clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Everything you need to know about Zion Williamson’s debut from A to Z

An alphabetical guide for all things Zion as his career kicks off on January 22, 2020.

NBA: New Orleans Pelicans at New York Knicks Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

A: Accompanying

A couple of weeks ago Zion Williamson’s return would have had the Pelicans at full strength for the first time since the preseason. But since then, injuries to Jrue Holiday, Derrick Favors, JJ Redick, Brandon Ingram, and Kenrich Williams have put that all in question mere hours away from The Debut. Doesn’t it feel as if every time someone returns back to the floor, another key piece gets ruled out?

According to several individual reports, however, none of the injuries this time appear to be major. That could mean the Pelicans could be finally healthy simultaneously — minus Darius Miller, of course — upon Zion’s return. Wouldn’t that be a story?

B: Back-to-Backs

It’s been confirmed that Williamson will not play in back-to-backs this season. The schedule for once doesn’t constitute much of a headache regarding that news as NOLA only has four remaining in the 2019-20 season.

New Orleans is currently playing its the best basketball of the season and is proving it can thrive, not just survive, when an essential talent is absent. Let’s hope they’ll be required to test that habit less and less after Williamson’s return.

C: Chemistry

When we last saw Zion, he was everything the hype surrounding him pegged the 19-year-old phenom to be. But there were also defensive lapses committed by him and the team. They looked lost in half-court sets with the starters, and in general it was apparent the players were completely unfamiliar with each other. A lot has changed since then, but note that Williamson is the perfect style of player to drop into any neighboring field as he doesn’t require a ton of planned attention or usage to impact a game.

NBA: OCT 11 Preseason Jazz at Pelicans Photo by Stephen Lew/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

But will the players try too hard to get him reacquainted? How will the lineups change and mesh together? No matter the results, the Pelicans will finally be able to resume an important evaluation process and start answering some questions left hanging around since the preseason.

D: Deadline

Zion’s return could influence the type of roster moves the Pelicans decide to make before February’s trade deadline — if any. There were earlier suggestions New Orleans could look to trade any combination of their playoff-ready veterans in JJ Redick, Jrue Holiday, Derrick Favors, and E’Twaun Moore if the right offer presented itself. That notion is no longer a possibility according to recent news.

Could this mean NOLA simply stands pat?

If Zion delivers as expected, and New Orleans continues to ascend throughout the Western Conference standings, there may indeed be a reason to add another veteran for the stretch run.

“Right now, my feel on the Pelicans is they’re actually looking to acquire another veteran, as opposed to selling off a veteran,” continued Windhorst. “If anything, the Pelicans have seen what a big difference it made to get Derrick Favors back and they think if they could get another veteran into their rotation that it may even help them more. So again, right now, I sense from the Pelicans they may be buyers.”

With the way the Pelicans have been playing as of late, the latter from the rumor fountain could be something to keep an eye on.

E: Electricity

Not many rookies can electrify an arena as Zion. Hell, Williamson hasn’t touched the floor in the regular season and yet he’s been one of the top trending athletes in the United States according to Google.

Williamson is must-see TV for producing a level of swagger and charisma that the league is salivating to showcase. Let ESPN be the latest example of what Williamson’s presence demands from a national perspective.

F: Flexibility

Before Williamson’s meniscus injury struck, the Pelicans were in quite the dilemma as seemingly for once they had too many players with an argument for minutes.

This is made especially true when head coach Alvin Gentry typically likes to run precisely nine to ten players per night.

Without Zion though, NOLA unearthed several bright spots but nearly the entire roster in time found ways to make positive contributions. They went from a team once again riddled with injured and uneven lineups to one thriving around a “next man up” mantra.

Fortunate for all basketball fans far and wide, Williamson will be that next man up, and his presence will allow Gentry another layer of options and positional flexibility on the court. There’s been tons of discussion where Williamson fits best on a basketball floor. Is he the best used as a power forward? Is he a center?

Either way, for a team lacking depth in their frontcourt, Williamson will provide an instant kick of flexibility. Who fits around him best will be the next question.

