In just a small sample of games with the New Orleans Pelicans, Zion Williamson has made a huge landing to start his professional basketball career.
Playing on a national stage for the past two seasons, first at Duke University and now as a member of the New Orleans Pelicans, the basketball excellence of Zion Williamson continues to be a tangible factor game-after-game.
Still just 19-years-old and playing just five games so far in his young NBA career, the Pelicans’ rookie forward is averaging 27.6 points, 11.2 rebounds, and 2.6 assists per 36 minutes while shooting 62.5% from the field.
In the early moments of Zion Williamson’s time on the floor with the New Orleans Pelicans, the team just seemed rigged. Adding a brand new piece to the offense in the middle of the season, especially such a high-volume piece certainly caused some game flow friction.
Even in those rough spots, Williamson showed early signs of being a transcendent talent.
He showed a lot of poise competing against Nikola Jokić in what was probably his least-impressive of the five games thus far, posting 15 points and 6 rebounds on 7-of-9 from the floor against the Denver Nuggets.
— New Orleans Pelicans (@PelicansNBA) January 23, 2020
I’ve watched that 5 minutes of basketball about 30 times. I’ve watched it three times today. It’s going to be one of those videos I’ll keep in rotation for the rest of my days and someday when I’m old and grey, my grandkids are going to ask me to stop talking about so often.
On display in that game and throughout the first 125 minutes of Zion Williamson’s career with the New Orleans Pelicans has been his out-of-this-world effectiveness on the offensive glass. With 39 rebounds under his belt so far, and impressive 16 have come on the offensive end.
While many raved of Zion’s athleticism and second jump throughout the pre-draft process, not many would’ve predicted how quickly his offensive glass cleaning ability would translate into the NBA. Williamson’s 14.3% offensive rebounding percentage ranks in the 97th percentile among forwards in the league, per Cleaning the Glass.
Around Zion, the team is also feeling the room in the paint created by Williamson on offense, as the team ranks in the 99th percentile in league with a +12.6% in offensive rebounding rate when the rookie is on the floor.
Williamson currently ranks eleventh in the NBA, but first among rookies, averaging 3.2 offensive rebounds per game, which 1.2 rebounds higher than the next-highest candidate, Eric Mika, who grabbed two rebounds in his lone game with the Sacramento Kings.
As the New Orleans Pelicans continue to develop, Zion Williamson seems like a great leader among a handful of stars in the making.
Heading into the future and even starting this summer, the focus for David Griffin and the rest of the New Orleans Pelicans’ front office is to find a way to build competitive, if not contending rosters around Zion Williamson
It helps that the Pelicans already have so many complementary pieces on the roster, as Lonzo Ball has developed into an ideal point guard for the roster and Jrue Holiday continues to prove elastic in his ability to fit in just about any lineup thanks to his two-way brilliance.
Showcasing his athleticism last game against the Memphis Grizzlies, Zion caught an errant pass from Holiday behind the backboard and converted it for a layup, staying in flight the whole time.
— New Orleans Pelicans (@PelicansNBA) February 1, 2020
Much was made prior to Zion Williamson’s fit alongside first-time All-Star Brandon Ingram, who led the Pelicans through the first half-and-some-change of the season. While their floor sharing comfort wasn’t instant, the two are really starting to find ways to make the offensive end easier for the other.
Ingram’s numbers are down in his five games with Zion on the floor; he’s averaging 19 points, 4 assists, and 3.2 rebounds in 30.7 minutes as opposed to 25.6 points, 6.7 rebounds, and 4.4 assists in 34.7 minutes in the prior 39 games.
However, it’s clear that Ingram is continuing to feel out his fit alongside Zion Williamson, has he’s starting displaying high-level passing skills and is starting to look more like himself.
— New Orleans Pelicans (@PelicansNBA) February 1, 2020
Initially looking a little uncomfortable attacking with Zion on the floor, Ingram is back to creating on drives with beauty.
Attack mode 🎮 @B_Ingram13
He’s got 19 and counting 🏀 pic.twitter.com/eWFUcX70Hg
— New Orleans Pelicans (@PelicansNBA) January 29, 2020
In the last pair of games, Ingram has impressed with 24 points on 9-of-13 from the floor against the Cleveland Cavaliers and 20 points on 6 of 13 shooting on Friday against Memphis.
The New Orleans Pelicans’ starting five with Ball, Holiday, Ingram, Williamson and Derrick Favors lineup has been pretty gaudy. In 59 minutes of shared action so far, the group as a +28.2 net rating, which is the highest of any unit on the team with at least 50 minutes of runtime.
Currently acting as the team’s starting power forward, Zion’s role on a future playoff team might make more sense with him rotating to the small ball center, a position where he’s spent 18% of his minutes so far with the New Orleans Pelicans.
Williamson has certainly done a lot of good things while occupying either position, but the team continues to get a lot of positive things out of Favors as the team’s primary center.
On Friday against the Memphis, the Pelicans starters were five of eight birds who finished in double figures as the team ran the current eight-seeded Grizzlies out of New Orleans, gaining ground on a playoff spot with their 139-111 victory.
The Pelicans do have the fifth-easiest remaining schedule, which could really help the team pick up some on-court chemistry.
Regardless of their schedule, the key to the New Orleans Pelicans heading down the stretch, besides health, will be their ability to close out basketball games.
In his first two games, minutes restrictions kept Zion Williamson off the floor in clutch moments, the rookie is picking up more run time and is now closing games. The New Orleans Pelicans are undefeated at 3-0 when Zion plays during the final three minutes of the fourth quarter.
It doesn’t stop there, as in the limited sample size, the Pelicans are +19.7 points per 100 better, in addition to being +7.4 points scored per 100 possessions better with Williamson on the floor.
Continuing to dazzle, it’ll be interesting to watch the next two-and-a-half months for the New Orleans Pelicans and Zion Williamson, as the rookie continues to look like one of the league’s next great stars after missing just over half the season after suffering a right knee injury.
Back on the court with the New Orleans Pelicans, the addition of Zion continues to look like one of the best mid-season additions in the league as the team continues to gain a lot of momentum at a potential run to the playoffs.
While it’s just been five games so far, Zion Williamson has been brilliant as a member of the New Orleans Pelicans and he’s shown no signs of slowing down. The Pelicans should be must-see television for the remainder of the season.