Williamson, Pelicans’ adjustment period went by really fast

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Zion Williamson
(Photo: Stephen Lew)

NEW ORLEANS – Alvin Gentry was right.

The New Orleans Pelicans coach said there would be an adjustment period for No. 1 overall draft pick Zion Williamson.

The former Duke University forward entered the draft as the most eagerly anticipated newcomer to the NBA since LeBron James in 2003.

Then the anticipation percolated as New Orleans played the first 44 games on the season while Williamson worked his way back from knee surgery on the eve of the season opener.

By the time Williamson made his debut less than two weeks ago, the expectations were “way, way, way through the roof,” Gentry said.

Here was a 19-year-old kid who hadn’t played in a real game in a nearly a year being thrust into NBA action for the first time at mid-season.

“The only thing I would caution everyone about is that he hadn’t played basketball in a long, long time,” Gentry said on the eve of Williamson’s debut. “He’s not going to be the guy who steps right out there and play like he’s played 40 games. It’s going to take a little time.”

It did take a little time.

Very little.

Williamson’s first stat in his first game against San Antonio came on a first-quarter turnover. Then he got an assist and a little while later he scored his first basket after an offensive rebound.

Through three quarters he did very little. Then he scored 17 consecutive Pelicans points during an eye-popping three-minute, eight-second stretch.

All in all it was an extremely impressive 18-minute debut.

Since then his playing time has increased – to 21 minutes against Denver, 27 minutes against Boston (in his first win) 30 minutes against Cleveland (in his first road game) and then 29 minutes his most recent outing against Memphis on Friday night in the Smoothie King Center,

Gentry called that outing – a season-high 24 points (on 9 of 15 field goals), six rebounds and three assists – Williamson’s “most complete game” to date.

The rookie has now played in five NBA games and the Pelicans have won the last three after losing the first two.

In addition to taking on progressively more minutes, Williamson has played at a very high level throughout. He is averaging 19.2 points, 7.8 rebounds and 25.0 minutes per game. He’s shooting 62.5 percent from the field.

Just as important is the fact that Williamson and the Pelicans’ other two top scorers – All-Star forward Brandon Ingram and guard Jrue Holiday – have played much better collectively in the last three games than they did in Williamson’s first two.

Ingram’s scoring average has gone up to 20.0 in the three wins compared to 17.5 in the two losses. His field-goal percentage increased from 27 percent to 51 percent and his three-point percentage increased from 23 percent to 56 percent.

Holiday’s scoring average went up from 12.0 to 23.7, his field-goal percentage went from 32 to 53 and his three-point percentage went from 11 to 45.

“I thought it was going to be like this from the beginning,” said point guard Lonzo Ball, who had 19 points and eight assists against the Grizzlies. “Obviously we knew it was going to be a process, but I think we are finally figuring it out, building up the chemistry. Incorporating Zion back is good for us and hopefully we just keep trending upward.”

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Les East

Les East

CCS/106.1 FM/Daily Iberian

Les East is a nationally renowned freelance journalist. The New Orleans area native’s blog on SportsNOLA.com was named “Best Sports Blog” in 2016 by the Press Club of New Orleans. For 2013 he was named top sports columnist in the United States by the Society of Professional Journalists. He has since become a valued contributor for CCS. The Jesuit High…

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