Following the New Orleans Pelicans open practice on Saturday, we possess knowledge of two indisputable facts about Zion Williamson: it’s going to be incredibly fun to watch an unstoppable force on a nightly basis, and please, do not ever hand the 19-year-old a microphone again — at least until he’s had the chance to get plenty of voice lessons under his belt.
Thankfully, David Griffin and the rest of the front office drafted Zion for his ability to do the impossible on the court, and after waiting through some remarkably long lines just to gain admittance, about 10,000 fans or so were treated to their first showing of Zion Williamson playing basketball inside New Orleans city limits.
He certainly didn’t disappoint.
The scrimmage’s first two points were scored by Zion in emphatic fashion, after chasing down an offensive rebound and quickly throwing it down. Shortly thereafter, we observed Lonzo Ball and Zion deliver the night’s flashiest highlight.
In addition to the many slams and offensive rebounds witnessed throughout — Zion is going to be a handful for teams on the offensive glass this upcoming season, Williamson displayed various other aspects of his immense talent: a nice touch around the rim, the ability to go coast-to-coast with the ball in transition, make excellent defensive reads that will lead to lots of steals and quick scores, return favors (he made a nice alley-oop pass to Ball), and swish home a three-pointer.
Obviously, most of us bore witness to Zion’s repertoire while watching the Duke Blue Devils on tv last season, but it’s different to see Williamson’s enthusiasm and personality up close and in person.
Towards the end of the scrimmage, it was apparent Zion was slightly winded, as were many of the players, but after missing consecutive high degree of difficulty dunks, Zion plopped himself on down amongst the fans on the sidelines. The crowd erupted in approval as he stayed in a front row seat for a few seconds to catch his breath.
This is Zion, and boy is he a breath of fresh air inside the Smoothie King Center.
The ever bubbly, hulk of a man is still largely a kid on the inside. Williamson’s competitive juices and level of focus are apparent on every possession, but you damn better believe that megawatt smile of his is just waiting to be unfurled after every fun moment.
Of course, there were many other happy positives to emerge from Saturday’s action.
- Jrue Holiday’s defensive intensity remained top-notch as he forced numerous steals early, but the team’s captain deferred to his new cast of teammates on the other end.
- Lonzo Ball is the passer this team needs, but his shot may take a little time to find its groove. From our vantage point, his first three-pointer resembled last year’s jumper, but a second attempt looked more akin to the new form evidenced in training camp.
- You leave JJ Redick open and he’s going to make you pay, pure and simple. E’Twaun Moore was on the mark, too.
- Brandon Ingram, who will spend time as a secondary ball-handler behind Lonzo and alongside Zion and Jrue, looked quite fluid, stroking a few pull-up jumpers and not resembling a guy who hadn’t touched a basketball for nearly the last half year.
- Kenrich Williams and Nicolo Melli were aggressive in looking for their offense and these were both good developments. Considering Melli’s likely role, he is going to need to shoot the rock when open, and as for Kenrich, it’s great that he’s trying to show there may be more to his game, justifying his spot on the roster.
- Frank Jackson, Zylan Cheatham and Jalen Adams all posted a highlight or two.
- Derrick Favors was the only non-participant due to tightness in a hamstring; however, Trajan Langdon informed media that there should be no concern moving forward.
- Nickeil Alexander-Walker showed off a good touch from the perimeter, sinking at least a couple of threes, but it was his theatrics after the scrimmage that had everyone talking.
Not that long ago, open practices were a highly irrelevant event, but we’ve come far in just a few short years. Jrue Holiday and Brandon Ingram’s blue team dominated the action early, but Lonzo Ball and Zion Williamson’s white team wound up the 81-78 winners. There were loads of highlights, entertaining interactions with the crowd, one priceless karaoke performance, and we left the arena with seemingly a promise of something special ahead.
The 2019-20 season may not result in a playoff trip, but it’s abundantly clear that the core of this roster is something that the city of New Orleans is already behind and with millions of good reasons.