New Orleans Pelicans phenom Zion Williamson rode a career-best 32-point performance into the All-Star break, which made him the first rookie since Michael Jordan to score 20 or more points in eight of his first 10 games.
The Pelicans have gradually built up Williamson's minutes and fans are seeing what made the 19-year-old must-watch television at Duke.
Williamson's averaging 22.1 points, 7.5 rebounds, and 2.2 assists through his first 10 games. Here are four takeaways from Zion's first month in the NBA.
While Williamson has produced mixed results defending guards and wings at the pro level so far, he has, at times, shown excellent footwork and quickness. In the clip below, he does a great job staying with Thunder guard Dennis Schroder, eventually forcing an errant pass:
However, opposing teams have had success targeting Williamson in pick-and-roll situations. He sometimes gives up clean perimeter looks because he drops too far in coverage against ball-handlers. On other occasions, he appears indecisive and is caught flat-footed:
"It's different because I have to learn how to guard the bigs off screen-and-roll a little bit better, or learn when to switch with a guard and when not to switch," Williamson said, according to The Athletic's William Guillory. "It's a lot that goes into it that I wasn't really expecting. I think there's a lot of room for improvement."
Of all the elements in Williamson's game, he was most likely to make an immediate impact in transition. The No. 1 overall pick hasn't disappointed in that aspect, recording 3.5 fast-break points per contest, which ranks tied for 35th among players with at least 10 appearances. He fills passing lanes, can grab-and-go off missed shots, and he has a relentless motor. While the production isn't surprising, the ways in which the Pelicans are deploying Williamson in their up-tempo game is.
Zion's versatility has given new meaning to the term "turning defense into offense." When Williamson is switched onto a guard or flies out to contest a shot from the perimeter, he puts himself into an advantageous offensive position if there's a missed shot. In such scenarios, Zion often bolts up the floor and plants his defender in the paint, allowing his teammates to feed him for a transition post-up opportunity or a close-range shot.
Williamson is usually down the court before opponents can set up their half-court defense or provide help, allowing him to exploit mismatches.
Early on, much of Zion's offense has been facilitated by Lonzo Ball. The chemistry between the two players has been undeniable, with Ball dishing out 26 of Williamson's 59 total assisted field goals.
Zion is already one of the Association's top post players, ranking seventh in the NBA with four points per game on 58.6% shooting. And whenever he's being fronted in the post, Ball doesn't hesitate in lobbing a pass over the top of the defense.
The same synergy can be seen in pick-and-roll situations or alley-oops in transition. It appears Williamson and Ball have such a natural feel for one another's games that sometimes all they seemingly need is eye contact in order to beat the defense. New Orleans has an offensive rating of 113 in 219 minutes featuring both players in the lineup, per NBA.com.
Williamson's handle tends to get loose on drives, leaving him prone to turnovers whenever he puts the ball on the floor. He sometimes dribbles right into the teeth of the defense, allowing his counterparts a chance to strip him of possession. Zion commits just under three turnovers per contest, from which 11.9% have come on drives, per NBA.com.
Williamson's decision-making can also improve when he's in a playmaking role. While he's good at seeking out open teammates on cuts and drive-and-kick actions, he does miss some of those reads when ball pressure is applied to him.
In the clip below, Williamson initially misses a cutting Derrick Favors before delivering a late bounce pass to him. As Zion becomes more familiarized with NBA blitzes and traps, he'll learn to recognize them before they're set and make passes a split second sooner.
Zion's back in action Friday when the Pelicans visit the Portland Trail Blazers.