The 2019 number one pick Zion Williamson finally made his long awaited debut on January 22, 2020 against the San Antonio Spurs. The Pelicans would end up losing the game 121-117.
Throughout the game Zion looked hesitant to drive, and the few times that he did he dribbled right into his defender often resulting in a turnover. A couple of defensive possessions he got a little turned around as well, missing rotations and switches. At times he rebounded ferociously, other times he forgot to box out.
We shouldn’t judge him too harshly. No rookie has received as much hype as Zion since Lebron James entered the league. The rest of the NBA is already in mid-season form, while Zion is recovering not only from knee surgery, but from a regimen focused on improving his running form in order to prevent similar injuries from occurring. It is totally natural for a rookie to struggle in his first regular season game, and Zion is no exception. Many great players have struggled in their debuts or even in their entire first season. Hall of Fame point guard John Stockton, who is the league leader in total assists and steals, only started 5 games his rookie season with averages of 5.6 points and 5.1 assists per game. He didn’t average double digits in either stat until his fourth season, and is now considered one of the best to ever play the game.
I wrote all of that at the end of the third quarter. I was not ready for what happened next.
Williamson erupted in the 4th quarter, scoring 17 straight points for the Pelicans including 4 three pointers, absolutely demolishing the heavy paint defense the Spurs had been throwing at him all game. He looked more confident with the ball and played much more aggressively. He showed us exactly why he was the number one pick in the draft in those short minutes.
He finished with 22 points on 8-11 shooting, including 4-4 from deep and 2-4 from the free throw line. He added 7 rebounds and 3 assists in only 18 minutes of play. His 5 turnovers were an issue, but nothing to lose sleep over. At the end of the day, Zion’s debut was a great one and hopefully that 4th quarter is a sign of things to come.
Williamson still has time to adjust. He is young, and incredibly athletic. As he works on his conditioning and gets used to the pace of the NBA, I am sure that we will see more of the Zion that the world has been waiting to see.
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