Zion Williamson is undoubtedly going to be in the thick of the race for the 2020 Rookie of the Year Award, but how do you expect his career begins? Will he take the league by storm from day one or ease himself into a more prominent role down the road? Be sure to include his average stat line through the first 20 games of his career for kicks.
Zion Williamson is seemingly the first rookie since Shaq to enter the NBA with a grown man’s body. Even LeBron James was on the skinny side despite the obvious talent and athleticism. Zion has all the tools to be an All-Star in his rookie year, and should thrive on both sides of the court. He is going to make an immediate impact on this team and the league as a whole. Through the first 20 games, I expect Zion will average roughly 24 PPG, 8 RPG, 4 APG, 1.5 SPG and 1.5 BPG shooting 45% FG 25% 3PT and 70% FT, and the numbers will go up from there as he adjusts to the league and teammates.
As I mentioned in yesterday’s roundtable, I see Zion’s rookie year being much like Reggie Bush’s inaugural season — not dominant, but not bad. Oh, you’ll see ways in which Zion definitely impacts the game, but you’ll also see weaknesses that were covered up by his incredible athleticism in college. You’ll also see highlights that will blow your mind, but you’ll get a dose of brain farts and mistakes. This is not a knock on Zion because I firmly believe he will eventually be some kind of hybrid of Charles Barkley, peak Shawn Kemp and current Blake Griffin, but it won’t happen overnight.
Thus, with tempered expectations, I expect Zion to start the season averaging somewhere around 14 points, 7.5 rebounds, 2.5 assists and 1 block per game on 52% shooting, with about six of those points scored in phenomenal fashion that’ll have you watching the replays over-and-over again as soon as the game ends.
I believe the goal will be to ease Zion into things at the professional level in NOLA. The responsibilities he’s going to be tasked with will be so dim in comparison to past number one picks from the top of their draft classes. Zion is not going to be asked to save or lift a franchise. He’ll have room to fail, and every positive step will feel as good as five.
Having said all that, Williamson is going to make an immediate impact.
I expect Zion to be a major contributor and he’s going to be a big component of a top ten defensive team. Expect coach Alvin Gentry to take advantage of the things Zion does well, and not put him in situations that cause him to overthink. He’ll be a freight train on fast breaks, dropping highlights left and right and doing a ton of the little things that won’t show up in the box score.
So my thinking is that Williamson should enjoy a fast start due to fun surroundings. My prediction for his first twenty games levels out with him averaging 15.5 points, seven rebounds, three assists, a block, and a steal per game.
I expect that Zion Williamson will have the lowest usage rate of his career in his rookie campaign. That does not mean he won’t still set the league ablaze with highlights, dunks and productive minutes abound, but I believe it will limit his ability to immediately climb into the upper echelon of NBA talent.
Stat Line Expectations (through first 20 games): 14 PPG, 7 RPG, 2.5 APG, 1.2 BPG, 1.2 SPG, 58/32/65 Shooting Splits.
As the number one overall pick, Williamson is clearly the favorite to win the rookie of the year honors. Head Coach Alvin Gentry’s high pace offense will lend Zion to averaging in the neighborhood of 18 points, 9+ rebounds, 3.5 assists and maybe around a block per game.
A loaded stat line like that should be enough to get it done especially if New Orleans can exceed expectations this season. Which brings me to my second point, most of the other rookies who you expect to be in the mix are going to be on significantly worse teams which may matter to voters. While the Grizzlies are moving in the right direction, they still project to be a high lottery team next season with #2 overall pick Ja Morant. The same can be said for R.J. Barrett and Knicks. So Zion being on a team with such a great veteran presence could bode well for his ROTY chances as New Orleans projects to be significantly better than the Knicks or Grizzlies.
I expect Zion to take the league by storm initially with monster jams off great passes from Lonzo Ball and Jrue Holiday, dominant transition play, elite finishing in the pick and roll, and high energy plays. I do not expect New Orleans to call a ton of plays for him, but if Zion moves without the ball and attacks the glass, I can easily see him pushing towards 20 points per game despite his number not being called often. In fact, the Pelicans should use Zion like a queen on a chess board this season. Unlike the other pieces on the board, the queen does not specialize in any one area but can hurt the opponent in multiple ways — That is how Zion should be utilized in 2019.
