The most anticipated NBA rookie season since LeBron James’ has somehow surpassed the hype.
Just 10 games into a debut campaign delayed by knee surgery, Zion Williamson has been just as dominant as he was at Duke, overpowering longtime pros as easily as he controlled each game during his lone college season. Following his 32-point effort against the Thunder on Thursday night, the 19-year-old Pelicans forward became the first rookie in 35 years (Michael Jordan) to score at least 30 points in back-to-back games. Williamson also joined Jordan as the second rookie to record eight 20-point games in the first 10 games of his career.
Through 10 games, no player has scored more points in the paint than Williamson over the past two decades. He is the third No. 1 overall pick since 1992 (Shaquille O’Neal, Allen Iverson) to score 200 points through 10 games. Williamson became the first rookie since 1966 to record 30 points, five rebounds and five assists while playing less than 30 minutes.
But stats don’t tell the full story. The endorsement of a future Hall of Famer does.
“I don’t really think he’s comparable to anyone that I have seen,” Carmelo Anthony said. “Someone who is as powerful as that, who jumps like that … you can tell he’s getting better and getting a feel for the game.”
The game is in a much better place than it was a month ago.
“A talent like that — he’s a great guy on top of it all — the whole world needs to see him,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. “Obviously it’s good for the Pelicans, but it’s good for basketball. He’s quite a package, both as a player and as a person.”
Williamson, who leads all rookies with 22.1 points per game, while shooting 57.6 percent from the field, with 7.5 rebounds, didn’t imagine becoming a must-see attraction for the second straight year.
“I expected to make an impact, but I didn’t expect to do nothing like this,” Williamson said. “I was kind of looking to come in and just kind of fit in and just not try to mess up. My teammates and coaches are always pushing me, like, ‘No, be outside the box.’
“People are trying to find their own way (to stop me), but I feel like my game is so unique that I’ll be able to adjust to it on the fly. At the end of the day, I’m 19. I’ve still got a lot of room for growing. I will mess up. I’m not perfect, I will have bad games. I’m just going to learn from them.”
The best is yet to come.
“It’s scary to see how good he is this early,” teammate Josh Hart said. “He’s going to be a problem.”