By: Jalon Dixon, Staff Writer
In just 18 games, New Orleans Pelicans rookie forward Zion Williamson has put on a clinic as he continues to put the league on notice by reminding everyone why he was the number 1 overall pick in the 2019 NBA draft.
After undergoing knee surgery back in October that would stall his NBA debut and force him to miss 44 games on the season, Williamson has come back to court looking like the dominant big man he was projected to be. Standing at 6-foot-6, 285 pounds with a freakish combination of athleticism, power and finesse, the 19-year-old forward is playing out of his mind while just simply playing within the flow of the game.
Williamson is currently averaging 23.6 points, 6.8 rebounds and 2.2 assists on 58.8% shooting from the floor. With fringe all-star level statistics right out of the gate, most would assume that he is having this much success so early because Pelicans head coach Alvin Gentry, is playing the ball through Williamson to help him the young phenom get used to being the man for his team. However, Zion actually does not have the ball in his hands often and is more of a cog in the offense rather than a number one scoring option.
Playing on the third best team in the NBA in terms of pace of play and fifth best in points per game, Williamson tends to get a majority of his points within the flow of the game. The Pelicans have a very “Run-N-Gun” offense where they like to get up and down the court as much as possible by capitalizing on transition points and relying on the full length of the court rather than calling a ton of set plays. If you watch his game, he still needs a lot of work regarding him becoming a good three-point shooter and he gets most of his points off of lob dunks from point guard Lonzo Ball and put back baskets.
Steve Jobs once said, “Do not try to do everything. Do one thing well.” Rather than coming into the league trying to be this all around superstar and struggling every night to be this “Do it all” player for New Orleans, Williamson is capitalizing off just straight hustle. The one thing he does really well is to make the most of each possession strictly off effort and will power.
With that, he has gone on to score over 20 points in 15 of the 18 games he has played so far including back-to-back 30 point games against the Portland Trailblazers and the Oklahoma City Thunder. The league and the NBA already are starting to speculate that if this is Williamson coming off an injury and with a minute restriction, then a fully utilized Zion is potentially one of the best players in NBA history.
The big conversation over the remainder of the season of course is whether Zion Williamson can still win Rookie of the Year. If we are basing it strictly off games played, Williamson should not even be in contention and most voters will understandably dock him for only playing less than 40 games on the year. Nevertheless, if the storyline fits, he still has a chance to catapult up the leaderboard.
The Pelicans currently sit in 10th place in the Western Conference with a record of 25-32, three games back of the eighth seed behind Portland and the Memphis Grizzlies. Williamson would need to be the driving force that propels New Orleans into the playoffs to even get consideration for Rookie of the year. That is a tall task. He would have to lead the Pelicans to a better record than the All-Star backcourt of Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum for the Blazers and outdo the Rookie of the Year frontrunner in guard Ja Morant and the Grizzlies. Then and only then will he have a very compelling case.
Williamson stole the NBA spotlight in a primetime matchup on TNT against Los Angeles Lakers forwards Lebron James and Anthony Davis on February 25 with 35 points and seven rebounds. This performance could be what helps Williamson assert himself as not only the best rookie, but also one of the top players in the entire league.