Zion Williamson is entering the NBA with higher expectations than any player since LeBron James in 2003. His every action will be magnified and analyzed by the entire basketball world. He has already been embraced by New Orleans and has sparked a level of excitement that the city has never felt for the sport of basketball.
Needless to say, it’s a lot of pressure for a teenager. Fortunately, Zion lived up to the hype in his first NBA preseason.
Through four games, Zion averaged 23.3 points, 6.5 rebounds, and 2.3 assists along with an absurd 71.4% shooting clip from the field. Since 2004 (as far back as the NBA’s preseason data goes), no other rookie has even averaged 20 points per game in the preseason. Elite players like Blake Griffin, Dwyane Wade, and Kevin Durant have averaged 17.3, 18.0, and 18.8 points per game respectively in their rookie preseason campaigns, but nobody has scored at Zion’s volume. He even leads the pack after adjusting for minutes played.
No rookie has come close to Zion’s 30.8 points per 36 minutes in the preseason, let alone on his efficiency. In fact, this comparison doesn’t even feel fair. Zion is playing like an NBA veteran, not a rookie, so let’s compare his preseason performance to the performances of all NBA players instead of just rookies.
Zion wasn’t just amazing for a rookie. He was just amazing period. See that performance by Stephen Curry that’s nearly identical to Zion’s? Steph did that when he was 28-year-old. Stoudemire was 28, Harden was 30, Anthony was 26, DeRozan was 27, and LeBron was 26. Once again, Zion Williamson is currently 19-years-old.
So, how did this happen? How can a rookie be this dominant? Well, a look at Zion’s shot chart makes it pretty obvious where most of his points are coming from.
It’s clear that Zion is primarily bullying defenders in the paint. His shot chart might suggest a lack of versatility, but refer back to the previous graph. Even with plenty of room to develop his offensive game, Zion has been an absolutely unstoppable scoring threat. That’s scary.
One might also wonder if Zion has simply played against poor competition. After all, it’s easy to be efficient if you’re scoring off of wide open dunks. Of course, this has not been the case. Here’s a couple of clips of Zion scoring on Rudy Gobert, two-time Defensive Player of the Year winner and the best defender in the league over the past two seasons.
Those are not easy shots. I’m not sure how Zion’s sideways jump in the first clip is even possible. It wasn’t the first time he showcased some of his midair acrobatic ability.
That first move is something you’d expect to see from a nimble guard. Zion’s smooth touch and ability to adjust while in the air made him one of the most efficient college basketball players of all-time, and there’s no reason for him to lose that skill set in the pros.
Zion combines his nimbleness and flexibility with incredible strength and power. He has already finished difficult shots through contact, converting numerous ‘and one’ plays.
Ed Davis is an extremely strong 30-year-old man, and there was absolutely nothing he could do to stop Zion from scoring on both of the first two plays. On the third play, Zion easily bounces off of the defender like it’s nothing.
So, Zion can score off of his smooth touch around the rim, his superhuman strength, his acrobatic abilities, and he can do it all against the best defenders in the world. If that isn’t enough, Zion also demonstrated some good vision and play-making ability in his four preseason games.
Zion channels his inner-LeBron by driving inside and kicking it out for three in the first two clips. In the next two clips, Zion makes some good passes to set up a big man down low for an easy bucket.
Zion certainly has his flaws. His defense was subpar in the preseason and his jumper doesn’t exactly scare defenders. Fortunately, he is known to have a remarkable work ethic and a persistent desire to improve. He has all of the tools to be a great basketball player and the New Orleans Pelicans have the pieces to create a great basketball team. We can only hope that Zion Williamson is able to stay healthy and achieve his potential.