Following yesterday’s news of Zion Williamson’s dominant performance in the New Orleans Pelicans first training camp scrimmage, David Griffin’s cautionary message has likely already been forgotten.
“Z hasn’t played in 18 months, something to that effect; I mean he hasn’t played 5-on-5 in quite awhile,” Griffin said on media day. “So it’s exciting for us that he’s coming back to a team that is advanced as it is in terms of its leadership, in terms of its work ethic because I think they’re going to embrace him while he comes back. This isn’t going to be easy and he’s going to struggle in ways that I don’t think even he anticipates, but we’ve got the right group around him to help support him.”
https://t.co/GLUE0u9ik8 pic.twitter.com/Nj27D7G47s— Beignet Boy⚜️ (@_joshstaylit_) September 28, 2022
Well, the most chiseled physique of his life drew rave reviews throughout all NBA circles on Monday. Then a perfect shooting performance in front of impressed teammates and coaches on Tuesday evening had fan imaginations running completely wild on Wednesday.
When pondering what Williamson may do on a court this season, my mind immediately reverts back to the first year my basketball addiction began — and incidentally, Michael Jordan’s magical 1986-87 campaign.
Jordan led the league in scoring that season at 37.1 points per game. It was the best mark of his career and significantly higher than either scoring average from his first two seasons. The most interesting detail for our purposes, though, he was coming off a near lost season due to a broken foot.
Jordan broke the bone just before halftime of the Oct. 29 game at Golden State. Jordan sailed to the basket but jammed his foot into the court after completing the move. X-rays at the time revealed no broken bones, but the CAT scan, which X-rays the bone in layers, uncovered the fracture.
His Airness was grounded for four and a half months. When he returned, he was on a minutes restriction, receiving only seven minutes per half of playing time. That didn’t sit well with him in the slightest, but that limitation soon evaporated. With no constraints for the 1986 playoffs, Jordan quickly let everyone know he should already be considered the best player in the league.
In a first round series against the vaunted Boston Celtics, Michael Jordan scored 49 points in game 1 and then set a record for the most points in a playoff game that still stands today.
While the Chicago Bulls would go on to get swept, it is important to note that Jordan grabbed the attention of one of the best ever.
“I would never have called him the greatest player I’d ever seen if I didn’t mean it,” Larry Bird told The Boston Globe. “It’s just God disguised as Michael Jordan.”
There can be no higher praise.
If Zion Williamson is truly a one-of-one generational talent, a comparison to Michael Jordan isn’t all that absurd, even if he is the greatest player of all time.
Both players broke their foot after appearing in darn near the same amount of regular season games. Jordan broke his foot during his 85th regular season contest; Williamson broke his in the summer after his 85th.
Watching Z is honestly as captivating as it was early MJ. Any given night has produced multiple highlights, unable to be matched by a single peer. Combinations of astonishing athletic prowess and determination have left bystanders, like myself, simply awestruck too many times.
Then there’s the identical scoring impacts. Both approached averages of 30 points per game and 10 free throw attempts per game per 36 minutes before their respective foot injuries.
Pure domination, no doubt.
Jordan, however, would go on to return and show an additional gear. Bird witnessed it almost immediately. The rest of the league had front row seats in the next regular season.
With Williamson giving off best-shape-of-his-career vibes, recanting how he amazed even himself by new exploits on the court this summer and talking about finding peace mentally on media day, why not have faith that something greater is in store? Especially after learning that his talent level shined mere hours later in front of teammates and coaches following a year-plus hiatus from 5-on-5 action.
Hey, the hoop earring in Zion’s left ear could serve as an important clue.
There was also the gold hoop earring that dangled from Jordan’s left earlobe. The jewel made its debut in the mid-’90s and lives on today.
I’m not advocating that Williamson will approach Jordan’s 1986-87 scoring average. For starters, Zion’s teammates are significantly better, as it’s practically a guarantee that Brandon Ingram and CJ McCollum will share a lot of the limelight. However, Williamson has the potential to flash a greater arsenal.
Close followers have often remarked that while Zion Williamson has often amazed while wearing a New Orleans uniform, his performances haven’t quite mimicked the complete mastery evidenced at Duke University.
It truly feels like that may soon change.
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.