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Zion’s athleticism, Dyson’s all-around ability shine in Pelicans’ 129-125 victory over Bulls

New Orleans starts fast, finishes strongly

New Orleans Pelicans v Chicago Bulls Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images

One could argue that Dyson Daniels stole Zion Williamson’s thunder Tuesday evening.

On a night that marked the return of one of the league’s greatest talents, the eighth selection of the 2022 NBA draft scored 10 of his 15 points in the final 4:06 to propel the New Orleans Pelicans to a 129-125 preseason victory over the Chicago Bulls.

Daniels finished with a well-rounded line of 15 points, five assists, three steals and two blocks; however, he did struggle to put the ball through the hoop early and often, admitting in postgame that the action was moving too quickly for him at first.

“I got out there and I think I was playing way too fast,” Daniels said. “Big adrenaline, you know first time out there, so I had to slow myself down, but once I got into the game, got the rhythm of it, I was able to make a few plays.”

While it took a number of possessions for Daniels’ offense to click, there were no such issues with either his defense or playmaking.

This is why many are comfortable living with Daniels’ mistakes early rather than seeing Garrett Temple receive minutes over the rookie. Scoring efficiently is obviously an important facet, but the rookie brings so many other things to the table right now. His overall effect on the game is positive.

The Pelicans shouldn’t have required for Daniels to pull out the victory down the stretch, with the team leading by as many as 19 points. At halftime, the score stood 70-53 and seemingly New Orleans did no wrong in the first half.

The Pelicans jumped out to a 13-4 lead and all five starters were in the scoring column. Moments later, Williamson reminded everyone of his cat-like reflexes, leaving Patrick Williams in the dust on a baseline drive.

Williamson looked fantastic physically and his athleticism was evident even on defense. Although the following block was ruled a goaltending violation, the effort reminded everyone of Duke Zion.

While Williamson has posted numerous highlights through the first 85 professional games of his career, very few have come from the defensive end. His collegiate steal and block rates didn’t follow him into the NBA. Perhaps being in “best shape of his life” soon changes that.

Williamson finished with 13 points and four rebounds in a hair over 15 minutes of action. Many, however, are likely going to remember all the mega-watt smiles more — the amount of fun Zion exhibited was so heartwarming.

Being sidelined for over 500 days between games is even depressing from just a fan perspective. Imagine what thoughts must have swam through the young phenom’s head while he was away from competitive basketball.

The only starter who logged more time than Williams was Naji Marshall, who replaced an injured Brandon Ingram (toe soreness). CJ McCollum, Jonas Valanciunas and Herb Jones all played less, but looked good in their minutes.

Jones, unfortunately, left the game at halftime due to a rib contusion.

From among the reserves, Devonte’ Graham and Jaxson Hayes came out firing nary a miss initially. Both went on to post the best lines for New Orleans on the night.

Graham impressively got to the free throw line eight times and hit several jumpers from the midrange area as well to finish with 21 points, five assists and three 3s. To be honest though, a steal thanks to active hands on a Chicago drive and drawing a charge against DeMar DeRozan in transition stood out just as much.

Graham failed to meet expectations last season, and now with CJ McCollum on board and Jose Alvarado deserving of minutes, Devonte’ is going to have to earn his minutes.

On this night, he did.

Hayes missed only one of eight shot attempts en route to 14 points, six rebounds, three assists and a block/steal. There were several above-the-rim highlights, but avid followers were more impressed by greater communication and good rotations on defense.

If Hayes can better utilize his talents and affect more areas of the floor while in keeping with the team dynamic, he’ll have an opportunity to sew up a consistent role off the bench.

Alvarado flashed a nice runner in the lane and dropped a line of 10 points, six assists, four rebounds and two steals.

Outside of several moving screens, Larry Nance Jr. looked fantastic in his limited run (11:09), scoring nine points, hitting two 3s and swiping a couple of steals.

Dereon Seabron had several nice scoring drives late to assist Daniels in leading the Pelicans to victory.

The Bulls were led by DeRozan’s 21 points, with Javonte Green adding 18. Dalen Terry is a name to remember though as the rookie had 11 points, seven rebounds and two steals in less than 18 minutes.

Up next, the Pelicans will return to New Orleans and host the Detroit Pistons on Friday. This will be the only opportunity to see the Pels inside the Smoothie King Center in preseason — so don’t miss out on the action!

For more Pelicans talk, subscribe to The Bird Calls podcast feed on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher or Google Podcasts. You can follow this author on Twitter at @OlehKosel.