Expectation is higher for the 2019 NBA draft’s number one overall selection Zion Williamson than any rookie since LeBron James.
The hype surrounding Williamson built and built during his single year at Duke University as video clip after video clip of him dunking on unfortunate opponents went viral.
When the New Orleans Pelicans sealed the number one selection for the 2019 NBA Draft it was a foregone conclusion that they would draft the forward.
Williamson unfortunately injured himself in the preseason and necessary surgery kept him out for the start of the season.
As he recovered from arthroscopic knee surgery, all he could do was watch from the sidelines as number two overall selection Ja Morant topped the rookie rankings. The hype continued to build as his official NBA debut approached. And that came last night.
While his Pelicans lost 121-117 to the San Antonio Spurs, Williamson did enough to justify the hype around him as he broke the Pelicans’ record for most points by a rookie on debut.
The record was previously held by Anthony Davis, who left the Pelicans last summer in a blockbuster trade with the Los Angeles Lakers.
Williamson’s 22 points made him Pelicans’ joint top scorer with Brandon Ingram.
The 19-year old also recorded seven rebounds and three assists, shooting 8-of-11 from the field. He only played 18 minutes total, which makes his tally all the more astonishing, outscoring teammates who played twice as long.
The Spurs had a clear gameplan for Williamson. Having seen his college dunking exploits, they chose to defend deep and cut off his paths to the basket.
For three quarters Williamson struggled for rhythm and could not establish any momentum, scoring just five points.
In the fourth quarter though, Williamson flicked the switch, scoring 17 straight points in just under three and a half minutes, making all four of his three-point attempts.
Frustrated by a lack of scoring opportunities at the basket, Williamson repeatedly stepped behind the arc and let off shot after shot. With each basket, the crowd got louder and louder.
His successful attempts from behind the three-point line may have come to a shock to the Spurs players; Williamson shot only 24 three-pointers from his 33 games at Duke.
The Pelicans trailed for much of the game, but his scoring streak put them up 107-106 at one point, before they surrendered the lead again.
Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry took Williamson out of the game soon after, who left the court to a standing ovation from the Pelicans faithful.
The debut didn’t last long. The Pelicans want to protect their young prospect from further injury. But Williamson’s debut outing delivered on the hype.
After the game, Williamson said: “It was everything I dreamed of, except the losing part.
“The energy the crowd brought, it was electric. It was a dream come true to finally get out there but at the end of the day I did want to win so I’ll look to the next game.”
Gentry doubled down on the hype, saying: “I knew there would be mistakes but what you saw there is a taste of once he’s settled in, there’s a lot of potential there.
“I think there’s a really, really high ceiling that he can reach, and he can reach it soon.”
Williamson was disappointed to be taken out of the game after his scoring streak.
“It was very hard,” he told reporters. “I’m 19. Honestly, in that moment I’m not thinking about longevity I’m thinking about winning that game. So, it was very tough.”
The Pelicans currently sit 12th in the Western conference – four places off the playoff berths – with a record of 17 wins and 28 losses.
If Williamson continues to play as he did on debut, making the playoffs may not be out of reach.