On Wednesday, the 2019 consensus #1 overall pick, Zion Williamson, finally debuted against the Spurs after missing the first 44 games of the season. It may be too late in the season for Zion to catch up to Ja Morant in the Rookie of the Year race, but the Pelicans are a borderline 8th seed.
Although New Orleans hasn’t performed very well the first half of this season (with a 17-28 record), Zion could still potentially have an impact if the Pelicans decide to make a playoff push with only being four games out of the Playoffs.
It’s still important to see how Zion fits in with the Pelicans’ young core, which could grow to be dominant in the coming years.
One of the most obvious aspects of Wednesday night’s game was that coach Gentry was trying to limit Zion’s minutes. Coming right off an ankle injury and having weakened conditioning, Williamson was not ready to handle the full minutes of a game.
Also, since this was Zion’s first game, Gentry was likely trying to ease him into the NBA. This was especially evident in the first half with Zion only scoring twice from the field with little playing time.
Even with restricted minutes, Zion had a slow start in the first half. However, much of this did not have to do with Zion’s ability, but more so to do with his aggressiveness. In fact, Gentry claimed after the game that he told Zion to “be more aggressive” at halftime.
This pep-talk evidently worked in the second half as Williamson came out firing by attempting more shots and making most of them. Not only did Zion begin scoring points at a startling rate (13 points in 90 seconds!), but he was also perfect from the 3-point line shooting 4 for 4 from 3.
This not only allowed the Pelicans to catch up to the Spurs and make it a competitive game but also proved many doubters wrong who thought that 3-point scoring would be a problem for Zion at the next level.
Although Zion obviously won’t be shooting 3-pointers like this every game, he showed that he’s more than capable of shooting and that he’s not afraid to take those shots.
Despite Zion breaking out in the second half and allowing the Pelicans to come back, Gentry still monitored his minutes and took him out for the remainder of the game with 7:08 left. This helped the Spurs maintain their lead sealing the win.
While Gentry is clearly trying to ensure the long-term success of Williamson by limiting his minutes, this was an overly-passive coaching decision. As Williamson is the future star in New Orleans, as a coach, I would want to see and evaluate how Zion performs in the clutch and give him as much experience as possible — especially because he was already stepping up.
Through this, Gentry would be able to break potential problems/bad habits earlier and allow Zion to continue to grow and work on his game. Although the Pelicans are in a position where they don’t really need a win, it would be nice to try to build a winning culture around Zion.
With a team filled with young talented players in Ingram, Ball, and Hart, Zion should be able to mesh well with them and eventually gain a leading role despite being the youngest player on the team at just 19. In his first-ever NBA game, Williamson finished tied for the most points on his team, 22, with Brandon Ingram in almost half as many minutes.