I think Zion’s game and the talent he’s surrounded by will allow him to be incredibly effective and efficient early on. The Pelicans aren’t going to ask too much of him, so he can focus on being the NBA’s most overqualified garbage man. With that, it will feel to people outside of New Orleans that he’s lighting the world on fire because of the highlights he will undoubtedly produce. I could see Zion averaging 15 points and 7 rebounds a night on absurd efficiency (60% from the field or better) in his first 20 games, just feasting in transition, on putbacks, and roaming the dunker slot on the baseline.
Oh I feel a storm is a coming — We’re talking about the same kid who just signed with the Jordan Brand, telling them he was going to “shock the world” all the while hearing the talk of how out of shape and fat he was by every national media pundit.
My gut says Zion comes in with a sizable chip on his shoulder and makes an immediate and demonstrative impact somewhere on the level between the rookie seasons of Blake Griffin and Kristaps Porzingis. I mention those two because of the sheer anomalies they appeared to be out of the gate. Blake was averaging 38 minutes a game while posting averages of 22 and 12 and Porzingis was catching putback dunks on just about everyone on his way to 14 and seven. I’ll split the difference and say Zion ends up in the 18 and 10 area but with stellar advanced metrics, shooting percentage and defensive ratings.
It’s going to take Zion some time to get his feet under him. This is still a big step up from the competition he’s faced over the last two seasons. He’ll be a fixture on SportsCenter, but he will have to learn his teammates, when to drive, when to pass, and when to shoot. There will be times when he overestimates his physical advantages. Over the first quarter of the season, I see Zion posting 16 points, seven boards, two assists, one steal and one block per game.
I may have more on this topic in the future, but Zion Williamson is better than most think. Many fans believe in his upside, which is at a league MVP level if his development is successful. I’ve seen some suggest Williamson should have his role on a leash to begin his rookie season. Holding back Zion does nothing but damage the team and undersell his greatness.
Even if the jumper is poor, Williamson’s all-universe athleticism will make him a monster transition player and defender. He can initiate the offense from the perimeter and will dominate at the rim, along with the ability to play as a big. Williamson impacting the game at an all-star level during year one — not make the team but impact the game as such — is a fair bet to make. As for his line, I will go with something like 19 points, eight rebounds, 3.5 assists, 1.5 blocks and one steal, with a true shooting percentage around 62 and positive impact metrics as a rookie.
Zion Williamson began his career at Duke with an impassioned line of 28 points, seven rebounds, two assists and one steal/block. He missed only two of 13 shots. And his wonderful 23-minute opening college salvo didn’t come against some small school you’d have trouble finding on a map — the opponent was Kentucky, who got shellacked to the tune of a 118-84 score.
Yes, the top professional basketball league in the world represents a giant step for any 19-year-old, we know the Pelicans have preached that they’re not going to put any pressure on him, and his teammates are legit, but I’m not betting against someone who I think will be regarded as a wunderkind in short order.
If you believe Zion is going to be one of the best players in the league for a very long time as I do, you have to like his odds of entering the league as a supernova. Special players who ooze this type of athleticism and talent and also possess a competitive fire that burns this brightly prove their mettle from the start. Twenty games into his career, I’m calling for averages of 18.5 points, 7.9 rebounds, 3.3 assists, 1.8 steals and 1.3 blocks — go ahead and award him the ROY before Christmas.
I actually feel lower on Zion than most others because of his poor shooting stroke, while recognizing that his floor game, defense and rebounding should garner him plenty of time. Just take a breath though, folks, if he is only playing 18 minutes a game through Christmas. I think by then he’ll be averaging less than 10 points a game with above-average (for his position) rebound, assist, steal and block rates. He’s got to find his place as that “suped-up Draymond Green,” and that may take some time.