New Orleans Pelicans: The offensive evolution of Zion Williamson

Zion Williamson #1 of the New Orleans Pelicans (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
Zion Williamson #1 of the New Orleans Pelicans (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images) /
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New Orleans Pelicans, Zion Williamson
Zion Williamson #1 of the New Orleans Pelicans (Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images) /

New Orleans Pelicans: Zion Williamson is playing some point guard with Lonzo Ball out

The first thing that has changed is that Williamson is bringing the ball up a lot more. This is troublesome for opponents right off the bat. It means that their 4 or 5 has to guard Williamson not in the post or around the baseline, where help can be sent straight away, but with lots of open court behind them.

Williamson is comfortable handling the ball and he is extremely difficult to stop when he gets downhill. In the above clip, he has the room to do just that. Here, it’s Kings center Richaun Holmes who is tasked with staying in front of Williamson. The Pelicans’ no. 1 already has the step on him after the first dribble, but he then sends him into the stanchion with one shoulder bump and finishes. Good luck defending that.

Later in the game, it was Marvin Bagley tasked with stopping Williamson as he brought the ball up. Bagley sags off, in part so that Williamson doesn’t immediately explode to the basket and maybe also to tempt him into taking a jumper.

The problem with giving Williamson that space is that it only builds a bigger avenue for him to get to the rim. In single coverage, this is not effective at all. This is giving a freight train freedom to attack the basket against a sole defender on the off chance that he might pull up. Williamson is not going to do that.

If the New Orleans Pelicans make the playoffs, then I imagine that this will be an idea worth revisiting. Zion Williamson might see coverages more similar to the ones Giannis Antetokounmpo faces, with walls of two or three defenders being formed between him and the basket, but that is unlikely to happen in the regular season.

Williamson sees the space, hits Harrell with a quick in-and-out dribble, and finishes with the lefty floater. It’s light work for him.

The one thing to watch is Williamson’s finishing over length. He was almost impeccable against the Kings, but struggled a little against the Los Angeles Lakers. Despite scoring 21 points, he missed an unusual 10 shots.

More than once, Williamson barreled his way to the basket and was unable to score. He got blocked by Anthony Davis a couple of times, stifled by Marc Gasol, and found it difficult against Montrezl Harrell. Of course, we have to keep in mind that this was against the most stacked frontcourt in the league, but it is still an area of interest.