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Zion Williamson

Editorials

What to make of Zion Williamson’s NBA debut?

Zion Williamson’s long-awaited debut was everything New Orleans Pelicans fans and viewers across the world were hoping for… and maybe that much more.

The No. 1 overall selection in the 2019 NBA Draft was heralded as a generational talent, one the NBA hasn’t seen since LeBron James made his debut straight out of high school in 2003.

Williamson’s debut was very different from James’, however, it didn’t take place in the season-opener, and he was coming off a torn meniscus injury — one the team had been carefully navigating for the last three months.

Zion went through the gears at first, hesitant to shoot and passing the ball to his teammates while picking up two early turnovers. He seemed to move tentatively in transition, unlike his former explosive self.

Not many could decipher whether he was going through with the plan the medical staff had put in place for him or if he was simply out of shape after missing three months of action.

He scored his first bucket in true fashion, doing what he’s done his whole high school and college career: out-hustling his opponents and getting this sweet lefty put-back layup to get the proverbial monkey off his back.

The Pelicans held true to their intent to play him in short four- to five-minute bursts, quickly plugging him and taking him out of chunks of the game to remain compliant with the plan the medical team had in place for him after his prolonged absence.

Yet Zion didn’t seem to catch a rhythm, often sluggish and not looking to initiate during the first half.

Williamson’s attitude changed in the third, becoming more aggressive but turnover-prone, giving the ball away to the Spurs with careless dribbling — quickly noticing he can’t get past NBA defender without a tight dribble.

The 6-foot-6 forward had racked up a whopping five turnovers to go with his five points and four rebounds before the start of the fourth — it wasn’t looking pretty, to say the least.

Yet if you managed to stick around past those three quarters, it’s likely you were rewarded for your time.

This play started it all for the Pelicans, who at one point looked dead in the water trailing by as much as 15 points to the perennial Western Conference powerhouse. Zion Williamson snatched an offensive rebound away from 7-footer Jakob Poeltl, despite giving up six inches in height. He galloped up court and threaded a left-handed dime to E’Twaun Moore, who swooped in for the finish.

The Spurs were forced to call a timeout.

The rest will be forever engraved in history.

The Spurs switched their defense to zone, hoping they won’t be hurt by Williamson’s motor on the glass, but the strategy failed — time and time again in fact, as Zion corked a three to bust that zone — only to do it again, and again, and once again for good measure. A perfect 4-of-4 from downtown in his NBA debut.

He mixed it up with this alley-oop play with Lonzo Ball after pinning a smaller DeMar DeRozan and calling for the oop, finishing with a lefty lay-in.

The Spurs were incredulous of his 3-point ability; after all the scouting report describes him as a freak athlete with a never-ending motor. He only hit 33.8% of his 3-point attempts at Duke and made only 24 during his lone collegiate year, yet the Spurs kept sagging off of him and he punished them for it.

Zion Williamson had hit two threes against a sagging Patty Mills, another against a late-contesting Jakob Poeltl, but nothing spoke more highly of his confidence than hitting his last three against a dubious LaMarcus Aldridge.

Williamson gave Aldridge a quick jab step to feel-out if his defender would close out and when he didn’t, he let it fly, making his fourth consecutive 3-pointer to the roar of the crowd.

Aldridge isn’t the best defender, but he is long and has a good five-inch advantage over Williamson. Most rookies would shy away from taking that shot, even if it’s lightly contested, but Williamson didn’t and that alone speaks volumes about his confidence as a young player.

Williamson has never been known for his 3-point shooting, but he also won’t be mentioned among the likes of Ben Simmons for being reluctant to take them, having proven he is more than willing to can the open shot.

The No. 1 pick won’t turn into Kyle Korver anytime soon, but his willingness to take the shot that’s available to him will eventually transform into success, provided he keeps putting in the work to become a better shooter.

Zion scored 17 straight points in the fourth quarter, a performance seldom-ever seen from a rookie, let alone one in his NBA debut. His sizzling 17-point spurt, which lasted a total of 3 minutes and 8 seconds, was enough to make the likes of James Harden and Stephen Curry blush.

Yet if this game has taught us anything, it should be patience. Be patient with his recovery, just like many were patient with his struggles through the first three-quarters of his debut. Be patient with his minutes, as he’s bound to be restricted to 20 or so for the first month.

Be patient with his turnovers, as he will cough them up from time to time as he learns what it’s really like to face up a player in the NBA. Be patient because the reward will be there at the end of that rainbow, just like it was on Wednesday with that incandescent 17-point run.

Zion Williamson has arrived, and as long as the Pelicans can temper the expectations, there is no other way to go but up from this rousing NBA debut.