Nearly every performance these days from Duke basketball legend Zion Williamson marks some type of new standard for high-profile NBA rookies.
Marks of greatness come in the form of more than just scoring totals. Even so, a clear sign of budding eminence is the fact that former Duke basketball one-and-done Zion Williamson has a chance this week to surpass Michael Jordan in terms of 20-point outings across one’s first 20 NBA games.
According to ESPN reporter Andrew Lopez, the top overall pick from the 2019 NBA Draft, who didn’t debut until Jan. 22 due to his recovery from October knee surgery, has already tied Jordan’s 20-game mark with his 16 such outings (the most since His Airness in such a span). And Zion has done so in only his first 19 contests.
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Therefore, when the New Orleans Pelicans play at the Sacramento Kings at 10:30 p.m. EST Wednesday (ESPN) — the two teams are in a tie for ninth place in the Western Conference at 28-36, four games out of a playoff spot — Zion Williamson will have one shot to top the game’s all-time greatest in this regard.
That said, Jordan averaged 25.3 points per game for his first 20 games. In order to match that, Williamson (currently at 23.6) would need to drop 58 on the Kings. Anyone who has been watching the Pelicans as of late knows that both the frequent shooting hand of fellow Duke basketball product Brandon Ingram and the squad’s general difficulty in feeding the future of the franchise in halfcourt settings likely won’t allow for that level of output.
To be fair, though, Williamson is only 19, two years younger than Jordan was for most of his 1984-85 rookie campaign.
Also, per ESPN Stats & Info — not counting Williamson’s 23 points on 9-for-15 shooting during a 120-107 road win on Sunday against the Minnesota Timberwolves — the 6-foot-6, 285-pound turbocharged tank’s 58.8 field goal percentage ranked No. 1 in league history for a player’s first 18 career games (minimum 15 attempts per game).
In addition to his marks-of-greatness point totals and field goal percentage, Williamson is averaging 6.8 rebounds and 2.2 assists across 29.7 minutes per game (not to mention he’s knocked down 46.2 percent of his 3-point attempts, which is impressive, regardless of the low sample size, especially considering how many critics claim his shot is broken).
On the other hand, other than a few blocks that tested the structural integrity of the ball, Zion Williamson has not proven to be as menacing a defender as he was in college. He’s averaging a so-so 0.8 steals and 0.5 blocks. This may be a result of 1) playing it safe because of past injuries, 2) reserving energy for the future, 3) buying into the league’s unwritten agreement to not play too hard, 4) poor coaching on that end of the floor, or 5) some mix of all these factors.
All in all, obviously, the Duke basketball product needs six or so rings and roughly 32,000 more points before one could make a solid argument that he stacks up to MJ.
But Zion Williamson is at least putting up early marks that suggest he may have the ingredients to one day let the Blue Devils snatch credit for the GOAT from their rival North Carolina Tar Heels.
He undoubtedly represents Duke’s best shot at such a claim.