Lonzo Ball on Zion Williamson: ‘He needs the ball for us to win’

Zion Williamson (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
Zion Williamson (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images) /

A few New Orleans Pelicans seem either unable or unwilling to fully accept Zion Williamson’s dominance.

The first two games with Zion Williamson in an NBA lineup were losses. In both instances, the Duke basketball legend was not on the floor across the final six decisive minutes.

The next time out, New Orleans Pelicans head coach Alvin Gentry must have deduced that the restriction on Williamson’s minutes — due to his recovery from October knee surgery, which forced him to miss the first 44 games of the season — didn’t have to entail an end-of-game restriction. The revelation sparked a three-game win streak.

By Sunday, the franchise had removed all caps to Williamson’s playing time. However, intended or not, what ensued was a limit to his fourth-quarter touches.

But Gentry claims he wasn’t on board with what transpired. What transpired, of course, suggests some Pelicans might be taking issue with the made-for-TV rookie always being the center of attention.

“Zion can’t go four minutes without touching the basketball, and that’s on me,” Gentry told reporters following his team’s 117-109 road loss to the Houston Rockets (31-18), dropping the Pelicans to 20-30 and 4.5 games out of a playoff spot. “That’s something that I’ve got to make sure will never happen again. So I take responsibility for that.

“And if we’re not going to get it to him and we’re not going to execute, then we’ve got to have different people in the game. That’s on me also.”

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So if Gentry did not order any of his players to play keep-away from the 2019 No. 1 draft pick — as Houston outscored New Orleans, 25-12, following Williamson’s last made field goal with 11:17 to play — why did some of his guys look as if they were stubborn enough to sacrifice winning by completely ignoring the offensive efficiency and will to win of the 6-foot-6, 284-pound power forward?

Another of the five Bayou Blue Devils, All-Star forward Brandon Ingram, contributed to the problem. The fourth-year pro — the Pelicans’ leading scorer both for the season at 24.9 points per game and against the Rockets with 28, all in the first three quarters — came up empty on all four of his fourth-quarter shot attempts (0-for-3 from beyond the arc) and passed up a few opportunities to feed Williamson.

Ingram wasn’t the only one, though, who failed to embrace the 19-year-old as the squad’s go-to guy in clutch situations. Yet despite his lack of touches down the stretch, Williamson finished his 33 minutes with 21 points and 10 rebounds, bumping his averages across his six-game start to 19.5 and 8.2, respectively.

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After Zion Williamson scored to give the Pelicans a 97-92 lead with 11:17 on the clock, Nicolo Melli, Josh Hart, E’Twaun Moore, Jrue Holiday, and Lonzo Ball combined to go 3-for-15 from the field, including 0-for-7 from downtown.

To be fair, however, Ball is the ideal point guard to complement Williamson’s game, as the 22-year-old has consistently looked for chances to get the ball to the generational talent, even from 60 feet away (evidenced in the above video). In addition to the way he operates, the third-year player out of UCLA seems to fully appreciate just how special the Zionzo Show could become so long as all of his teammates also pay ample attention to Zion.

“Once you get it to him, usually good things happen,” Ball explained after practice on Monday, leading up to the home game against the 42-7 Milwaukee Bucks on Tuesday at 7:30 p.m. (TNT). “So we just got to find a way to get him the ball in spots he likes to catch it.”

Ball also addressed what should happen when the outside shooters are on fire:

“Even if we are making shots, [Zion Williamson] should have the ball. He attracts so much attention on that end of the [court], and people are going to help…We got to give him the ball whether we’re making shots or missing shots.”

To summarize his thoughts, Ball needed eight words:

“He needs the ball for us to win.”

J.J. Redick, the eldest of the former Duke basketball players now in New Orleans, saw only 14 minutes of action against Houston — all coming in the first three quarters — and finished 0-for-3 from the field. Neither Frank Jackson nor Jahlil Okafor played.

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