For three quarters, Zion Williamson looked like a normal dude. The overall No. 1 pick made his NBA debut for the New Orleans Pelicans on Wednesday against the San Antonio Spurs, and rust was to be expected. The rookie underwent knee surgery after dominating preseason and sat out the first 44 games of the regular season. The Pelicans had announced they would only feature him in short bursts to get him back into shape, and Williamson played like someone coming off a 111-day hiatus during the first three of those staccato stints. Then the fourth quarter came, and Zion spewed lava all over the dang gym.
Williamson scored 17 straight points for New Orleans in a blistering 3-minute-and-8 second span. He went 4-4 on 3-pointers during that stretch and single-handedly gave New Orleans its first lead since the opening quarter. After a rough start to the game (5 points, 5 turnovers), he clicked his heels and transformed into a Zion-sized Steph Curry.
Coming out of Duke, there wasn’t a clear NBA comparison for the 6-foot-6, 285-pound forward. He played like a Sherman tank with trampolines for treads and his talent was undeniable, but there were still some questions about his shooting ability (and whether or not that would even matter for him in the pros). The Spurs may have heard those questions, which would explain why they left Zion unguarded behind the arc in the fourth quarter. Open or not, he had never made more than three 3-pointers in a college game, but on Wednesday Williamson became the first player to go 4-4 or better from deep in his NBA debut.
Zion’s magic was only allowed to go on for about as long as an average pop single. New Orleans coach Alvin Gentry had strict orders from the medical staff to limit Williamson’s playing time and benched the rookie shortly after he scored his 17th point of the quarter. New Orleans let its narrow lead slip without its sharpshooting Godzilla and San Antonio crawled back to claim a 121–117 win.
We can appreciate Zion’s impressive debut (22 points, 7 rebounds, and 3 assists in 18 minutes) for bringing us a little NBA excitement during the January doldrums, but it would be foolish to forecast a player’s career after just one game. What we can do, though, is extrapolate Zion’s performance in the fourth quarter over an entire game and then extend those numbers to a full season. That’s the opposite of foolish—it’s analytics, baby!
Zion Williamson in 3 minutes and 8 seconds: 17 points.
Zion Williamson in 36 minutes (normal NBA starters’ minutes): about 197 points per game.
Zion Williamson in 48 minutes (a full NBA game, which, let’s be honest, he should be playing anyway): about 263 points per game.
Please note that it is late and I’m too tired to check my math. Just know that Zion Williamson is a lock to average a few hundred points a game over his NBA career so long as his team is willing to keep him on the floor. Seems like a no-brainer.