For the first time this season, we got to witness the debut of one of the most hyped players in NBA history. Needless to say, he didn't disappoint. Zion just played under 20 minutes in the game but showed enough of his game to get New Orleans, and the entire NBA, up in excitement on what is to come when he is ready to play superstar minutes.
The Pelicans ultimately fell to the Spurs yesterday, but there are tremendous hope and optimism for the franchise that Zion Williamson is almost ready to elevate the franchise once and for all.
Here are the key takeaways from Zion's debut against the Spurs.
It Will Takes Time, But Zion Looks Confident and Ready
Zion was basically anonymous for the first three quarters, without any real evidence that he has recovered from quite a severe knee surgery that forced him to miss the first four months of action. He seemed to fumble his dribbles and turned the ball over a few times, something we didn't see at all in college. But with the minutes under his belt, he came to life in the fourth quarter.
Zion Williamson immediately got his first jumper in the NBA from the three-point line. With almost no hesitation, he set the building on fire with his first three. He then proceeded to knock down three more jumpers from the arc, finishing the game 4-4 from three. Even more impressive, he drew foul shots and even put back an offensive rebound in typical Zion-fashion. In a span of just 18 minutes, Zion finished with 22 points.
His final stat line ended with 22 points, 7 rebounds, and 3 assists with 8-11 FG.
In comparison to other NBA greats and their debuts, here is how Zion's stat line compares:
LeBron James: 25 points, 9 assists, 6 rebounds, 4 steals in 42 minutes
Michael Jordan: 16 points, 7 assists, 6 rebounds, 2 steals, 4 blocks in 40 minutes
Kobe Bryant: 0 points, 0 assists, 1 block, 1 steal in 6 minutes
Wilt Chamberlain: 43 points, 28 rebounds in 48 minutes
Larry Bird: 14 points, 10 rebounds, 5 assists in 28 minutes
Magic Johnson: 26 points, 8 rebounds, 4 assists, 4 blocks in 41 minutes
Shaq O'Neal: 12 points, 18 rebounds, 2 assists, 3 blocks in 32 minutes
The Pelicans Should Have Won Last Night
Seeing Zion play as a small-ball center was both surprising and also very telling. He is clearly strong enough to play the position and showed no signs that he may be undersized in terms of height. He will be able to dominate the matchup on the other end and use his quickness and explosiveness to get to the basket whenever he wants. In a nutshell, Zion seems versatile enough to play multiple positions.
Not to mention, he had his stroke from deep and has shown his consistency in rarely forcing the action on his end. Zion seems to know his limitations, and this is a very good sign for his development. He shot 8-11 and 4-4 from three last night, a very impressive mark for an extremely hyped rookie debut. Even though it took him until the fourth to get it going, Zion immediately made an impact on the floor.
The Pelicans, ultimately, should have won that game. But coach Alvin Gentry was forced to sub him out of the game as per head trainer instructions, and the Pelicans fell to the Spurs 121-117. If Zion was able to play the rest of the quarter, he could've had a few more baskets to stretch his scoring total to possibly 30 points and leading his team to victory.
The tide seemed to be turning in New Orleans' favor down the stretch, so it is a shame we were robbed of his first victory. Of course, they must protect Zion for the next 15 years of his career so the future is very bright for both the Pelicans and Zion Williamson.
The Hype is Real
Many have compared a rookie Zion Williamson to a rookie LeBron James, in terms of both physical build and potential impact on the game. While there will never be another LeBron James again, Zion Williamson looks to be on the right track to forming his own lane as potentially the new face of the NBA once James retires.
While Zion struggled at the start of the game as expected, he has shown the ability that he can dominate the game in many aspects. Zion has put aside any worries of his long-range shooting, at least for now, and we all know what we can do around the basket. Just from his debut alone, we can tell that his offensive game is polished enough to give him a chance at the Rookie of the Year Award.
The future is exciting for Zion Williamson, and it will be interesting to see how he will play out the rest of the season under what looks like a minutes restriction. If Zion is healthy and ready to play, he might have just enough in the tank to fire the Pelicans to a playoff spot in June.