In an imperfect debut, Zion Williamson showed the world why he’s the future of the NBA.
With over half the regular season now complete, we finally got to see the 2019 No.1 Draft pick lace ‘em up and take to the hardwood for the most anticipated NBA debut since LeBron James in 2003.
The NBA realises this young man is expected to carry the league’s proverbial torch through the 20s, at least. That recognition extended so far that the league felt it necessary to amend the television schedule, taking the Denver Nuggets versus Houston Rockets – a star-filled encounter between the fourth and fifth seeds in the West – away from being nationally televised, in favour of the 8th and 12th seeds.
The draw of Zion entering the league was measurable, even before his debut. He has already proven popular enough to rank 15th in jersey sales so far this season, despite not playing a single game. This pull translated to the court where ESPN reported significant increases in viewership numbers, a welcome relief for the league in the year where TV ratings have declined.
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Much in tune with the NBA’s changing audience habits and content consumers’ desire to condense moments into neat little packages, Zion’s highlights were limited to a short 90 seconds or so in the fourth quarter, following what had previously been an apprehensive and underwhelming performance in limited minutes.
Even Pelican’s Head Coach Alvin Gentry acknowledged his young stars performance hadn’t been quite what he expected at the end of the third quarter.
I highly doubt Gentry ‘s words were intended to yield immediate results.
But 90 seconds was all the Rookie cement the legacy of his debut, much to pleasure of the global audience watching along. Perhaps the most surprising part of his performance was that none of his buckets came in the form of a high flying dunk, displaying his athletic prowess. The closest was his second basket (of his 17 straight points) which was a lay-up off a lob pass that would struggle to make a top ten (maybe even top 20) nightly highlight reel.
He even gave hope to the naysayers, reticent to buy into the hype until he extends his game beyond the restricted zone, as he hit four straight threes from varying spots on the floor. Even if that form is still a little janky…
MVP and “we want Zion” chants reigned alongside a conflicted expression on Gentry’s face as young star exited the game with the Pelican’s down three. A deficit they would not recover from. But the final score didn’t matter and, quite frankly, was difficult to spot amongst the plethora of tweets celebrating the arrival of Williamson.
Insert hoops hype tweet
But all that matters now is that he’s here. And seemingly ready to shoulder the load as the NBA’s next great star.
Friday 24 January, 8pm – Milwaukee Bucks @ Charlotte Hornets
The annual European chapter of the NBA Global Games tips off this tonight in Paris. A bittersweet moment for UK fans who get to enjoy watching the reigning (potentially next) MVP at a great time, but sadly not on British soil for the first time in a decade. Whilst anything other than a Milwaukee blow-out would be a surprise this is still worth tuning into.
Saturday 25 January, 10pm – Dallas Mavericks @ Utah Jazz
The Utah Jazz has rocketed up to the second spot in the West, behind an impressive 18 wins in the last 20 games. This game is the first of an interesting spell in their schedule, as they play each of the Mavs, Rockets, Nuggets and Blazers twice within the next 9 games. The Mavs have won five of their last six games and boast (by a long way) the league’s best offensive rating. So the question becomes what happens when the league’s best offence takes on one of the league’s best defences?
Sunday 26 January, 8:3-0pm – Houston Rockets @ Denver Nuggets
Completing a trifecta of UK friendly tip-times, the wobbly Houston Rockets head into the Denver, just two-and-a-half games back on the Nuggets in the race for home-court advantage. These two team’s met on 22 January, with Denver suffering a heavy defeat, and there are few teams with more polarising styles of play. The Nuggets are a team-orientated, ball-moving, deep roster. The Rockets, an isolation driven team, inflexible in its analytically driven offensive sets and struggling to find consistent contributors outside of James Harden and Russell Westbrook.