How Zion will help Pelicans' playoff push
Jonathan Bachman / Getty Images Sport / Getty

New Orleans Pelicans forward Zion Williamson has been teasing NBA fans for the past year.

The teenage prodigy's latest injury left his admirers hanging onto last season's Duke highlights a little bit longer. They've been asking for more since he ripped the ball from Kevin Knox just five minutes into his summer league debut.

Williamson will finally make his long-awaited regular-season debut - in prime time, no less - at home on Wednesday against the San Antonio Spurs.

Before the No. 1 overall pick takes the floor, here's one last look at Williamson's game and how he'll help the Pelicans' playoff push.

Pick-and-roll threat

New Orleans is in the middle of the pack in pick-and-roll frequency, but that could soon rise with Williamson's presence. The Blue Devils hardly used the 6-foot-6 rookie that way last year, but the pick-and-roll was a staple in the Pelicans' playbook throughout the preseason.

Williamson's explosive first step gets him to the rim with ease, and his athleticism makes him an ideal lob target when rolling to the basket. The club isn't short on options to put alongside Williamson in pick-and-roll sequences, a list that includes Lonzo Ball, Jrue Holiday, and Brandon Ingram.

But Williamson isn't limited to just darting to the net in the two-man action. He's a superb ball-handler for a player with his physique, and the 19-year-old reads defenses well. Williamson has the vision to find open teammates, or reject a screen if he notices a defender cheating over the top.

Interior force

Williamson was nearly unstoppable in the paint during his lone season at Duke.

The reigning John R. Wooden Award winner attempted 72% of his shots at the rim, converting at a 79.2% rate across 33 appearances for the Blue Devils, according to New Orleans could use an offensive threat down low, as the team ranks 21st in points in the paint and tied for 26th in putback points per game.

Williamson is an effective roll man and can put the ball on the floor to penetrate the teeth of the defense. He's strong enough to finish through contact with either hand and won't shy away from physicality. Williamson averaged 6.2 free-throw attempts per game in college, and that number increased to eight across four preseason contests.

The All-American is blessed with natural athleticism, but he doesn't get enough credit for just using his head. Williamson constantly puts himself in advantageous situations with his body positioning on the block. He does a great job sealing off defenders on entry feeds into the post, and the South Carolina native uses spins and swim moves to avoid being boxed out on the offensive glass.

The Pelicans are also one of the NBA's most trigger-happy and accurate teams from distance. However, New Orleans' outside attack could use a bit more breathing room.

The club faces tight coverage (closest defender within two-to-four feet) on 5.2 of its 3-point attempts per contest, which is tied for sixth in the Association, according to Williamson's interior presence will help alleviate some of that pressure.

Point Zion

New Orleans already possesses a lethal transition game, and adding Williamson gives the team another weapon that can jump-start the fast break. The forward can grab-and-go off a missed shot and take the ball coast to coast, or hit his teammates in stride with sublime one-handed bounce passes.

Williamson's playmaking creativity isn't limited to the open court. He can facilitate in the half court and off the drive and kick.

With his jump shot still a work in progress, he'll initially be more inclined to attack off the bounce. As a result, opposing defenses will pack the paint.

Fortunately, plenty of reliable 3-point shooters are surrounding Williamson, and they should benefit from more clean looks. The college phenom averaged only 2.1 assists per game with the Blue Devils, partly because he wasn't given the same luxury of quality shooters at Duke, which was one of the nation's worst shooting teams from downtown last season.

Smart defender

Trading Anthony Davis in the offseason left New Orleans with a gaping hole in the middle, and so far the club hasn't been able to compensate for losing him.

The Pelicans rank 26th in defensive efficiency, and they're surrendering the third-most points in the paint. Williamson is a long way from becoming the same defensive terror as his predecessor, but his tools will immediately help the Pelicans.

He was a finalist for the Naismith Defensive Player of Year Award, averaging 2.1 steals and 1.8 blocks during his 2018-19 collegiate campaign. Williamson's agility allows him to guard all five positions, and he's a great weak-side rim-protector.

He operates like an NFL safety, demonstrating great closing speed and instincts when jumping passing lanes or providing help defense.

Williamson will likely spend most of his minutes at the power forward position, guarding stretch-fours and wings.

But at 285 pounds, he can hold his own against traditional big men as a small-ball five. Williamson's defensive versatility will give Pelicans head coach Alvin Gentry the opportunity to mix and match accordingly.

How Zion will help Pelicans' playoff push
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