Let’s be honest, sometimes statisticians get a little carried away these days. You’re watching an NBA highlights show and suddenly a confounding graphic is displayed that reads something like “Player X is the first in NBA history to record at least 28 points, three blocks, six missed free throws, two popcorn boxes eaten and a technical foul in the same game.” The baseline minimums on NBA statistical achievements seem to be getting more bizarre with each passing season.
With that said, when the 2019-20 regular season was interrupted in mid-March, New Orleans’ rising-star starting-forward duo of Brandon Ingram, 22, and Zion Williamson, 19, was well on the way to joining a couple of prominent and exclusive statistical groups.
Ingram (24.3 ppg, 6.3 rpg, 4.3 apg) was on pace to become just the seventh player in NBA history at age 22 or younger to average at least 24 points, six rebounds and four assists in a season, joining LeBron James (did it three times), Tracy McGrady (twice), Michael Jordan, Sidney Wicks, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Oscar Robertson. That list includes five pros either already in the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame or a lock to get there (James), as well as one National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame inductee (Wicks).
Ingram and Dallas 21-year-old guard Luka Doncic – both first-time Western Conference All-Stars in February – are poised to produce just the 10th and 11th total instances of the young-player feat in league annals.
Meanwhile, due to injury, Williamson was only able to squeeze in 19 games prior to the suspension of play, but his statistical production reached a level that hasn’t been generated by a rookie in 30 years. By averaging at least 23.5 points and 6.5 rebounds, Williamson was the first first-year pro to do so since San Antonio center David Robinson in ’89-90. Incidentally, since Robinson’s NBA career was delayed two years by a military commitment, he did not join the Spurs until age 24. Prior to Williamson this season, the last NBA rookie with a 23.5-6.5 line to come directly to the NBA from college was another ACC product, Jordan, who put up 28.2 ppg and 6.5 rpg with the Chicago Bulls in ’84-85, after playing for the University of North Carolina.
Counting Williamson, there are only 14 rookies in NBA history to average at least 23.5 points and 6.5 rebounds per game. In a testament to Williamson’s uber-efficient offensive game, he’s the only member of that group to shoot over 54 percent. Most rookies struggle with efficiency as they get their feet wet in the league, then gradually improve over time, but Williamson is No. 1 in field-goal percentage (58.9) among the 36 NBA players averaging at least 20 points in ’19-20.