now have one of the best centers in the league. Embiid is dominant big man, and the Sixers signed him to a five-year, $147 million extension through 2022-23.
This season, Vanderbilt guard Darius Garland underwent surgery to repair a meniscus injury in his left knee, and he remains a top-7 pick in respected mock drafts.
What would it take for Williamson’s draft stock to noticeably drop? It is a conversation taking place in front offices in wake of Williamson’s injury.
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If the injury was a serious as a torn ACL and MCL or a compound fracture, it could have an impact. But even then, players return from those kinds of injuries and perform at elite levels.
Foot and back injuries concern front-office executives the most because of the resulting lingering issues that sometimes occur.
Oregon’s Bol Bol has dropped in some 2019 mock drafts because of a foot injury, which concerns general managers. Embiid returned just fine from a similar injury. Both other big men, such as Yao Ming, have long-term foot problems. Bol is considered a late lottery to mid-first-round pick. But he was as high as No. 6 in some mock drafts before the injury.
Michael Porter Jr. was considered one of the top prospects in the 2018 draft until a back injury derailed his freshman season at Missouri. Instead of a team drafting him in the top three, Porter fell to Denver at No. 14.
But as history suggests, a team will need considerable evidence that Williamson can’t perform like No. 1 pick before they draft someone else.