Few, if any, expected Zion Williamson to be this good this fast.
Through four preseason games, the number one overall pick from the 2019 NBA Draft is averaging 23.3 points, 6.5 rebounds, 2.3 assists and 1.5 steals. He is shooting an incredible 71.4% from the field, having missed but a mere 14 field goals out of 49 attempts.
The many highlights have left goosebumps, but the best part may be that the production has occurred in just 27.2 minutes of action, so the stats could look even gaudier once the regular season starts.
Before I’m charged with drinking too much kool-aid though, I completely acknowledge that Zion possesses faults, and no, I do not need to be reminded of the fact that preseason isn't the same animal as a regular campaign.
One doesn’t require examining Williamson’s three-point and free throw percentages to know that his form and stroke need to rack up requisite time in the gym. That hours and hours of film study with Jeff Bdzelik lie waiting in his immediate future; there’s a lot of things to fix defensively. However, you just can’t help but drool at the aforementioned numbers — even if they are of the exhibition variety — because they compare ridiculously well against all of the biggest names in recent rookie history.
**Data courtesy of NBA.com/Stats
Not Kevin Durant, not Stephen Curry, not James Harden — no one on this list has had the kind of start to his career as Zion.
Although I couldn’t find the rookie preseason statistics for LeBron James in their entirety, The King struggled to the tune of a 29.8 FG% through the first five preseason games of his career. So much so, ESPN published an article singling out a bad jumper.
After LeBron James’ first five exhibition games, the word “Hype” could stand for: “Hey, You Practicing Enough?”
James can’t shoot -- that’s the early word around the NBA.
The Cleveland Cavaliers’ No. 1 draft pick is a great passer and tremendous athlete, but he needs to work on his jumper.
”His shot has a little of what we call ‘play’ in it,” Cavaliers coach Paul Silas said. “When he brings it up and locks it in, he’s fine, but sometimes he doesn’t lock it in right away, and that’s the reason you get the waver in it.
”He flips it up there sometimes.”
James is shooting a mere 29.8 percent from the field, and opposing defenders are already backing off.
When he shoots, the ball leaves his hand with a nice rotation and plenty of arc, but it’s not a soft shot. If it is slightly off-target, the collision of rubber and rim is a violent one.
”When I first started, it was elbows out and all,” James said. “So it’s evolved a lot. It gets better every year.”
Part of the problem is James’ tendency to fade away as he jumps -- a habit he developed in high school and resolved to correct over the summer. The transformation remains incomplete, however, with James still stuck somewhere between his old technique and the new.
Until he works out the kinks, defenders will dare him to let fly.
James was later lauded for wrapping up his rookie exhibition schedule with averages of 16.3 points, five assists and five rebounds, but that still fails to compare to what Zion has accomplished thus far: Williamson is poised to finish with a scoring average over 20 points and a field goal percentage over 70%. That’s a level of superiority I’ve been unable to unearth by any other rookie, but I’m not alone in thinking we’re witnessing this type of greatness for the very first time.
“I haven’t seen it yet,” replied Lonzo Ball after Saturday’s practice when I asked him if he’s ever seen anything similar to Zion’s incredible efficiency & impact for a rookie against the Bulls and Jazz. “I tell him all the time that he’s amazing. Just keep doing what he’s doing, the sky is the limit for him.”
With no opponent exhibiting any kind of success in slowing him down so far, Zion Williamson looks primed to keep plowing through the competition. Expect for that combination of talent, instinct and IQ to continue producing mind-numbing numbers and leaving fans astounded on a nightly basis from watching that god-given ability — even if other parts of his game still require necessary developmental time.
We’re all witnessing something extremely special here. Be sure to savor it.