Last night marked the debut of Zion Williamson, probably the most highly anticipated NBA Rookie since LeBron James in 2003. I watched his first two few-minute stints of underwhelming playing time before boring of what was at that point a one-sided game between two non-playoff teams.
It turned out that I turned off the TV too soon. Zion dropped 17 consecutive points in just over 3 minutes at one point in the 4th quarter. According to Elias Sports, he achieved records for the most consecutive points scored by a rookie in the 4th quarter (17), the most 3’s made without missing in a player’s debut (4), and the most points scored in under 20 minutes in a player’s debut since the shot clock was invented in 1954 (22).
Based on the records or headlines alone, one might assume Zion’s debut was near perfect. People who believe he was the best player in last year’s draft might even prematurely say “I told you so”. Ultimately, everyone should know that one game is not nearly enough to determine how a player’s career will be, but that will not stop some people whose thesis on Zion was supported by his debut from citing it as such.
The misleading part about using the headlines and the records as support in this instance is the means by which Zion accomplished the stats. He did not score 17 points in 3 minutes using his absurd athleticism, combination of speed and size, or jumping and dunking abilities, spare one impressive alley-oop layup. The rest of his 17 points were comprised of making 4 wide open 3’s, 1 of 2 free throws, and a put back layup from his own blocked shot.
Do not get me wrong. It was an exhilarating few minutes of play to watch and I was happy to see Zion take over the game. At the end of the day, the numbers are the numbers and no matter how you put them up they are impressive. Still, this was not “Zion being Zion” to put up those numbers. This was Zion knocking down wide open 3’s, making one Zion type play (the alley-oop), one hustle play (the putback), and missing half of his free throws (an issue that could become significant for him in the future if not improved from the 64% he shot from the line in college). Speaking of college stats, Zion made 33.8% of his three point shots in college, a rounding exercise from LeBron’s 34.3% shooting from beyond the arc this year. You certainly do not see teams giving LeBron wide open looks from 3, let alone four of them in a row. Sufficed to say, teams will know to guard Zion from 3 point land after last night.
I am not making any predictions about Zion’s career. Contrary to the sentiment of my writing to temper what I believe is a somewhat unwarranted level of hoopla around his debut, I am generally optimistic about what his career will look like. I do think that, barring injuries, Ja Morant will end up being the best player from the 2019 NBA Draft, and I am skeptical about Zion’s ability to be “the guy” on a championship team, but only time will tell. For now, I am rooting for Zion, Ja, RJ, and all the rest of these young players. I am looking forward to hopefully seeing a lot more of them in the playoffs in years to come, when I tend to watch a lot more NBA basketball than I do during the regular season.