Story by Chris Taylor, junior at SJBP STEM Magnet High School Program.
With a few minutes left on the clock, both Zion Williamson and Ja Morant were taken off the court. These are the kinds of exits you’d expect of All-Stars as a game nears a blowout—no one wants their best players to get hurt in garbage time. But there’s no way that these rookies would be getting this All Star treatment just yet.
Well, for the New Orleans Pelicans, that’s yet to be seen, as just yesterday third-year Brandon Ingram earned his All Star status for his outstanding half-season performance. Zion no doubt congratulated Ingram, but then came out and dominated, as if he were an All Star himself.
Williamson logged a career-high 24 pts against the Pelicans’ current contender for the eighth seed, the Memphis Grizzlies. And Ja was just two points shy of being the top scorer for the Grizzlies with 16. Zion’s Pelicans, however, took the game 139-111.
Though Morant struggled throughout the night, it does not change the fact that he holds the top position as the frontrunner for Rookie of the Year. Zion’s continuous improvement shows that he is undoubtedly hungry to win and to have a chance at taking home the ROY hardware.
Zion’s Pelicans came out firing from the tip, and never looked back. The Pels kept Morant out of the game early, keeping a lead throughout.
Morant was held to only two points in the first quarter—until he got his second bucket in the second quarter, following it up with an athletic finish off a half-court alley-oop. Guarded by Jrue Holiday, Morant struggled early on, but began scoring in bursts throughout the second half.
In just his fifth game of the season, Zion looked as comfortable on the court as he has been in the NBA. He ended the first quarter with six points in the six minutes he played. And two of his six came from a thunderous reverse slam.
But Zion and Ja weren’t the only rookies on the court with a point to prove. Pelicans center Jaxon Hayes came off the bench playing with the same energy that was established by the starters. Hayes was perhaps playing with some fire under his feet after being snubbed from the Rising Stars game.
Hayes expressed his anger in a very explicit video that may result in a fine, but as Hayes stated, “I hope y’all see this video… and fine me.”
Ultimately, Hayes finished with a dismal four points, not proving that he deserves a spot in this years’ Rising Stars showcase.
Williamson controlled the paint the entire game, using his quickness and explosiveness to his advantage against the slower Grizzlies big men.
It wasn’t Zion’s first time being the lead scorer—he took that distinction in his first game after knocking down four threes in his first ever NBA game. He surpassed those 22 points by only two points tonight, causing head coach Alvin Gentry to call it “his most complete game,” per Jeff Nowak of The Advocate.
Zion helped the Pelicans to their third straight win and head coach Alvin Gentry’s 500th win as a head coach. No wonder why Gentry liked this performance better.
At the end of the game fellow South Carolina natives Morant and Williamson exchange jerseys as a sign of respect.
With the All-Star break approaching, Williamson and Morant will team up for the first time since their AAU days back in high school, before they begin the final stretch to see who will be crowned Rookie of the Year.
With this blowout victory the Pelicans will travel to Houston for a one-game road trip, to take on Russell Westbrook and the Houston Rockets, hoping to hang on to their win streak.