Unless you’ve been living under a rock the last few years, Zion Williamson should be a name you’re used to hearing ad nauseam. His performance tonight in his third preseason game (26 points, 9/12 from the field, with 5 boards) threw more coal on the fire, as the 19 year old rookie gears up for his NBA debut on October 22nd.
Williamson dominated the first half of the fourth quarter and quickly turned an eleven point deficit into a four point Pelicans lead, before checking out for the last time with 7:09 left in the period. The Pelican reserves would hold off Utah for a 128-127 victory in New Orleans. The number one overall pick draws comparisons to Cleveland’s own LeBron James with his high-flying antics, but when this kid hits the floor it feels like a play style the NBA has not seen before.
Any stranger on the street can rave about Zion’s bounce, as they should, but basketball fans as a whole cannot overlook the fact this guy just spent a calendar year refining his craft with Coach K in Durham. He’s slippery, but listed at a whopping 284 pounds. His body type screams power forward, but when the ball is in his hands he looks like a comfortable big wing off the bounce. He’s undersized at 6’7, but his 45′ inch vertical leap and pure brawn makes up for size differences. Zion is the perfect player to insert into the league right now in 2019. He has the ability to switch every ball screen, extend the defense from range, block shots galore, and possesses a personality that will fill Smoothie King Center for the next 15 years if the stars align.
It’s no secret Zion is special, but the transition from college star to professional star is not always easy. Williamson has had many skeptics leading up to his pro debut, but when you really sit down and watch this kid’s game, it’s transcendent. He’s like Chris Weber, Charles Barkley, and Gerald Green (for bounce purposes) all rolled into one. In his last two appearances, he’s 21-25 from the field with over 25 points in both games. Efficiency like that rivals alley-oop dependent centers like Deandre Jordan from Brooklyn, and is so uncommon now in the age of isolation or pick & roll style offense resulting in a heavy volume of three-point shots.
One could really take a step back and argue the Pelicans won the Anthony Davis trade with how much sheer talent is waiting to be developed on their bench. Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, and Josh Hart all came over from LA as well as three unprotected first round picks. Rookie center Jaxson Hayes out of Texas looks like he could be a real presence on the block, especially in pick & roll offense and defense. Nickeil Alexander-Walker looks to be a diamond in the rough after being traded from the Nets to the Pels on draft night. The 17th pick of the draft out of Virginia Tech has shown great aggressiveness and shooting touch thus far. Fellow Dukie, Veteran JJ Redick, should fit right in and provide a winning mentality in his first year with the club. The 35 year old guard has never missed the playoffs and does not plan on that streak ending this season. Oh and All-Star/2 Time NBA All-Defensive team selection Jrue Holiday is still there to guide the ship as the starting point guard.
I’m not saying this team will be hoisting the Larry O’ Brien trophy in June, but the Pelican faithful should be geared up for a successful and entertaining season. Alvin Gentry has so many new shiny toys to play with, I hope he unleashes the young guys and lets them *cough* run the break. I could possibly see a playoff birth for these upstarts. My lord, a Lakers-Pels series may push me over the edge. So many narratives; Zion vs LeBron (!), former Lakers young core back for redemption, and AD facing his old franchise.
10 days stand between the world and meaningful basketball, and much basketball must be played before summer’s warm light shines on each playoff series. The league is as balanced as it has been since LeBron’s return to Cleveland. And with Zion geared up to play all 82 as the future of this franchise, buckle your seat belts, folks. Takeoff for flight #1 in 10, 9, 8……