January 22nd, a day that may forever be etched in NBA history. The longest awaited NBA debut since Lebron James took place last night, Zion Williamson’s first regular season NBA game. The Smoothie King Center was jam-packed and ready to see the future of their franchise lace ’em up for the first time in a Pelicans uniform, and he certainly did not disappoint.
Coming into the game, Coach Gentry made it very clear that his minutes will be restricted until he gets his legs under him, so he would play in 4-6 minute spans in each quarter. Gentry did give him the nod to start alongside Brandon Ingram, Derrick Favors, Jrue Holiday, and Lonzo Ball.
The Good: He was an absolute spark plug for this team. Every time the ball touched his hands the crowd could not contain their excitement. He was incredibly efficient going 8-11 from the field which included 4-4 from three! In 18 total minutes, he finished as the Pelicans’ leading scorer. In the famous words of Enes Kanter, “Just let him shoot”, is exactly what the Spurs did and he made them pay in the 4th quarter. With each three that sank in, the crowd erupted and was perhaps the loudest that arena has been all year. He went on to score 17 straight points in the 4th quarter and gave the Pelicans the lead for a brief moment for the first time pretty much all game. His run in the 4th quarter will be remembered as one of this season’s biggest moments and is hopefully a sign for things to come.
Another good thing, perhaps great thing is his chemistry with Lonzo Ball. Lonzo was doing an excellent job of finding Zion in rhythm when he was beyond the three-point line and also being able to lob it up to him when Zion was near the paint. Lonzo finished with 14 points and 12 assists and half of which Zion was the beneficiary of. Zion also did an excellent job of attacking the glass bringing down 7 rebounds in his stint on the court. His athleticism was truly showcased in how he attacked the glass and is a strong part of his game.
The Bad: On paper, he had 3 assists and 4 turnovers. That does not necessarily read well, but that does not take into account that the Pelicans could not buy a three point shot for most of the game, if it was not Zion shooting it. Therefore, all of his drive and kicks simply lead to bricks, as three point attempts off of his passes lead to 0 points. If you take away Zion’s 4 threes, the Pelicans went 10-32 beyond the arc, which is a not particularly efficient 31%.
However, those turnovers all came in the third quarter and felt like it was back-to-back-to-back when watching the game. He looked fatigued and his handle certainly could use improvement. Speaking of fatigue, the only other negative thing I noticed that with how hot he was in the 4th quarter, it seems as though the coaching staff did not feel he was physically ready to stay on the court down the stretch of the game. How else could anyone explain scoring 17 straight points in a quarter and the coaches electing not to let the player finish it out in such a tight game? Add that on to the fact that the Pelicans are trying to make a playoff run?
My Take: Zion brings the energy that this franchise desperately needs. He has the potential to be a perennial all–star in this league when he plays confidently and has his legs under him. The sooner the Pelicans take the training wheels off of him and simply let him ball and know that his conditioning will come with time, the better it will be for his development and the team’s success. His jumper has greatly improved and his unselfishness will go a long way in making this young core great in the New Orleans. If he keeps attacking the glass and improving his handle him, Brandon Ingram, Lonzo Ball, and Jaxson Hayes can all grow together and perhaps bring home a ring one day. You heard it here first!
Click on the link below to check out the highlights from Zion’s debut.
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