For a game that marked little more than the opening of the preseason for the New Orleans Pelicans, there sure were a lot of positives to be gleaned from Monday’s win over Atlanta. The cast of ex-Lakers, led by Brandon Ingram’s 19 points and Lonzo Ball’s seven assists, was solid. Veteran holdover Jrue Holiday had 21 points in 18 minutes. Rookie Nickeil Alexander-Walker had 12 points.
But the Pelicans have been a franchise dyin’ for Zion dating back to mid-May, when the team won the NBA’s Draft Lottery and lined itself up for top pick Zion Williamson. And in a mostly meaningless preseason game, Williamson delivered what folks in New Orleans had been hoping to see: dunks, and some pretty impressive ones.
Williamson had 16 points. Let’s start with these two points, less than two minutes into his career. He’ll start his drive to the rim at about the right elbow, take one dribble, leap with back fully bowed and finish a right-handed over a hapless help attempt from Hawks center Damian Jones:
Three minutes later, it as a Pelicans fast break, and Williamson left former Duke teammate Cam Reddish in the lurch. Holiday and Ball ran a give-and-go on the right side and Ball found Williamson—who broke away from Reddish after a weak attempt at the ball—cutting to the rim for a two-handed dunk.
The final dunk might say more about the disarray in the Hawks defense at this stage of the season (that could be a theme in Atlanta for 2019-20) than Williamson. No one was within a few feet of Williamson when he began cutting to the lane and the only resistance offered was a reach-in by Jones.
But if Atlanta’s defense was the sentence, Williamson provided the exclamation point, another two-hander on a dish from Kenrich Williams.
Sure, there were holes in Williamson’s game to be poked. He took 13 shots and two came from the 3-point line. He missed both and if he is going to get away with being a 6-6 big man in the NBA, he’ll need to have a semblance of a 3-point shot.
He made only 33.8 percent from the 3-point line at Duke, but scouts — even those who doubt Williamson — point out that he had a slow start, going just 3-for-18 to in his first 12 games and finishing by shooting 39.6 percent from the arc in his final 21 games.
Take away the three dunks and the two missed 3-pointers, and Williamson took eight more shots, all right around the restricted area in the lane. He was only 3-for-8 on those shots and that’s not great.
But then, who cares? The Pelicans have been through the wringer over the past 10 months, dating back to the saga of Anthony Davis and the initial failed attempts at a trade with the Lakers. They’ve put together a set of young pieces that could come together quickly and make a run at a playoff spot in the West.
Zion Williamson is the centerpiece of that. On Monday, Pels fans got what they most wanted to see: Zion dunking in an NBA(-ish) game.