G: Gentry

I’ll be the first to admit how much credit Alvin Gentry deserves during this latest stretch of winning basketball. The Pelicans have won in a plethora of different ways against good, average, and bad teams over the past month and some change.

During this run, New Orleans has ended three multi-game win streaks in defeating the Denver Nuggets, Utah Jazz, and most recently, the Memphis Grizzlies.

One reason It’s important to give Gentry his share of credit is that so many Pelican faithful, media, and bloggers alike called for his job — myself included. After an embarrassing road loss to the Golden Stare Warriors on December 20th, where New Orleans coughed up another late victory, there weren’t many around that believed the head coach would even make it to Zion’s debut.

Well, he is, and most importantly, Alvin deserves it. Gentry’s substitutions and minute structures have won New Orleans several games during their ride back up towards playoff relevance. And unlike in previous seasons where the injury report decided many games for the Pels, replacements showed up from various roles and all pinched in together behind the coaching staff’s guidance.

The defense has improved with health, and recently, in periods without it. There have been fewer breakdowns in clutch situations, and the players seem to be retaining better everything Gentry is laying out. He’s seen hell in many forms during his stay in New Orleans and may finally be in route to the opposite end of the spectrum. Regardless of what your definition of basketball heaven for the Pelicans may be, Gentry will get to see one of his most talented pilots back aboard — and this is all because he and those around him kept the plane steady when turbulence looked to be at its worst.

H: Health

There have been so many opinions on Zion Williamson’s health, even before his knee meniscus surgery. Afterwards, every detail was stripped down in regards to the Pelicans and Zion’s future for this season.

While EVP of basketball ops David Griffin proclaims to never planned to sit Williamson for the entire 2019-20 season, the rumors and hot takes were out there.

Fortunately for the sane, there were those who supported logic, believing that if Williamson was 100 percent healthy, he should be playing. After all, he’s a basketball player. And then live video of his progress started to commence.

Let’s just say some of those “opinions” started to shift.

The Pelicans stretched an original six to eight week absence time-table out to 13, taking a slow checklist based system towards recovery for the rookie. From his biomechanics, conditioning tests, multiple practices and workouts New Orleans has taken every precaution and observation possible. There is no question, Williamson is at full strength, and maybe beyond.

I: Ingram

Unless you’ve been sleeping under a rock the past few months, you know Brandon Ingram is having himself a breakout season of elite proportions.

In the midst of a season that should land Ingram an invitation to his first NBA All-Star game and a max contract, there have been questions about how Zion’s return could impact the four-year pro out of Duke.

My crystal ball says Williamson’s ability to accumulate points without many designed play-calls is a great match for Ingram’s efficiency and play-making skills.

According to Basketball Reference, there have been 22 forwards in NBA history to finish with a field goal percentage of at least 47 percent and four assists on 18 shots per game. Ingram is on pace to be the 23rd. And in the past ten years only Giannis Antetokounmpo, LeBron James, and Kevin Durant have accomplished that feat.

Of course, this is probably a good time to mention the rest of the Pelicans roster, who from Jrue Holiday to JJ Redick will still demand a volume of shot attempts. In Gentry’s system, there’s always enough basketball to go around, especially when the ball is moved quickly and shared. We should also pay attention to how the offense has revolved more around Ingram as of late and the way his teammates perceive him.

Elite players always find a way to get theirs within the flow of the offense — Ingram will have no problem finding his. His level of efficiency doesn’t require a high maintenance program, and when considering his gifts and unselfish nature, shouldn’t we be more concerned about how scary welcoming Zion will be for opponents when discussing BI’s game?

K: Keyless

There’s an adjustment period for most rookies so an injury normally only complicates things. The fact is, Zion isn’t normal. The preseason presents training wheels for rookies to feel out professional play as a whole, before the games that matter begin. Zion broke off his training wheels instantly, and looked like something even larger than many of his early massive expectations.

Zion didn’t require a warm-up period or need to have his motor jump started. He came in ready to attack from the first bounce so don’t expect his return from injury to be any different. Williamson proclaimed himself to be ready for action weeks ago, and I believe in him and his god-given ability.

