NBA Rookie Watch: Zion Williamson Has Arrived With Force

It’s only been six games, but Zion Williamson has made quite an impression.

The New Orleans Pelicans forward missed the first few months of the 2019-20 NBA season with an injury and, as such, the No. 1 overall pick didn’t get off to the start that many imagined. However, Williamson has wasted no time making a statement and hastily reminding the basketball world of why he was the unquestioned top selection in the 2019 class.

It has to be noted that Ja Morant has been fantastic to this point, and with his current pace the Memphis Grizzlies guard is the front-runner for the NBA Rookie of the Year award. That doesn’t take away from the early returns by Williamson, though, with the budding star averaging obscene numbers.

Through six games, the Pelicans have been careful with Williamson, allowing him to play only 26.3 minutes per contest. With that said, Williamson is posting numbers that make you forget his limited workload, averaging 19.5 points and 8.2 rebounds per game. On a per-minute basis, that production would look outstanding alongside almost anyone, and Williamson also maintaining high-end efficiency, shooting 61.5 percent from the floor.

Given his pedigree and pre-NBA stardom, Williamson doesn’t “need” the Pelicans to be good to generate buzz, but New Orleans has also been quite effective since a woeful, 6-22 start. It certainly helps that New Orleans has a bunch of talented players around him but, with even a quick glance at the floor when he is flying around, it would be easy to see that the future is bright for the Pelicans based heavily on Williamson’s individual presence.

Can he actually win the Rookie of the Year award without playing until January? That remains to be seen and, with Morant cooking, it doesn’t seem likely. It wouldn’t be tough to argue that Williamson doesn’t have the second-most likely case to bring the hardware home, though, and that is relatively ludicrous given his late start.

It isn’t breaking news to suggest that Zion Williamson is must-see TV but, well, he is and so are the Pelicans.

Let’s take a look at this week’s rookie watch.

Honorable Mentions

  • Sekou Doumbouya – The production hasn’t been out of this world, but Doumbouya has started 15 of the last 17 games for the Pistons. It is good to see him getting opportunities, and the No. 15 pick accumulated 17 points in a win over Denver on Sunday.
  • Jaxson Hayes – The Pelicans have been playing quite well and Hayes’ workload has varied a great deal. That limits how much exposure he gets but, on a per-minute basis, Hayes has been efficient and productive.
  • Matisse Thybulle – Much was made of the Rising Stars “snub” for Thybulle, and his defensive contributions are genuinely staggering. It has to be noted that he’s a deep negative offensively, though, including a 29.7 percent shooting clip in 11 January games.

10) Darius Garland

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As with most rookie lead guards, Garland has endured some growing pains, particularly from an efficiency standpoint. The production has been there, though, with the former Vanderbilt Commodore scoring in double figures in 17 of the last 18 games. During that sample, he’s averaging 14.5 points and 5.0 assists per game. Even without high-level efficiency, that is good enough for inclusion here.

9) P.J. Washington

Washington is dealing with an ankle issue that kept him out of the lineup in Charlotte’s last game and might keep the rookie on the sidelines for another game or two. With that said, his season-long numbers are strong, averaging 12.2 points and 5.3 rebounds while shooting 48 percent from the floor and 40 percent from three. It’s happening in relative anonymity, but the Hornets couldn’t have asked for much better to this point.

8) Michael Porter Jr.

From an efficiency standpoint, Porter has been tremendous. He has a 20.0 PER and a 61 percent true shooting through 39 games and, if the sample size was larger, he’d be in the top five. Porter is held back by only playing 556 total minutes as February arrives but, in his last ten appearances, he is averaging 14.7 points and 9.0 rebounds in 24.9 minutes per contest. That’s pretty strong.

7) Terence Davis

There are nights when the raw production just isn’t there for Davis, simply because he’s playing a specific role for an awesome team in Toronto. Then, there are nights when he explodes, with Sunday’s 31-point barrage serving as a prime example. He’s been efficient and vital for a playoff-bound team and there is a lot to be said for that.

6) Tyler Herro

After a “down” period in which he was battling an injury, Herro is back to his old self. In the last five games, he is averaging 17.2 points and shooting 44 percent from three. It’s all happening on a very good basketball team as well, with All-Rookie honors still very much in sight.

5) Eric Paschall

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We discussed Paschall at length a week ago and not much has changed. It wasn’t his most explosive stretch from a production standpoint, but Paschall kicked off February with 16 points (on eight shots) in a win over Cleveland on Saturday.

4) Kendrick Nunn

Nunn missed three straight games with injury before returning with a modest, 16-minute workload on Saturday. For the full season, though, Nunn ranks third in scoring (on solid efficiency) and third in assists among rookies. The profile is impressive.

3) Brandon Clarke

Brandon Clarke is very good. He’s a key contributor on what is currently a playoff team and, as a rookie, Clarke plays like a veteran. He’s averaging 12.2 points and 5.8 rebounds per game in only 21.7 minutes, with those numbers stretching to approximately 20 and 10 on a per-36 minute basis. On top of that, Clarke more than holds his own defensively and he leads the rookie class in many advanced metrics, headlined by a whopping 68 percent true shooting. He’s just not famous.

2) Zion Williamson

I know it’s been just six games. He’s very good.

1) Ja Morant

Morant averaged 17.5 points and 8.2 assists per game in January. Those numbers are impressive under any circumstances, but the point guard also shot 54.2 percent from the floor and 37.0 percent from three-point distance. Did I mention that the Grizzlies are currently the No. 8 seed in the West and he’s the biggest reason why? As noted, Zion has been ridiculous, but Morant is still “the guy” in the race for now.