Imagine being 19 years old, the number one draft pick in the NBA and having to deal with more hype than all 4th of July movies ever released. Then you are forced to sit out the first 44 games of your career because of a torn meniscus you suffered during a meaningless summer league game. Well, that is the world that Zion Williamson has lived in since his entrance into the NBA community.
Williamson who must have felt the pressure of the World on his shoulders has actually handled all the hype and even surpassed expectations of most NBA observers.
In his first 19 games of his career, Williamson averaged 23.6 points a game in less than 30 minutes of playing time. His highlight reel is spectacular and he surprised everyone with his ability to drain three’s with a shocking 46.5% shooting percentage. At times throughout his first 19 games, he has looked more like a seasoned Hall-of-Famer than a rookie. Not bad for a kid who just turned 20.
Living Up To The Hype With A Legendary Performance
I dislike using the term “legendary” when discussing a player who has only played in 19 NBA games, but when you consider all the pressure Williamson was under leading up to his first game in the NBA, the performance he put on in the second half of his NBA debut is exactly what makes a legend a legend.
Prior to the game, The Pelicans training staff informed head coach Alvin Gentry that Williamson had been placed on a minutes restriction schedule. Meaning he would only be allowed to play 18 minutes throughout the entire game. Gentry agreed and planned on playing Williamson in short 3 to 5-minute spurts.
The game began and Williamson didn’t score a single point in the first quarter. We all had to wait until the second quarter to see him score and watched in disbelief as he ended the first half of his NBA debut with just 2 points. Let’s just say that made for an extremely interesting half-time show on ESPN.
As the third quarter started Williamson seemed out of sorts and ended his first 3 quarters in the NBA with just 5 points. But then he mesmerized Smoothie King Arena and a nation of sports fans with a legendary 3-minutes and 8 seconds of brilliant 4th quarter basketball.
During the “legendary” 3 minute stretch, Williamson scored 17 consecutive points, which included four 3-pointers. This from a guy who by no means is considered a 3-point threat. He also became the only player in history to shoot 4-of-4 from 3-point range in his NBA debut.
Things got so out of control during that 3-minute stretch that the electrified Pelican crowd actually started an MVP chant. Williamson finished the game with 22 points and put on such a legendary performance that people forgot the visiting Spurs actually went on to win the game 121-117.
Note – Williamson was forced to leave the 4th quarter earlier because he had surpassed the allotted minutes set by the training staff.
Getting Bubble Ready
Williamson recently sat down in front of the media issued the following veteran like statements:
On his goal for the eight seeding games in Orlando:
“That’s a simple answer – we’re trying to make a playoff push, and we’re trying to get back into our full game condition within those eight games.”
On how he is preparing mentally for the return-to-play in Orlando: “I’m preparing by bonding with my teammates once again. Talking to them, saying ‘We’re going to get through this,’ and we’re just going to battle the [mental challenges surrounding this]. As far as me also getting ready for that, it’s just conditioning and honing my skills.”
On the level of difficulty staying in shape during the hiatus and his current shape:
“At first, it was very tough because even now, you still don’t know what’s fully going on with [the pandemic], but my step-dad and I just found different ways to stay in condition, like on-court, off-court, just wherever we could find it. I feel like I’m in good shape right now.”
On the amount he was able to play basketball during the pandemic: “Whenever I was on the court it was just me and my step-dad. Like I said, we don’t know the full severity of the situation going on at hand, so we didn’t want to take any risks, so whenever I was on the court it was just me and my step-father. I was able to get on the court every day.”
On his level of concern with the quick ramp up to return-to-play and if he’s been given guidance from the medical staff on how to prevent injuries:
“I trust our medical staff to lead us in a direction to go in terms of keeping my body healthy. Just trying to ramp up, that’s the mental battle that I talked about earlier. We need to stick together, keep our [spirits] high, and I think we’ll be fine.”
On his perspective surrounding the “Black Lives Matter” movement and how he will be involved in the conversation moving forward: “I’m just going to continue to educate myself on the situation. Talk with my parents, talk with wise people, any info I can get from people, I’m going to continue to learn about it and consult my parents on the best way to use my platform.”
On how crazy the past year has been for him:
“The last 12 months have been a different experience. With the injury, with all the stuff going on, not playing basketball as much as I’m used to. It’s been a crazy experience, but, like I said in my answer before, I stick with my family. My mom tells me ‘life is life.’ You may go through a lot of good times, you may go through a lot of bad times, you just have to try to prepare yourself as best as you can, and for me, that’s just sticking with my family.”
On what he thinks this Pelicans team can be when everyone is healthy:
“I think this team can be really special when we’re all healthy. It’s just a matter of us coming together, fighting those mental battles of being in the bubble. Honestly, coming together, I feel like if we can come together and fight the battles together I think we can be something really special.”
On if he will miss having fans in the stands, and how different will that be: “It’s definitely going to be different. I love the fans here in New Orleans, they always show so much love, they always come out and support us, so it is going to be something different, but, that comes back to what I’ve said to previous questions. As long as we stick together as a team, and give each other energy, I think we’ll be fine.”
On if he feels fortunate the NBA was able to salvage the season:
“Yes, I’m very fortunate that the NBA was able to [find a way to finish the season]. I trust the NBA, and the bubble. We’re going to be in a safe environment, we’re taking advice from certain situations. It’s crazy, we’re actually about to go [to Orlando]. It’s a lot to process, but I am excited.”
The Mighty Line
As NBA players across the country begin the process of entering the NBA’s version of a bubble, one of the most interesting storylines is Williamson and his Pelicans’ attempt to make up 2.5 games which just 8 regular-season games to play. While I’m not sure the Pelicans have enough road in front of them to nab the 8th seed, it should be noted that Williamson appears to be in great shape and there is enough firepower on the Pelicans roster to make a legit run at the playoffs.
The bottom line is this isn’t rocket science, most people who follow the NBA probably would tell you that Williamson is the first player in a very long-time to actually live up to the hype he entered the league with which is why Adam Silver is wisely featuring the Pelicans in the first regular-season game broadcast from the bubble.