L: Lonzo

One of the first players Zion Williamson was asked about before being officially drafted by New Orleans was Lonzo Ball. You could tell the visions he had in mind.

Those thoughts manifested into reality when Ball and Williamson were on the floor together during the preseason. The passes, the finishes, and overall chemistry were instant. There was simply no other Pelicans duo that looked as tailor-made for each other.

With how Lonzo pushes the pace and Zion runs the floor, the Pelicans are always one bounce away from a highlight. Remember, that preseason connection witnessed Ball at less than 100%. He is now fully healthy and playing the best basketball of his career. There’s not one young sidekick who can unpackaged Zo’s game further than Zion. It’s going to be fun!

M: Monumental

There have been comparisons to LeBron James for some time now as there hasn’t been a rookie to electrify both the media and fans simultaneously like Zion Williamson. So that begs the question: Is Zion’s debut the biggest in the league since that faithful day in 2003?

N: Naive

It’s okay to love the Pelicans and be completely unready for what Wednesday’s game could mean for the NBA and the city of New Orleans. From the merging of wonderful talents to Zion’s individual brilliance — on a possibly fully healthy roster, there’s a lot on the floor that many Pelican fans could be seeing for the first time. Did we mention the hype?

That conglomerate brings emotion, expectations, and anticipation. There should be an adjustment period, but Wednesday, January 22 could be a date that goes down in the history books for New Orleans unlike any other.

O: Opportune

Could there have been a better time to bring back Zion? Since the day the phenom was drafted, the Pelicans made it known as an organization that they didn’t want Williamson to face undue pressures that come with being a transcendent number one overall pick. He was not going to put in the “savior” role.

Los Angeles Clippers v New Orleans Pelicans Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images

As destiny has decided, the Pelicans are playing their best basketball of the season, while also being in reach (3.5 games back) of snaring a playoff position. Zion’s return could lead to a huge second-half run. Nothing would feel rushed or surrounded by pressure. If anything, Zion gets to be a huge piece of the puzzle for the Pelicans while working himself into shape and having fun — there couldn’t be a better script considering the start of this season.

P: Playoffs

Speaking of playoffs, not only are the Pelicans in prime position for a second half march towards the postseason, their opponents are saddled with tougher schedules. In fact, if you include the Grizzlies and every team within at least 3.5 games back of the eighth seed in the West, the Pelicans have nine matchups remaining with the teams they’ll have to surpass.

New Orleans will have a fair opportunity at controlling their own destiny surrounded by decent odds.

Q: Quaint

There’s something very old fashioned yet soothing about Zion Williamson when you get a chance to be around him. Always smiling, a bit bashful, but welcoming when it comes to the spotlight. Full of optimism and energy most 19-year-olds possess, Williamson carries a level of maturity uncommon in most stars his age. To word it best: Zion gives a vibe of a future adult with an old soul.

Williamson has spoken openly about his love for Micheal Jordan, beyond his shoe brand signing of choice. When Williamson was born in the year 2000, Jordan had been retired for three seasons, and was one year away from his final comeback with the Washington Wizards.

Most athletes Williamson’s age openly talk about LeBron James and Kobe Bryant when it comes to listing favorite players. You hear names like Allen Iverson and Carmelo Anthony as well. Zion, as in most areas, remains unique and speaks back to YouTube videos of Jordan dating back to the 90’s.

Well, he sure found the perfect city to introduce his old soul. New Orleans is filled with history, tradition, and a humbleness that should appeal to his being for years to come.

R: Rotation

Inside the crevices of Pelicans Twitter, there’s a spirited debate that exists about how the rotation should look once welcoming back Williamson. While you’re reading this, there could have been an announcement about whether JJ Redick or Lonzo Ball stay in the starting lineup.

ESPN’s Andrew Lopez took his guess recently about who he thinks will start.

There’s an argument to be made for both Ball and Redick. Redick gives more off ball options in a half court set and is a certified spacer for Ingram, Holiday and Zion to roam. Ball gives Williamson a floor general who is deadly in transition and is the team’s most impactful passer. Defensively, the advanced numbers haven’t denounced Redick totally, but it’s no secret Lonzo is better on that end. With Lonzo’s improved play of late and being in the original starting lineup dating back to training camp, the odds should be in his favor. Either way, this should be a situation to monitor.

