If you stayed awake through the completion of Zion Williamson’s much-ballyhooed NBA debut on Wednesday night, despite the 9:30 p.m. start along the East Coast, that must have been some reward in the end, huh?
The NBA’s newest rookie sensation enjoyed a sterling first night in the pro ranks, scoring 17 consecutive points in the fourth quarter and generally accounting for 22 points, seven rebounds and three assists in just 18 minutes of action.
Seventeen straight points … for a player logging his first-ever minutes in the NBA, and who’s probably not in classic ‘basketball shape’ yet?
Yes, in the span of a few minutes, Williamson transformed a hum-drum opening night into a long-lasting experience for Pelicans fans, the city of New Orleans … and just about every person connected to the NBA’s long-term success.
How is that the case?
The basketball world was offered a mere glimpse of Zion’s buzz-worthy talent, athletic explosion and pied-piper-like charisma on the court.
And in one fell swoop, it was easy to understand how many envision Williamson as the proverbial FACE of the NBA someday — whenever the likes of LeBron James, Kevin Durant and James Harden walk away from the game.
Not bad for a guy who sustained a semi-serious knee injury during the preseason … and hasn’t had much time for running workouts in the meantime.
THE STRATEGY MOVING FORWARD
During the 17-point blitz in the fourth quarter, in which Williamson nearly catapulted the Pelicans to victory, the kid exhibited a dazzling array of cat-quick moves around the basket (shooting/rebounding), versatile shots in the paint area and the unwavering confidence to bury four consecutive triples during crunch time.
Which brings us to this …
What were the Spurs thinking on Wednesday, in terms of letting Zion attempt every three-pointer without much resistance?
Even if the pregame scouting report encouraged Williamson (8 of 11 from the field) to shoot a number of threes, thus disparaging him from attacking the paint with gusto as an alternative, it was still a curious strategic move down the stretch.
(Let’s be clear here: This had to be a predetermined coaching strategy. The Spurs defenders didn’t choose that exact moment to be uncannily indifferent toward Williamson’s scoring potential.)
After all, it’s one thing to grant Zion unfettered access to three-pointers on the first or second attempt.
But even as the Pelicans vanquished the Spurs’ lead, thus whipping the Smoothie King Center crowd into a sonic-boom-like frenzy, San Antonio demonstrated little motivation in slowing Williamson down with, you know, actual close-out defense.
In fact, the only person that effectively kept Zion from rolling for 25-30 points might have been Pelicans head coach Alvin Gentry, who kept Williamson on a consecutive-minutes restriction for the opener … which led to him sitting in the final moments of New Orleans’ loss.
Was it an unsatisfactory ending for everyone in the building? Sure. But in the NBA universe, where random January losses can be forgiven in relatively short order, the fans (and TV audience) will choose to permanently bank the only tangible memory worth saving:
Zion Williamson putting the Pelicans on his broad shoulders and tank-like build … and taking the game he loves for a joyride.