As the new head coach of the New Orleans Pelicans, Stan Van Gundy will be tasked with the development of 2019 NBA Draft No. 1 pick Zion Williamson amongst other budding, young players. Van Gundy’s résumé comes fairly polished, with a 2009 NBA Finals appearance with the Orlando Magic highlighting it.
During that time, he revolutionized a new 3-point shooting era in Orlando as well, revolving around the likes of Rashard Lewis, JJ Redick and Jameer Nelson. Van Gundy’s greatest accomplishment in terms of development though may rest with one person: Dwight Howard. Howard developed into a perennial All-Star under Van Gundy’s tutelage, appearing in six All-Star games during his eight seasons in Orlando.
Now, Van Gundy may have just landed his dream player: a big with unheard of force in the paint, an insane upside in terms of potential, and can knockdown 3-pointers at will.
If Williamson has done his homework, this should come as a grand opportunity to All-Rookie First Team member. Howard averaged 18.4 points and 13 rebounds during his time with Van Gundy, numbers that haven’t been matched or surpassed since. Williamson, at the mere age of 20, has ample time to find success with Van Gundy, seeing as how the Pelicans reportedly signed the new head coach to a multi-year contract.
During his rookie season, Williamson averaged 22.5 points along with 6.3 rebounds through only 24 games due to a knee injury. He also only saw an average amount of 27.8 minutes per contest through those 24 games, as the coaching and medical staff attempted to limit his minutes as he slowly ramped back into NBA shape. While his numbers for a rookie are impressive, Williamson is also seen by many spectators as a generational talent, suggesting that even his first-year numbers should be significantly higher.
Upon returning in the 2021 season, the Duke University product will likely be back up to starter minutes and averaging much higher stats. He’s easily a 25-point, 15-plus rebounding player in a successful system, which is plausible under Van Gundy. During his only year at Duke, he averaged 22.6 points along with 8.9 rebounds through 30 minutes of play. While the college tempo is at a slower pace than that of the NBA, Williamson’s ceiling suggests that his rebounding production will only increase.
Van Gundy’s last coaching stop with the Detroit Pistons was cut short after consecutive unsuccessful seasons. Even so, he was able to harness a career-high rebounding season from Andre Drummond during the 2017-18 season, as Drummond pulled down 16 rebounds per contest. That only adds to Van Gundy’s ability to set up his bigs for success in the paint.
The other aspect is not only what Van Gundy can do for Williamson, but also what he can do for the players that surround the 6-foot-6 forward as well. The development of Lonzo Ball, for instance, is critical to Williamson’s success as well as the playmaker. Spectators saw quite a few impressive lobs from Ball to Williamson that ended with flashy finishes last season, but the Pelicans point guard’s dime-dropping game will have to live up to its preceded reputation. Howard, similar to Williamson, was partnered with a point guard in Nelson that could generate passes into the post for more efficient scoring with the Magic.
Van Gundy’s hiring comes at an imperative time for the Pelicans franchise. With Williamson and company set to endure most of their blossoming years under Van Gundy, the 61-year-old head coach could lay a foundation that’s self-sustaining in New Orleans with Williamson as the cornerstone. If successful, both Van Gundy and Williamson could turn the Pelicans not only into a free agent destination, but also into championship contenders backed by years of developing the talent that they currently possess.