Fans of the New Orleans Pelicans, and the NBA in general, have been eagerly awaiting the debut of rookie Zion Williamson. They got a taste during the preseason, but not much of one—and it was just the preseason. Due to an injury, his preseason was cut short.
The same injury forced fans to wait for his regular-season debut as well—which finally came Wednesday night against the San Antonio Spurs.
It was going to be somewhat of an abbreviated debut for the young superstar, though. Due to health concerns, his minutes were going to be restricted. It would be a shame to wait all this time to see him play only to see him go down with another injury after trying to do too much.
To that end, the plan was not to let him play much or in long stretches. So—how’d he play?
Williamson only played a total of 18 minutes. In the first three quarters, when he did play, he looked like a rookie coming off an injury and getting his first taste of NBA action. He wasn’t bad—just rusty and not what fans hoped to see.
Then came the fourth quarter.
Over a 3:08 stretch, he showed the fans, the Pelicans, and the opposition, that the hype was legitimate. It started with a 27-foot three-pointer at the 8:52 mark of the quarter that pulled the Pelicans within five, 99-94.
He went on to score 17-points over the next three minutes. A 17-point run is not unusual in an NBA game, of course. But this wasn’t a 17-point run by the Pelicans.
No, it was all Williamson.
When all was said and done, Williams scored 22 points, pulled down seven rebounds and handed out three assists. For the night, he was 8-11 from the floor, including 4-4 from three-point range . He never made more than three three-pointers in a game in college.
He was the consensus favorite to win Rookie of the Year before he was even drafted. But with the injury causing him to miss so much time, and with so man other rookies having good seasons, Williamson should be nowhere near Rookie of the Year conversations.
But following the conclusion of his debut, his odds at DraftKings were +1100, second only to Ja Morant (-500). As of Thursday morning, his odds were down to +800. So oddsmakers and gamblers must still think he has a shot.
Does he? If he can build off his performance Wednesday night and play even better the rest of the way—absolutely.
The obvious argument against him will be time. Even if he plays in every game for the rest of the season, he will not have even 40 games under his belt. Morant already has 38, Kendrick Nunn has been in 44, and R.J. Barrett 41 games.
Not playing in a significant part of the season would not be unprecedented. Although playing in less than 50% would be. Patrick Ewing only played in 50 games back in his rookie season (1985-86). Brandon Roy only played in 57 (2006-07).
But if Zion can post similar or better numbers than he had Wednesday night the rest of the way, he’ll lead all rookies in scoring and rebounds (per game).
Should he do that—it isn’t going to be an easy vote.