NBA Summer League 2019: Don’t panic if Zion Williamson struggles

All eyes will be on the consensus number one overall pick, Zion Williamson, once he laces up his sneakers to do battle with former teammate, R.J. Barrett. The New Orleans Pelicans’ phenom has high expectations, just don’t be shocked if he doesn’t reach them right away.

It’s about time for your annual reminder that Summer League—though it has its benefits—doesn’t define what kind of career a young prospect is going to have. Superstars have struggled in the summer exhibition in years past, while players who represent the polar opposite flourished. If New Orleans Pelicans’ first overall pick Zion Williamson doesn’t immediately put up stats similar to what he did in college, fret not.

Over the past 12 years, only three players who won MVP of the Summer League have gone on to become NBA All-Stars; Blake Griffin, John Wall, and Damian Lillard. The summer games allow the coaching staff to evaluate talent and decide who should crack the rotation, but it definitely doesn’t evaluate what kind of career a player is going to have.

For instance, Tim Duncan, x5 NBA Champion, x2 NBA MVP, x3 NBA Finals MVP, arguably the greatest power forward of all-time (even though he played the vast majority of his minutes at the center position) had Greg Ostertag drop 21 points, 10 rebounds, and 5 blocks on him effortlessly in summer league play.

LeBron James played well but didn’t leave spectators speechless in the Summer League as an 18-year-old, which will be the same age Zion enters in at (turns 19 on Game 2, but that’s not important here).

Michael Beasley dropped 28 points and secured 9 rebounds in his debut against the Chicago Bulls back in 2008. I’ll tell you why this is worth mentioning: The Bulls had Derrick Rose, who managed just 10 points and 4 assists while committing 5 turnovers that game. Rose would go on to become the youngest MVP in NBA history, while Michael Beasley…well he’s just Michael Beasley.

That summer league exhibition back in ’08 was before NBA Twitter emerged so the overreactions were held to a minimum. If Zion is to struggle and R.J. Barrett finds a rhythm early and maintains it throughout the game—Twitter is going to erupt.

But here’s the thing entering Friday night, the teams involved have only scrimmaged in practice. Some chemistry may have been demonstrated but we haven’t seen them in action against NBA opposition. It’s possible the game turns into a crapshoot and an unexpected rotation player emerges from the depths to take the game over.

Zion and his teammates have to get acclimated with each other, a couple of his roster pals won’t even see action until their second game due to an archaic NBA rule that should be outlawed sooner than later.

Next: Mapping a trip to the playoffs for the Pels

If he turns the ball over, doesn’t assert himself as much as speculators might like, or overall looks lost out on the court—don’t panic. I should bring up the flipside to that coin, if he drops a triple-double and posterizes Mitchell Robinson, don’t overreact. It may be hard to take my own advice on the latter, however.


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