After the College Football playoffs wrapped up with a win for LSU over Clemson, it became evident to sports fans everywhere how much football was left. 3 games – the conference championship games plus the Super Bowl. That’ll put a fear into every single sports fan. The transition from the end of football is tough, but that just means the NBA season is really starting to heat up. Teams have played around 50% of their schedule, and the playoff push is just beginning. There’s also quite the big event coming up: Zion Williamson set to make debut on January 22nd vs the San Antonio Spurs. Let’s take a look at what that will look like, and what that means for the NBA going forwards. Then, end with my final prediction.
Zion was the top pick in the NBA draft this past season after an unbelievable freshman season at Duke. He’s been the most talked about prospect out of the draft since maybe Anthony Davis, or even LeBron James. He was a guaranteed star just months ago and raised the expectation around himself with an eye-popping preseason. He played in 4 games, averaging 23 points (on 70% shooting) and 7 rebounds in just 27 minutes per game. He looked amazing, until he tore his MCL in his knee. We have now been waiting for his return since that day.
Many reports suggested the Pelicans were trying to teach Zion how to run/walk again to avoid further injury, other analysts were saying Zion should sit out the whole year, and everyone put in their opinion (including me, now). My expectations for Zion are high but tempered. I expect some sort of load management program going forwards. The Pelicans have 40 games left, and are 4 games out of the 8th seed, but I don’t expect them to push him just to get a very reachable playoff spot. I would imagine he’s not going to be playing back to backs, and I imagine he’ll play under 30 minutes per game. Regardless of all that, I am still expecting him to average 20 points a game.
The Pelicans have gone 10-6 since their 6-20 start and are finally beginning to jell as a team. With lead scorer Brandon Ingram slotting in at the SF position, Derrick Favors returning as the center to stabilize the defense, I see Zion fitting nicely at the power forward position. This team is only 20th in half-court scoring efficiency, so they need to push the pace with Lonzo Ball at the PG position. I expect increased opportunities for Zion to get out and run in the fast break even leading it at points.
The Pelicans may have a star in Brandon Ingram, and the hope is they can complement each other. Zion should help take some load off of Ingram defensively at least. Ingram has been guarding some post players on the opposing team, but now that Zion is back, he should have more of an opportunity to guard the opposing wing, which he is better at. On offense, Ingram is in an optimal rhythm so I hope Zion can enter the lineup without a full disruption. Although, In the half-court it never hurts to have extra playmakers. Zion showed in the preseason he was quick enough to bounce off screens and had great court vision to hit open 3-point shooters. The Pelicans could soon have a lineup of Ball/Jrue Holiday/Brandon Ingram/Zion which would create an opposing nightmare for teams. 4 players who can create their own shot should really improve this teams offense.
Final prediction: Zion plays 30 games and averages over 20 points per game. The Pelicans then make the playoffs as an 8th seed, because that’s what the fans want. Give me LeBron James vs Zion Williamson in the first round please.