New Orleans Pelicans: Why Zion Williamson may appear “less athletic”

Zion Williamson #1 of the New Orleans Pelicans (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)
Zion Williamson #1 of the New Orleans Pelicans (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images) /

Richard Jefferson claimed Zion Williamson was less athletic in a recent segment on the New Orleans Pelicans.

The New Orleans Pelicans and Zion Williamson were the topic of a recent segment of “The Jump,” in which Richard Jefferson claimed that Zion was “less athletic.”

Ironically, the hosts were watching a highlight of Zion stuffing Victor Oladipo like he was his younger brother, then flying down the court for a huge dunk on the other end.

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I’m not sure how anyone could watch that highlight and conclude that Zion was less athletic, but we are in the era of hot takes so I will humor him.

On one hand, Richard Jefferson has a point, as Zion Williamson has not had as many rim-rattling dunks this season, which we got used to seeing on a regular basis in his limited time last season.

But there is no reason to be worried about Zion, as there are some logical reasons why he isn’t flying around quite as much this season as last.

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The Pace

The Pelicans are playing at a slower pace than they were last season and their fast breaks are down in general, it’s not just Zion. The Pels are averaging 4.6 fewer fast-break points per game than last season.

This is by design, as a core part of Stan Van Gundy’s defensive philosophy is not to sell out on rebounds to try and run. The Pels are top-five in the NBA In rebounding and have looked like a much better defensive team thus far.

Zion simply hasn’t had as many chances for the run out alley-oops as he had last season, but he is also collecting more rebounds and not selling out his defensive assignments to try and leak out for dunks.

This is a good thing.

The Toll

Zion Williamson is playing more minutes this season and has to be smart with how he uses them.

A layup is just as effective as a dunk and doesn’t come with the risk that flying through the air in a crowded lane does.

I for one am happy to see Zion being smarter with his body, not trying to rip the rim off on every play and pacing himself for a full game’s worth of work.

Like most fans, I get excited when I see Zion go up for one of his signature dunks, partially because I’m afraid he’ll land funny or get undercut (as he did in the Toronto game, a lowkey dirty play by Pascal Siakam that I hope Zion does not forget).

Zion is playing slower and smarter and so far it is working out for the New Orleans Pelicans, it has nothing to do with his athleticism.

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