The New Orleans Pelicans fell to the San Antonio Spurs 121-117, but rookie Zion Williamson put the NBA world on notice with an electrifying regular season debut.

Williamson, the top pick in last year’s NBA draft and the most anticipated prospect in years, had been sidelined by a torn meniscus suffered in the preseason. Williamson was already transitioning his game to the NBA well, as he was the 4th-leading scorer in the preseason.

While no specific minutes restriction was discussed, it was obvious Alvin Gentry and the Pelicans staff would be looking to ease the rookie on to the court. In the first quarter, he played about four minutes before coming out. He looked passive, and passed the ball almost immediately every time it came his way. He would get his first assist and first bucket, as well as his first turnover, in these opening minutes.

The second and third quarters followed similar routines, with Zion tallying 5 points heading into the fourth quarter.

The Pelicans trailed 99-91 with 9 minutes to play, but then Williamson caught fire.

After receiving a pass from Lonzo Ball, Williamson stepped in to and nailed a wide-open three-pointer. The New Orleans crowd went wild for the rookie’s first NBA triple. But he was far from done there.

On the Pelicans next offensive possession, Ball found Williamson again, this time on an alley-oop tip in. And then on the next trip down, Ball fed Williamson again for another open three-pointer.

Coach Alvin Gentry had to send potential subs for Zion back to the bench, as he simply couldn’t take out the red-hot rookie.

After getting another quick feed, Williamson attacked the paint on the Pelicans next possession. His first shot missed, but he gobbled up the offensive rebound to open a 10-point personal run for New Orleans offense.

On the Pelicans next trip down the floor… it’s starting to sound like a broken record. Point guard Lonzo Ball took the ball up the court two more times, feeding Williamson clean looks at three-pointers each time. And the rookie nailed them with confidence.

On this 16-point run, Zion hadn’t missed a shot, connecting on 4-of-4 three-point attempts and 2-of-2 attempts in the paint. Williamson would add his 17th point at the free throw line, connecting on one of two foul attempts.

Williamson’s incredible run over the span of just three minutes gave the Pelicans a momentary lead, and they trailed 111-108 when Zion exited the game with 5:23 left.

In his NBA debut, Williamson tallied 22 points, 7 rebounds, and 3 assists. He shot an efficient 8-of-11 from the field, as well as 4-4 from deep.

His 17-point personal run for the Pelicans offense turned an otherwise forgettable first game into one for the history books. 22 points was the most ever by a rookie in his Pelicans debut.

New Orleans would go on to lose 121-117, but its apparent that having Williamson on the court will translate to wins far sooner than later.

The Pelicans are 17-28, 12th in the Western Conference, but just 4.0 games out of the playoff picture with plenty of basketball left to play. Could Williamson spark a playoff push in the second half of the season?

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Header photo: Gerald Herbert/Associated Press

 

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