The New Orleans Pelicans dominated the Brooklyn Nets in their 2022-23 NBA season opener Wednesday night, beating the Nets 130-108 in an all-around team win with Zion Williamson making his much-anticipated return.
The Pelicans big three of CJ McCollom, Brandon Ingram, and Zion Williamson combined for a staggering 74 points, 20 rebounds, 14 assists, and eight steals. Their scoring output alone made up 56 percent of the team’s points and the efficiency they had en route to the dominant outing was impressive.
The trio shot a combined 28-55 shots from the field equating to 50.9 percent, collectively, bringing in the new NBA season shooting the rock with poise and consistency.
The biggest takeaway of the night came after the game was finished when Zion Williamson spoke with the media about what it was like to return Wednesday night after missing the entire 21-22’ season with an ongoing foot injury. Zion was also asked if there was still any rust he is still working through after being out of action for so long.
“Yes,” Williamson said in response to a reporter post-game about if there is any rust after not playing an NBA game in so long.
"“There were some shots where I’m like oh that’s good and then when it rolls out then I was like no way. But my teammates are there for me, they tell me to stay aggressive, keep attacking and be myself. With them in my corner, my confidence is going to stay high.”"
When Willamson was asked about he felt about his overall performance Wednesday, the fourth-year forward only called his 25-point and 9-rebound outing “a decent starter performance.”
"“It’s a lot of room for improvement,” Williamson said. “I’m still learning my teammates. Now we get real in-game reps. I’m just excited to grow.”"
While to many, It feels like Williamson is already a bonafide star whose game is fully developed the fact of the matter is it’s not.
Zion has only played 85 games since entering the league in 2019. There is still room to grow for Zion and there are two areas in particular that will hopefully improve throughout this season: defense and playmaking.
Zion Williamson: Defense and playmaking
Williamson even admitted in the same post-game press conference last night he needs to be more of a presence for his teammates while they share the floor.
"“I don’t want to sit up here and say I think I played decent on defense because the film is going to tell all.”"
When on the floor at times Williamson plays passive on defense. Zion is known by the masses for his bully ball type of play in the paint and electrifying intensity. However, at times against the Nets, Williamson just wasn’t crashing the boards and tracking his teammates’ missed shots as he should have. Those defensive rebounds finish possessions and Zion left a few on the table.
He fails to switch off of pick and rolls properly and looks dejected at times as if he doesn’t fully invest on the defensive end of the floor. With time, Williamson’s conditioning should get back to normal and in turn, his defensive awareness and investment should increase as a result.
The one other area for growth in Williamson’s game this season is his playmaking. This is not a jab at Zion for not being a passive player. He is extremely selfless and a team-first kind of superstar. But the eye for catching players cutting to the rim or noticing a teammate with a mismatch is going to be huge for this team in terms of development. Zion still puts his head down and misses cutters at times when penetrating and he can take better advantage of double teams.
While Ingram looked to be the guy in a dominant win over Brooklyn, this is going to be Zion’s team and he needs to keep expanding his game if this team is going to find prolonged success this season and compete for a title.
Catch the Pelicans back in action tonight at against the Hornets on the road in Charlotte.