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Pelicans, Zion Williamson

Zion Williamson has exceeded the hype

Expectations are always sky-high for the first overall pick in the NBA Draft and Zion Williamson was no exception in 2019. With that said, Williamson has exceeded the hype attached to his NBA arrival.

Yes, the player who had as much hype as any player entering the NBA since LeBron James has surpassed the buzz his college play created.

Williamson’s freshman season at Duke was something else. Standing at 6-foot-7, 284 pounds, he flashed a skill set rare for a player with his particular stature. Williamson flew down the floor in the fastbreak, got his head as high as the rim on dunk attempts, played in post, blocked shots, and had a respectable jump shot. He did everything, but the rim-rattling inside play is what stood out.

The word “Zion” became associated with a physical freak who demoralized people above the rim. It’s tricky to visualize how unique college players will fare in the NBA, Williamson being perhaps the perfect example of that. Will he flourish at his size at the next level? Can he stay healthy?

Williamson didn’t step foot on the floor for the New Orleans Pelicans until January of his rookie season and appeared in a combined 24 games on the season as a whole due to injuries and the suspension of the NBA regular season. Once he finally hit the hardwood, he was scoring in the post, putting the ball on the floor, and shooting from the outside. Williamson averaged 22.5 points across just 27.8 minutes per contest.

This season he has taken his presence to the next level: he’s overwhelming opposing defenses.

His stat line is amazing, as Williamson is averaging 26.9 points, 7.2 rebounds, and 3.7 assists per game while shooting 61.7 percent from the field. It’s not the essence of his sophomore season, though.

When Williamson is in the post or single-covered, he’s essentially getting a shot off every time and/or drawing a foul. He’s moving people in the paint and is physically imposing in every aspect of the game. Even if he’s double-teamed, Williamson can make headway towards the rim and/or find the open man. Williamson’s size makes him difficult to move when posting up. All the while, he can handle the rock, which opens the door for him being a point forward down the road.

The 20-year-old is an efficient three-point shot away from being one of the 10 best players in the NBA and is already making records.

In college Williamson was a must-watch spectacle that produced at a high level. When one watches Williamson play in the NBA they’re not watching a mere high flyer: they’re looking at a dominant scorer who’s having his way. There are minimal big men and frontcourt players who rip the soul out of players in the paint as Williamson does.

Sure, the high-flying dunks are present every time there’s an open path to the rim. But that’s not the hallmark of his game. Williamson is producing, making an impact, and pulling off a bevy of highlight-reel plays all at the same time.

One might argue that the Pelicans being on the outside looking in at the playoffs this season is a knock on Williamson because great players are supposed to lift teams (the Pelicans are the 11th seed in the Western Conference at 25-33).

Well, does the same logic apply for Bradley Beal? The Washington Wizards are tied for the 10th seed in the Eastern Conference and in danger of missing the playoffs for a third consecutive season with Beal as the healthy headman. Are his 31.1 points per game subsidiary?

The same logic applies to Devin Booker. The Kentucky product has been one of the NBA’s best scorers in recent memory, but the Phoenix Suns missed the playoffs in each of his first five seasons in the league. Should Booker’s shooting and scoring be dismissed?

Let’s also keep in mind the competitive nature of the West. There are several deep-rooted and/or star-studded contenders and a handful of rebuilding teams that are on the cusp of playoff contention in the conference. The Pelicans are part of the cluster of the latter, and their prized second-year player and Brandon Ingram are the impetus for that.

Zion Williamson is playing at an elite level from a production and impact standpoint. We’ve only seen the first 77 games of his NBA career. His rookie campaign began in the thick of the regular season. It’s almost as if this season is Williamson’s rookie campaign given he has played the bulk of the Pelicans’ games and has been given the chance to get into a groove on both ends of the floor.

Imagine the player Williamson will be in two years when he has more games under his belt and a better understanding of the NBA game: it’s mesmerizing to ponder what we’ve seen so far being a mere glimpse into the future.

There’s nothing more the Pelicans could’ve asked from Zion Williamson. He’s off to one of the best starts in NBA history.