Culture of Hoops

Zion Williamson: Ready for Liftoff?

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After only approximately two months since the Los Angeles Lakers championship win in the Orlando bubble, the NBA is right back at it with the 2020-21 season. This time, there is no bubble, and all teams are included. This season, there are a good amount of contenders to keep an eye on. Teams like the Miami Heat, the Milwaukee Bucks (with the reigning MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo), and possibly the Brooklyn Nets all can give the defending champions a run for their money. Even then, you cannot forget teams like the Denver Nuggets, Los Angeles Clippers, Portland Trail Blazers, and depending on James Harden‘s future, possibly the Houston Rockets. There are these teams and more who can have good seasons and solid playoff runs. But there are other teams across the league who aren’t contending right now that you still have to watch out for. 

This season, there are a few teams with exciting young cores that can become contenders for years to come. The Dallas Mavericks with Luka Dončić and Kristaps Porziņģis are a team to look out for, but we’re talking about the New Orleans Pelicans; a team that falls into this boat as well. With a core of Brandon Ingram, Lonzo Ball, and Zion Williamson, the Pelicans have a great young core that can become dangerous in the future.



But, perhaps the most notable of the three is Zion Williamson. He is a young, unique player with the makings of a star. He was the first overall pick in the 2019 NBA Draft and probably the most hyped player coming into Draft Day since LeBron JamesWilliamson’s size and athleticism are practically unheard of and keeps fans on edge, wondering what’s next. Oh, and the memorizing slam dunk highlight reels help too.

While Williamson finished as a finalist for Rookie of the Year award last season, his delayed debut hindered his chances of being a true contender. Williamson suffered a torn meniscus in the 2019-20 preseason. He returned on January 22, 2020, scoring 22 points in a loss against the San Antonio Spurs. He went on to play 24 games (with limited minutes) and averaged 22.5 points and 6.3 rebounds. Williamson ultimately lost the award to fellow South Carolina native Ja Morant. When Williamson returned to action, the race did become more interesting, but it was clear Morant was the deserving winner.

Morant had a full season under his belt, while Williamson had significantly fewer games in his rookie season. Still, with his exciting play on both ends of the floor, he earned Rookie of the Year considerations. And, as far as play, fans can expect a lot of the same, just at a higher level and in a bigger role. 

On Monday, December 14th, Williamson played in the Pelicans 114-92 win over the Miami Heat. This was their first of two preseason games, and our first look at Williamson since last season. In this game, he scored 26 points and grabbed 11 boards in 33 minutes. Williamson spent the game driving to the basket and being dominant in the post. But the most notable stat from this game was his free-throw shooting. The young forward made 10 of 11 free-throws which totals to a 90 percent success rate. This is a promising sign for a player that shot 64 percent from the line last season. He realizes that he’ll be fouled a lot and wants to improve that aspect of his game. 

“Free throws – it’s free money. I’ve got to make that count. Me and Coach Vinson have been putting in a lot of work every day in practice. Free throws, jumpers. Just working on everything involving my shot. It’s been very helpful to this point.” Williamson said. 

Williamson looked promising against the Heat, and with a slimmer frame and improved shot, the sky is the limit. If he remains healthy and keeps improving, the rest of the league is in trouble. Making small improvements like his aforementioned free throw issue can make a huge difference. Continuing the free throw debacle, Williamson was tenth in the league in free throw attempts per game at 7.42; if he can bring up his 64 percent success rate to at least 80 percent, he’ll become a much less one-dimensional player. This is especially true if he improves his shot overall, not just his free throws.

So, what can we expect from a full season of Zion Williamson? A solid season where he continues to blossom. Then, it’s only up from there. Stay tuned and get ready for an exciting year. 

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