Story by Mark Joseph, senior at St. Augustine High School
The Pelicans assistant general manager David Griffin smiled with glee as Zion Willamson scored his first NBA points. He knew he had a rim-destroyer with Zion but he couldn’t have expected that several minutes later, all the shaking and banging in Las Vegas wasn’t Zion’s fault. An earthquake 50 miles away from Summer League added some excitement to Zion’s debut. Or maybe it was an omen of things to come.
Zion only scored 11 points in his debut—due to him leaving the game with a bruised knee—but he showed a lot of promise.
Zion will be a mismatch nightmare for opponents with skills tailor-made for modern centers. He is capable of shooting threes, pull-up jumpers, and focusing more on assists than scoring—alongside his mastery of defending, rim-protecting, dunks, and layups typical to old school centers.
Zion was limping slightly as he arrived at the Thomas and Mack Center, though it didn’t seem to be knee-related.
As he started up the game, in the first minute, Zion went for a lob but he was fouled and scored two free throws. It was an anticlimactic start for what everyone was expecting from him. However, two minutes later, he did what everyone was waiting for: make his first NBA dunk. And when it came, the power he displayed was electrifying.
Although Zion didn’t seem to be 100 percent fitness-wise, it didn’t affect his play. At one point he bullied Kevin Knox by stealing the ball right out of his hands and then unleashed fury on the rim. As a 19-year-old, he is expected to blossom as an NBA superstar, though it’s almost better to compare him to an NFL tight end. And steals like the one he took from Knox put that NFL-like quality on full display.
In the end, those 11 points came in just a brief nine minutes before he went out, after going knee-to-knee with Knicks center Mitchell Robinson.
Unfortunately, Zion will not play for the rest of the Summer League with his bruised knee. Griffin explained that the injury is not serious and that he and the Pelicans medical staff were just being extremely cautious, per ESPN.
Even though it was brief, Zion seems like he will fit in perfectly with Pelicans head coach Alvin Gentry’s play style. But one thing is for sure: he is definitely living up to the hype.