Zion Williamson shoots a layup over Portland's Hassan Whiteside

Three weeks into NBA career, Zion Williamson already becoming ‘problem’ for defenses

by Jim Eichenhofer

Put a smaller, theoretically quicker defender on him, and he’ll power his way to the basket, or soar over the guy for an alley oop dunk. Try a taller, lengthier defender against him, and he’ll use his jaw-dropping first step and second jump to reach his destination before the opposing team is even ready to react.

During his smashing first three weeks in the NBA, New Orleans rookie Zion Williamson has averaged 21.0 points per game in only 27.0 minutes a night, while providing plenty of evidence for teammate Jrue Holiday’s rapidly-developed opinion that the 19-year-old is already too much for defenses to handle.

“It’s expected, honestly,” Holiday said of his reaction to Williamson dominating Portland on Tuesday, to the tune of 31 points and nine rebounds, in only 28 minutes. “I don’t see anyone who can guard him.”

“He can score in a variety of ways,” Pelicans point guard Lonzo Ball said. “He’s amazing to watch. His size, his skill, his athleticism. I don’t know what (defenses can) do with him.”

Williamson began his nine-game run in unexpected fashion based on the scouting report, going 4/4 from three-point range vs. San Antonio in an electrifying second-half spurt. Since then, he’s done the vast majority of his damage much closer to the basket, throwing down 17 dunks among 68 two-point field goals. He’s shooting 57.6 percent from the field, an elite efficiency, especially for a player so heavily involved in an offense. Williamson is averaging 13.9 shots per game from the field; among the 51 NBA players who’ve fired that many attempts this season, only eight are shooting over 50 percent (Giannis Antetokounmpo is next in the group at 54.9 percent on 20.1 shots a game).

“You’re still amazed by it, for sure,” Pelicans guard JJ Redick said, amid a stretch in which Williamson has tallied 20-plus points seven times in his nine appearances. “You don’t want to get used to it (and take it for granted). Other than the Bucks game (when Williamson shot 5 of 19), he’s been incredibly efficient every game. You can see the wheels turning a little bit, where he’s learning how to make reads as (defenders) take away the left (hand) and he’s going back to his right. He’s a force.”

“He’s going to be a star for a long time,” Houston’s Mike D’Antoni said, prior to Williamson rumbling through and leaping over his Rockets for a 21-10 game. “He’s already a good player.”

For his part, Williamson has sounded a lot like his teammates while assessing what he’s been able to accomplish so far, fairly unimpressed by his statistics, while eager to see what he can do with more experience under his belt.

“What do I think of it?” Williamson responded in a TV postgame interview Tuesday to a question on how he evaluates the start of his pro career. “It’s alright. As long as we get the win, I’m happy.”

In other recent media sessions, he’s noted that he’s still not quite 100 percent, having been sidelined for three months of action.

“I’m still adjusting, still trying to find my legs,” Williamson said before scoring 21 points at Chicago on 9/11 shooting. “I am catching a little bit of a rhythm, but it’s not there yet.”

Pelicans wing Josh Hart joked Tuesday after hearing Williamson’s 31-point stat line that he was surprised it took the Duke product a whole nine games to score 30 points.

“I’m kind of disappointed,” Hart said. “He should’ve had a couple (already). You think he’s doing (pretty) well, then you look up and he’s got 30 (points), nine (rebounds) and four (assists). It’s good, the confidence he keeps gaining every day. He’s only played (nine) games. It’s scary to see how good he is this early… He’s going to be a problem.”

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