September 6, 2019, 2:40 am
This has been undoubtedly the Pelicans’ busiest offseason.. ever. Mind you, New Orleans has won the lottery sweepstakes before, and I was there for the lottery party that the team threw. It was lit. But since the Pelicans won the lottery in the same offseason that they traded Anthony Davis, the fact that the Pelicans landed Zion Williamson through sheer luck is talked about less than it would be otherwise. Shoot, I’ve spent almost the entire offseason talking about Jrue Holiday. And that’s why I want to write about Zion now.
It’d be hard to write that Zion is undoubtedly the best New Orleans pick ever. I wouldn’t believe it. Anthony Davis was insanely good in his freshman UK season and Chris Paul was one of the best rookies in the modern era. But what I can say is that Zion is in that company, and there’s nothing more important to the offseason than that.
Yes, the Pelicans basically got the Lakers’ entire foreseeable draft future, and yes, Lonzo Ball and Brandon Ingram could pan out to be great players, but all of this pales in comparison to what Zion appears to be: a foundational talent that could shift the NBA landscape.
The first time I saw Zion was in clips of him dunking all over the place in high school. I didn’t understand how someone that big could be that explosive. The only comparison I could think of was young Shaq, who broke the max vertical reach record while standing 7’1″ or 7’2″, weighing nearly 300 pounds, with a huge wingspan and crazy fluidity. But Zion wasn’t seven feet tall, so I didn’t know if he’d be the next big thing or just some guy who can dunk well and not do a lot else.
What’s crazy about Zion isn’t the jaw-dropping athleticism. It’s that his statistics are just as crazy as his athleticism. To be clear, there are players who can post great stats and may be underwhelming in their actual on-court impact. But to post THESE kind of stats is beyond reason.
On a per-75 possession basis, Zion scored roughly 31 points per game and generated 12 rebounds, around three steals, around three assists, and 2.5 blocks — and he did it on a 68 percent shooting from the field (70% TS). He’s got world-class leaping ability in a 270-280 pound frame, excellent agility, very good ball-handling, a high IQ and a motor more befitting of a role player, in addition to what appears to be top-shelf character. At his athletic peak, he’ll probably be able to switch and defend at least positions 1-4 and quite possibly positions 1-5. David Griffin described him as Draymond Green with “rockets in his ass.”
The bottom line is that all of the other stuff that happened this offseason mattered. The Pelicans appear to be in good hands with Gayle Benson and David Griffin’s new staff, and the Pelicans are loaded with young talent, future picks, and flexibility. But all of that stuff matters a lot less than what happens with Zion.
If he is who I think he is, he could quite possibly be one of the NBA’s top five players in less than five years, with the potential to one day be the best. And with a front office that has ownership’s investment, that means that there are exciting times ahead.