On Wednesday January 22, Zion Williamson lived up to the years of hype as he made his NBA debut against the San Antonio Spurs. While his highlight-reel dunks did not make an appearance, Zion became the first player in NBA history to go four for four from three in their NBA debut. He also dropped 22 points, 17 of which came in a three-minute span. Although the Pelicans did not win the game, Zion’s performance showed just why he deserved to be the number 1 pick in the 2019 NBA draft.
This past off-season, the Pelicans made groundbreaking moves to support their 2019 first pick and hopefully return to playoff contention as soon as possible. Despite the various scandals involving Lebron’s recruitment of AD, the Pelicans traded Davis to the Lakers in exchange for Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, Josh Hart, and a multitude of draft picks. The Pelican’s trade seemed like a gamble, as they gave away a tried-and-tested All-Star for a set of young players, essentially investing into their future. When the trade was made in July 2019, whether the investment would yield any returns was still to be seen. Now, just a few games into Zion’s career, it is clear that Zion will become a superstar in the NBA sooner rather than later.
Zion’s explosiveness was put on display during the NBA preseason. The countless show-stopping dunks, acrobatic finishes, and emphatic blocks dominated the highlight-reels. But, he suffered a knee injury and has been out since October. A big question was how Zion’s athleticism and explosive play-style would fit into the Pelicans system. In his first game against the Spurs, the Pelicans were very cautious of Zion’s knee, and he only played in 3-4 minute spurts. Within these spurts, Gentry took no risks and the set plays did not involve Zion carrying a heavy load. However, in just 18 minutes of play, Zion erupted for 22 points. Lonzo assisted on three of Zion’s four threes, and helped set up Zion numerous times in the paint. While Zion shot well from three, the actual shots were uncontested and low-arcing. Although Lonzo Ball has had his ups and downs this season, he has recently been playing some of the best basketball of his career. With the Pels, Lonzo has changed his shooting form and has started to become a decent three-point option. Of course, his court vision is unparalleled and his defense is strong. If Lonzo works on his driving ability, his game will really start to come together. Pelican’s Coach Alvin Gentry said “Lonzo Ball is probably playing the best basketball of his career on any level. He’s always a rebound or an assist away from a triple-double most nights.” Furthermore, in his past 14 games he has averaged 8.6 assists, 14.6 points, and 7.3 rebounds.
As Zion and Lonzo play more games together and synchronize with each other’s play-styles, the Pelicans will start to get into a rhythm and hopefully make a push for the playoffs. Ball may have already found this rhythm, as he had a career high 15 assists on Sunday, January 26, against the Celtics. Zion provides an option from anywhere on the court, and with his size and strength as well as Lonzo’s basketball IQ, the Pelicans seem to have a solid core for the future. I would not be surprised if they find a way to squeeze into the playoffs this season, and maybe upset a few teams along the way.