Zion Williamson’s regular season debut was about as hyped an event as you’ll find in the NBA in January, but as we probably should’ve expected, the rookie sensation out of Duke struggled early to find a rhythm. That was thanks in part to the limited minutes he received, as the Pelicans plan was playing him in short bursts of 4-6 minutes.
Williamson, who is vastly underrated as a passer, had his best moments facilitating in the first half, including a terrific dish to a cutting Brandon Ingram in the first quarter when the Spurs sent a double at him in the post.
Zion finds BI cutting to the rim for an easy 2! pic.twitter.com/qjjNg2a9kh
— New Orleans Pelicans (@PelicansNBA) January 23, 2020
The rust was noticeable in his struggles handling the ball and trying to find his rhythm in the speed of the NBA game, but all of that clicked in the fourth quarter when he basically dragged the Pelicans out of a deficit to take a brief lead over the Spurs. While he’s best known for his work above the rim, he showed that he’s been working on his game from outside the arc while rehabbing his knee, catching fire in the fourth quarter from three-point land.
ZION WENT OFF 😳
17 points and 4/4 from deep in 3 minutes pic.twitter.com/CfYklzb2Bv
— ESPN (@espn) January 23, 2020
In total he scored 17 straight points for New Orleans in a span of 3:08 in the middle of the fourth quarter, with each bucket postponing Alvin Gentry’s efforts to sub him out of the game — including a point where Lonzo Ball ignored his request to come to the sideline for a timeout and passed to Zion who drew a foul and got to the free throw line.
Williamson would leave the game for good with about five minutes to play and the Pelicans were unable to hold onto the slim lead he’d gotten them to, losing 121-117, but after a sluggish start that stretch was a reminder of why the hype going into the night was so significant. Zion finished the game with 22 points, seven rebounds, and three assists on 8-of-11 shooting, including a perfect 4-of-4 from three in that fourth quarter run.
His five turnovers were, by far, his biggest issue along with some defensive lapses that seemed the product of just not being comfortable with the Pelicans scheme yet and getting a little lost on the floor. Still, he was spectacular in the fourth quarter and seemed to finally let himself just let loose and play ball, and the result was the fireworks everyone had hoped to see — even if in a way they hadn’t expected with threes rather than dunks.