Zion Williamson soared in his first NBA preseason game on Monday night. Showing off the high-flying talents that made him one of the most anticipated rookies in years, Williamson turned in a ferocious slam less than two minutes into his debut with the New Orleans Pelicans and dunked it two more times before the first half was done against the Atlanta Hawks.
“This isn’t high school or college anymore,” Williamson said. “You’ve got to go up strong. So I went up strong and I was able to finish.” It was quite the close-range repertoire: one with the right hand, one with the left hand, one with both hands.
Williamson finished with 17 points, seven rebounds, three assists and three steals, helping the Pelicans to a 133-109 victory over the Hawks before a much larger crowd, announced at 15,441, than what would normally be expected in Atlanta for an exhibition between two teams that failed to make the playoffs last season. “I didn’t expect that many people to come,” Williamson said.
Of course, the score was irrelevant. This was chance to see the future of the NBA for the first time, not counting his brief stint in the Las Vegas Summer League. Williamson did not disappoint, though he’s not close to being a finished product after just one college season at Duke. He missed a pair of three-point attempts, turned it over four times and looked a bit lost defensively. At one point, teammate Jrue Holiday, who has been in the league a decade, gently nudged him into the proper position. Still, it was a tantalizing glimpse of Williamson’s skills.
“You know me,” he said, breaking into a big smile. “It was a lot of fun. The first NBA game. It’s not going to count against the record. But the first one of hopefully many. I’m glad I could get that one under my belt.”
Just 62 seconds into the game, he took a pass from Lonzo Ball on the pick-and-roll and banked one in while drawing the foul from John Collins. Williamson knocked down the free throw and he had his first three-point play. A small section of the crowd chanted “Overrated!” but their hearts weren’t really in it.
Williamson was still listed at 6ft 7in on the Pelicans roster, though he reportedly measured an inch shorter without shoes as part of the league’s push to accurately measure everyone in the league this season.