New Orleans Pelicans: How Zion Williamson’s game will translate to NBA level

Zion Williamson Duke Blue Devils (Photo by Lance King/Getty Images)
Zion Williamson Duke Blue Devils (Photo by Lance King/Getty Images) /

We’re currently just days away from the New Orleans Pelicans finally trading away their star, Anthony Davis. The Davis trade demand saga has been a dark time in Pelicans history, so let’s instead focus our attention to what bright of a future the team has with Zion Williamson.

We’re finally in the book of Revelations in regards to trading away Anthony Davis. David Griffin and company are working multiple angles, trying to find the best package in return for the New Orleans Pelicans’ disgruntled big man. But this article stops here in Davis trade talks. It’s been this dark cloud of despair looming over the organization, the conclusion can’t come fast enough.

Amidst everything, the Pelicans winning the lottery just a month ago seems somehow lost in translation. Maybe it’s due to the Davis demand commanding all major sports talk show debates and Twitter arguments, but this is a very exciting time for fans of the team.

Zion Williamson is the future of the Pelicans if that wasn’t completely obvious already. Some have been following him since his days in high school at Spartanburg Day, some are recent walk-ons in the hype train after watching a couple of Duke highlight reels. Even if you just casually follow the game, you’ve heard his name. He’s been one of the most sought over prospects in recent memory, deservingly so. It isn’t often you see a teenager 6’7, 285 pounds, built like a middle linebacker, and move like a man half his size.

His dunks are impressive, insanely impressive, but that isn’t his entire offensive repertoire. He’s got a nice handle for a man his size, good court vision, and he’s a monster on the glass. He actually finished 11th in his lone collegiate season in offensive rebounds per game, with 3.52. And with his aforementioned physical stature, he can finish via putbacks after a rebound rather efficiently.

Williamson filled the stat sheet at Duke, compiling averages of 22.6 points, 8.9 rebounds, 2.1 assists, 2.1 steals, and 1.8 blocks per game on a ridiculous 68.0 percent from the field with a 2-point field goal percentage of 74.7 percent. Otherworldly numbers, but there are some questions about certain aspects of his game.

The three-point revolution has taken over the NBA, the shot has become more vital for success than ever before. In the 2013-14 season, the Rockets finished first in the league with 9.5 three-point makes per contest. Now, five seasons later, the Rockets also finished first in three-point makes, but this time with 16.1. For all my mathematicians, that’s an increase of 69.5 percent, that’s a lot of threes.

There have been plenty of analysts and fans alike questioning if Williamson’s lack of shooting prowess will deter him from greatness in today’s game. However, he shot 33.8 percent from distance, be it on 2.2 attempts per contest. His shot isn’t fundamentally or mechanically “broken”. He’s probably not going to have any 50/40/90 seasons, but he can keep a defense humble with his perimeter shooting.

Taking a look at his 32-point epic against UCF,  you can see he’s not afraid to take shots from the perimeter if the defense sags off. Focus in at the (0:04) mark, nobody greets him at the right arch, he pulls the trigger. Same applies for the (2:05), and (2:14) marks—he went 3/7 from distance in a must-win tournament game, the stroke looks good.

So what should we expect from Zion as a teenager in his rookie campaign? Well, there’s going to be growing pains. He’s going to force the issue offensively and make mistakes, but with time Zion will learn to let the flow of the game come to him organically. All eyes are going to be on him once tipoff of the 2019/20 season ensues, the pressure mounted on his shoulders really is unfair.

But that comes with the hype surrounding prospects of his magnitude. LeBron’s first NBA game had commercials playing out how the game would transpire before it was even played, Davis was expected to usher in a new era with Chris Paul’s departure, Andrew Wiggins was supposed to be the next Kobe Bryant/LeBron James hybrid—this all comes with the territory of being the next big thing. You remember when Wiggins hit Kobe with his signature fadeaway and Twitter lost its collective minds? I remember.

Zion might struggle to find an offensive rhythm, but at bare minimal fully expect him to impact the game on the other end of the court. He’s a defensive nightmare, his lateral quickness can keep him ahead of guards and his brute strength allows him to body up opposing forwards/centers. His activity defensively also allows his team to get out in transition where he really thrives.

The Pels finished 10th in 2018/19 in transition points, so they’re already a good team in that regard, expect that trend to continue upward with a runaway freight train on the roster. The combination of Jrue Holiday, Zion Williamson and whoever comes in the Davis haul (hoping for Lonzo in this context) could be terrifying defensively.

Like I mentioned before, don’t necessarily expect a stat sheet as we saw in college for Williamson’s rookie campaign. Look to see how he adapts to what schemes opposing defenses throw at him. If they clog the paint or throw doubles/traps in a halfcourt set in a similar manner to what the Raptors did to Giannis, will the team have the personnel to combat that?

If teams sag off him at the perimeter, will he shoot in an attempt to keep them respectable and allow other avenues of his offense to open up? Even if Zion shoots 28 percent from distance next year, sure beats Ben Simmons’ zero percent.

We understand he’s an animal out in transition, but his stats in a halfcourt setting have been just as impressive. He’s a smart ballplayer, he’s an insane athlete with a terrifying physical stature, he’s skilled, by all accounts he seems very coachable and a great young man, he’s going to do great things in this league. It may take a few months, it may take a full season, but the future in New Orleans is overwhelmingly bright with Zion at the helm of a new era.

Next. Celtics can still win Anthony Davis. dark

Again, until we definitively know what he’s going to play with next season, it’s kinda difficult to assume how the Pelicans will play next year. What do you expect is a realistic scoreline for Zion’s rookie season? Do you expect him to struggle, or immediately take off? Let us know!