S: Schedule

The Pelicans had quite the start of the season from a strength of schedule perspective

The good news is the worst should be behind New Orleans and much brighter days are ahead.

If the Pelicans make the playoffs, the schedule makers might not only deserve a reprieve but a thank you as well for seeing into the future and stacking the odds in New Orleans favors — which includes a healthy Zion.

T: Tantalizing

One detail not being talked about enough if the Pelicans find themselves playing in late April is the team they could be matched up against. Can you imagine the drama surrounding a Los Angeles Lakers series in the first round? The two teams play twice before the regular season ends, and both showdowns should include Zion this go around. Welcoming Anthony Davis back to New Orleans was one thing, similarly with the former Laker high draft picks going back to Cali.

New Orleans Pelicans v Los Angeles Lakers Photo by Adam Pantozzi/NBAE via Getty Images
Los Angeles Lakers v New Orleans Pelicans Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images

But a playoff series? There’s a bunch of basketball left to play, but what once seemed a dream exclusively isn’t out of the realm of possibility. What a spectacle that would be!

U: Ubiquitous

No man standing 6’7 and weighing 280 pounds should be able to stop and go like Barry Sanders. Williamson doesn’t care about your limits as a human, his quickness allows him to travel from one area to the next in the blink of an eye and with more power than ever in tow.

Imagine if some hybrid of Larry Johnson and Charles Barkley had the pre injury legs of Derrick Rose. Hop-steps, leaping recovery speed, and lateral quickness allow Williamson to be in a combination of areas all at once.

When you’re built like Zion, you sometimes just make your own space. A population of one indeed.

V: Vast

We spoke earlier about Zion’s electric nature and how important his debut would be world-wide, there were glimpses already of that impact. Just look at the group of assembled media waiting to attend the last practice leading up to Wednesday.

Let’s also not forget the matchup New Orleans replaced which was to feature two playoff teams in the Houston Rockets and Denver Nuggets.

And what about those looking to buy tickets after the announcement of his return?

Added evidence to just how much importance Williamson’s debut holds.

W: Wealthy

The Pelicans are beyond wealthy in assets down the road. This fact is a foreign existence if you’ve followed basketball in New Orleans for any length of time. Exciting talent, young and seasoned, draft picks and cap space. New Orleans has it all.

The start of the Zion era could navigate some of those assets into additional equity. What a time to be alive.

X: Xenial

The relationship between New Orleans and one of its professional players can be magical for the right individual. Dating all the way back to the Draft Lottery, Zion Williamson was clearly that person.

Since the summer, Williamson has made it clear that his feelings and dedication towards the Big Easy are genuine and full of excitement. You know the long overused cliche:

“If you love the city of New Orleans, they will love you back.”

Y: Yawning

New Orleans Pelicans v Memphis Grizzlies Photo by Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images

No this isn’t a Zion sleeping on the bench joke!

Williamson fills a wide-open vacancy for a Pelicans team lacking rebounding, points in the paint and occasional rim protection depending on the opponent. New Orleans has tried to make up for Zion’s absence with various bodies ranging from Brandon Ingram to Nicolo Melli to Kenrich Williams.

While Ingram has thrived, he’s more suited to play the bulk of his minutes at the small forward position, his natural slot. Williamson allows the Pelicans to still possess talented lineups with agility and speed without sacrificing strength and overall size on their frontcourt.

Z: Zeon

Yes, of course this had to make our list.

Antonio Brown may have made a verbal error when pronouncing Zion’s name, but what if he was accidentally on to something?

With the talk about Williamson’s physical retooling, what if “Zeon” is an advanced version of Zion? Something even far surpassing what we’ve already seen?

I’ll leave the fantasy to the comic books. Either way, Z-Day is finally here and the basketball world may not ever be the same again. And as a self-proclaimed Thanos lover from the Marvel movies, Zion probably wouldn’t have it any other way.