By: Justin Girshon
January 23, 2020
Photo via nbcnews.com
Zion Williamson was the first overall pick in the 2019 NBA draft. In his lone season at Duke, Williamson averaged 22.6 PPG, 8.9 RPG, 2,1 APG, 2.1 SPG, 1.8 BPG. Williamson’s incredible season lead him to winning the Wooden Award (College Basketball equivalent of MVP). On top of winning the Wooden Award and being the first overall pick, Williamson has 4.5 million instagram followers. Even in his first Summer League game, LeBron James was in the stands to watch him play! Although his first Summer League game was very hyped up, Williamson got injured and didn’t play another game in the Summer League. Williamson got healthy and suited up in the NBA Preseason. In four Preseason games, Williamson showed why he was the first overall pick by averaging 22.3 PPG, 6.5 RPG, and 2.3 APG in just over 27 minutes per contest while shooting 71.4% from the field. Unfortunately for Williamson, a right meniscus injury was discovered and surgery was required. Although Zion was finally cleared to return, he was only said to be playing in short bursts. Nearly 3 months after surgery, Williamson was about to make his NBA debut.
The first quarter was definitely not the start Williamson was looking for. In about four minutes of play, he was double teamed every time he touched the ball in the paint, he couldn’t find a rhythm, and looked slow. In the first quarter, Zion had a missed layup and a turnover but a beautiful assist leading to a Brandon Ingram dunk.
In Zion’s short burst in the second quarter, he scored his first NBA points. After fellow rookie Nickeil Alexander-Walker missed a fadeaway, Zion grabbed the offensive rebound and scored on a putback layup. In the second quarter, Williamson added an additional two rebounds but also committed an additional turnover. At the half, Zion had 2 points, 3 rebounds, 1 assist, and 2 turnovers.
In the beginning of the third quarter, Zion drew a foul and made 1/2 free throws. A couple of minutes later, Zion made a nice cut to the basket where fellow rookie Jaxson Hayes connected with him on a nice pass and Zion scored his fourth and fifth points of the night. In the quarter Zion added another rebound but two more turnovers. Through three quarters, Zion’s debut was pretty disappointing as he only had 5 points with 4 rebounds, 1 assist, and 4 turnovers.
Then in the fourth quarter, Williamson TOOK OVER. Williamson had a slow start to the quarter where he missed a shot and committed his fifth turnover of the night but did have an assist to Josh Hart. Then with about 9:30 left in the game Zion had an aggressive rebound over Spurs big man Jakob Poeltl brought the ball up the court, fired a pass to veteran E’Twaun Moore who hit a layup. On the next possession Williamson stepped back at the top of the key after receiving a pass from Lonzo Ball and drilled his first career three pointer. The very next possession, Zion posted up on Spurs guard DeMar DeRozan, spun and received an alley oop pass from Lonzo Ball and finished the lay-in for another two points. On the next possession, Zion received another pass from Lonzo Ball at the logo then stepped into another three… nothing but net. Then on the next possession, Williamson posted up on Poeltl had his shot blocked but gathered the offensive rebound and made another layup. On the very next possession, Lonzo Ball found a wide open Zion Williamson who drilled another three pointer! The next possession, Ball again passed to Williamson who jab stepped then pulled another three that again went in! The next possession, Williamson was fouled and hit 1/2 free throws while receiving “MVP!” chants. After scoring 17 straight points, Williamson was forced out of the game by the medical staff. Ever since his rebound and assist to Moore, Zion added two more rebounds.
FINAL STATS: 22 points, 7 rebounds, 3 assists, 5 turnovers, 8-11 FG, 4-4 3PT, 2-4 FT
Photo via nba.com/pelicans
It was apparent that the whole Pelicans roster had to adjust to Williamson returning to action. In the first quarter, the team looked lost offensively and Zion was still adjusting to the NBA and his team the first three quarters. In the fourth quarter, Zion looked extremely comfortable and took over. It’s important to note that Zion was actually playing center went he scored 17 straight points. Alongside Williamson on the court were guards Lonzo Ball, Frank Jackson, E’Twaun Moore, and Josh Hart. This lineup was extremely beneficial for Zion because in the first three quarters when he was on the court with Derrick Favors or Jaxson Hayes, the paint was often clogged and Williamson had no room to work with. In the fourth quarter, WIlliamson was able to attack with a head of steam into the paint and was able to take open threes because the Pelicans were able to spread the floor. Williamson became the first rookie in NBA history to make 4-4 3PT field goals and never really came close to doing this in his lone season at Duke.
Zion’s slow start could be associated to the way he was carrying himself. Through the first three quarters, Zion looked slow, out of shape, and misplaced for most of his time on the court. This even lead to commentator Mark Jackson saying Zion clearly needed to lose weight and that the Pelicans should have drafted Ja Morant with the first overall pick. Although Zion showed us glimpses of what he did at Duke in the first three quarters nothing stood out. Then in the fourth quarter, Zion looked like Duke Zion by ripping down a rebound and firing a pass to Moore for an easy two in transition. After this moment, Zion played with ENERGY and showed why he was the first overall pick scoring 17 straight points. I wonder if Mark Jackson started to question his earlier statements!
Although literally every basketball fan wanted Zion to stay on the court after scoring 17 straight points, the Pelicans medical staff advised coach Alvin Gentry to pull Zion from the game. Zion obviously wanted to stay in the game as he said, “Coach, I can win the game for this team. Leave me in.” The Pelicans are rightfully being cautious with Zion as they want to ease him back into action. Personally, I think the Pelicans did the right thing here because I would rather Zion play limited minutes in his first few NBA games and then see regular minutes instead of him get injured again.