Zion Williamson rises for a layup at Dallas

Zion Williamson produces more rare NBA feats in career-high 36-point game at Dallas

by Jim Eichenhofer

Dallas’ Rick Carlisle is generally considered an “old school” type, not easily wowed by what he sees on a basketball court. But even the 2011 NBA champion head coach and reserve player for the storied 1986 Boston Celtics title team couldn’t help but be impressed Friday, as his Mavericks tried to slow down a 20-year-old, second-year pro.

“(Zion) Williamson was ridiculous,” Carlisle said. “I mean, 14-of-15 (shooting), unbelievable what he can do on a basketball floor.”

Although it came in a 143-130 loss to Dallas, Williamson (career-high 36 points) became the first player in New Orleans franchise history to shoot 10/10 in a half, speeding past Dallas defenders for a series of dunks and layups. It was already the third time this season he’s shot over 85 percent from the field while making 12-plus baskets, a level of productive efficiency unmatched in today’s NBA. Williamson is one of just six qualified players shooting over 60 percent from the floor in 2020-21, but the only member of that group averaging more than 14.0 points. If he maintains his current pace all season of averaging 24.3 points and shooting 61.3 percent on field goals, he will join an exclusive list that consists of Wilt Chamberlain, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Kevin McHale.

According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Williamson’s 36 points on 14/15 shooting made him the youngest player in NBA history with 30 points on 90 percent shooting, surpassing a record set by Dwight Howard. He became only the 11th player in NBA history to score 36 points on at least 93 percent shooting.

“He’s extremely dominant,” said Pelicans forward Brandon Ingram, who scored 30 points himself against Dallas.

Williamson may have finished perfect from the field in American Airlines Center but he misfired on a second-half three-point attempt (he’d made three of his previous six trey tries, dating back to Jan. 30). Every basket he registered came in the paint, adding to his list of statistical rarities. According to ESPN Stats & Info, his 14/14 paint shooting was the most paint buckets without a miss in a game since 1998, when Houston center Hakeem Olajuwon went 15/15.

In addition to his accuracy from the field, Williamson is also in the midst of his best foul shooting stretch. He’s at 78 percent in seven February games, increasing his regular season rate to 70 (compared to 64 as a rookie). New Orleans obviously must improve greatly defensively after allowing historic three-point totals the last two games (25 apiece at Chicago and Dallas), but the Pelicans rank No. 1 in offense this month (123.0 rating).

“From the free throw line, he’s building confidence,” said Ingram, also a greatly improved foul shooter since arriving in the Crescent City. “He’s putting the work in every single day and it’s showing. He’s just super dominant when he gets in the game. He causes so much attention, and he’s super efficient, focusing on finishing at the rim. It helps our team a lot when three or four (defenders) are coming at him and he can see the open guy. It helps our offense.”

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