NEW ORLEANS – The Pelicans’ long-awaited future, as well as the wait for prolonged Zion Williamson supremacy, may finally be over.
It wouldn’t be unreasonable to assume that the New Orleans Pelicans of this season are the Memphis Grizzlies of the previous one. Just replace Ja Morant with Zion Williamson and you have two upstarts rising high in the West and surprising, if not completely taking the league by storm.
Zion’s injury recovery from last season and a steady, intelligent reconstruction from the ruins left by the forced Anthony Davis deal have led to the current Western Conference leader and a contender that doesn’t look like it will fade away anytime soon.
The Pelicans bring a strong bench, good defense, rebounding, scoring in the paint, 3-point shooting, and a coach that understands how to use his players’ potential. Although you might pump the breaks a little because the NBA schedule isn’t halfway done, how many teams are this spotless overall?
The Pelicans defeated the Suns in a tense two-game set last weekend, playing smarter, more inspired, and accepting the challenge much more eagerly than Phoenix did. This was their coming-out party.
After a Saturday game at Phoenix (9 ET, NBA TV), where the Suns will undoubtedly be motivated, and a Monday game against Milwaukee, they’ll need another temperature check by this time next week. These groups have a greater track record of success across more competition. After seven straight victories, the Pelicans are still sending a warning shot to the rest of the NBA.
Additionally, they have only lost to the Celtics and Grizzlies in their last 16 games, an incredible run of 14 wins. That is nothing to be ashamed about. For background, CJ McCollum was ineligible for the Boston game, and Ingram sustained his toe injury against the Grizzlies.
As a result: The Pelicans are making their presence known by barking through a bullhorn, with the probable exception of the Celtics, who have romped for three weeks.
It’s still early in the season, so I know to a lot of people that’s not a big issue, but for us to be ranked where we are right now, that’s big,” Williamson said. In addition to keeping it, we want to strengthen it.
Of course, Zion is largely responsible for all the fun. He is finally releasing the pent-up resentment of having only played 85 games in his three-year career, and he is beginning to appear more at ease each week. Zion is averaging 30.0 points, 66.9% shooting, and 9.0 rebounds during the winning streak. If the Pelicans keep winning and this keeps up, he’ll start to be talked about as a potential Kia MVP candidate.
Williamson said before the season started and when it seemed his physical difficulties were behind him: “I want to be among the greatest, and I want this team to be among the best, too.”
Zion’s 360 windmill slam to finish off the first of two victories versus Phoenix served as an emphatic demonstration of it. The Suns were furious and yelled that Zion had broken some sacred unwritten code, but the Pelicans already had the game in hand. The Suns failed to consider the level of anger Zion was carrying from dealing with the criticism brought on by his prolonged injury.
It wasn’t simply intended for the Suns to use that 360. All he could take was that slam. For the injustice of his injuries, it was a type of retaliation. Or, in the strongest possible way, a response from Zion to all the criticisms of himself that he has come across.
Given how fiercely he drives to the basket, Zion is the NBA’s most effective scorer, shooting 61%, which is incredible for a player who stands 6 feet 6 inches tall. He attempts less 3-pointers (just 14 this season) than any of the top 15 scorers in the NBA, even DeMar DeRozan, who is the best mid-range shooter in the league. Zion stands apart in today’s analytics-driven game for a variety of reasons, including his unusually high height for a power player, his disdain for long range shooting, and his degree of quickness considering his size.