March 30, 2023

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Zion Williamson saves the Pelicans with a unique greatness. “I’ve never seen anything like it”

New Orleans – Most of the time NBA The greats establish the qualities that make them better than everyone else early in their careers. They all bring one skill or physical trait that separates them from the pack. Michael Jordan W LeBron James He had mathematical gifts once in a generation. Kobe Bryant and Stephen Curry They were unstoppable shooters. Luka Doncic And Larry Bird is a basketball expert who can spot any defense.

Zion Williamson Not quite like any of them or anyone else. But his path to greatness was beginning to seem as undeniable as it was to them.

Williamson’s stunning performance in the Pelicans’ 119-118 win over… Timberwolves Wednesday night epitomizes what makes it different than anything NBA fans have ever seen. He finished with a career high 43 points (33 in the second half) on 14-of-21 shooting. He scored the final 14 points of the night for the Bills as they battled for the lead away from Minnesota late on. He has also gone 14 of 19 from the free throw line.

While these numbers are good, they don’t quite capture his special night. It often seemed like he was playing a different sport than everyone else on Earth.

“He plays football, we play basketball,” the Minnesota guard said Angelo Russell he said after the match. We cannot touch or guard it. So, good for him.”

Russell intended this as an insult to the crew in charge from Wednesday Night – and possibly to Zion himself. Indeed, Russell gave an accurate description of what sets Zion apart from other great offensive players historically.

He has a range of physical traits rarely seen in someone his size: strength, speed, explosiveness, touch, and body control. But what makes him so different is his tireless approach as a scorer. He plays basketball the way Marshawn Lynch previously described his playing style on the football field: He hits you over and over again and over again) until it wears out. If the defense tries to build a wall, Zion will pass through. If they tried to build a bigger wall, he’d put a bigger hole in it.

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When Zion touches the ball, the other nine people on the field know what he wants to do. Everyone in the arena knows. However, it is still difficult to stop.

That was the case again on Wednesday night. affiliate Of the 21 shots attempted against Minnesota, 20 came in the paint Only two of them walked out of the restricted area. This while going against the Timberwolves center Rudy GoubertThree-time Defensive Player of the Year and one of the best frame guards of his generation. Williamson treated him as if he was just another obstacle in his way.

“I’ve never seen anything like it. I’ve played with different kinds of players – scorers, guys who score in a variety of ways. But never one who dominates the paint,” his teammate CJ McCollum He said. “Everything is based on a drive to paint. … the ability to make the right plays, the ability to tackle and move the way he does. Fluidity in his movements but also body control in the jumps. I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything like that. I don’t think we’ll do it.” .

Most of the great scorers add counters to their games to keep defenses honest. Dominant players paint Giannis Antikonmo or Ja Morant Throw in a jump shot or two to give the defense a different look – or at least give themselves a break.

Williamson, on the other hand, never takes his foot off the pedal. He wants to go straight to the defender and get to the edge every chance he gets. Of his 422 field goal attempts this season, 396 have been in the paint. This while getting a double or triple team practically every time he touches the ball.

But he doesn’t control smaller players on the post like Shaquille O’Neal. He handles the ball on the perimeter like a point guard. Defenses can place multiple bodies in his path and prepare for his approach. They still couldn’t stay in front of him.

Williamson’s constant downhill pressure on defensemen is rare in players, even those with innings smaller than him. He averaged 30.2 points, 7.6 rebounds, and 5.8 assists in December. He held the Pelican Orb while fighting among a horde of corpses that few others should see as constantly as he does, and he managed it with ease.

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Wednesday was a special night for Williamson in part because it was the first time he had reached the 40-point mark in his career. Moreover, it was a prime example of his growth as akin to high-pressure moments.

In his third season, Williamson’s understanding of game time and what his team needs from him in the big moments has improved dramatically. As he got older, his teammates gained more confidence in his ability to control the offense as things got tighter. Every late game possession went through Williamson on Wednesday, as he grabbed 14 straight points in the final three minutes as the lead went back and forth.

“Get the ball to Z and get out of the way,” McCollum said when asked to describe the team’s plan late in the game.

Absence Brandon Ingram, still suffering from a toe injury, gave Williamson more opportunities to control the attack in high pressure moments. Williamson has maximized those chances, scoring 37 points so far in December in games that have been within five points in the final five minutes, second only to DeMar DeRozan (48) Points in the “Clutch” this month. Finding balance between Williamson and Ingram in late-game situations will be critical once the roster is healthy.

The hope is that Williamson will become more difficult to slow down late in games as his decision-making and court vision improve. Teams will have no choice but to send multiple bodies their way, providing easier looks for Ingram, McCollum, and shooters like Trey Murphy.

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“I want to win. I can’t sit here and always say I want to win,” Williamson said. “It was just one of those things where my coaches and my teammates were like, ‘Hey, go to work.

Zion has also been more confident in other parts of his game lately. His career tally of 14 points in the fourth quarter began on two free throws and a three-pointer, which have long been considered two of his weakest offensive skills. All three came with 2:17 left in the game and swans five late. Without that bucket, there’s a good chance Minnesota State will end up dropping out.

Then, there was the play when he broke out to steal a pass with 41 seconds left before throwing a huge dunk to give New Orleans the lead. The same player who had some great defensive struggles earlier this year came up with the biggest game of the game.

Williamson’s amazing offensive production of late has been the crowd’s biggest highlight. But his gradual improvement in all areas that will be tested in higher-impact games—his ability to take over late games, his shooting, his defense—are more tangible signs of progress on his journey to greatness.

“I think that’s the process of Z maturing, along with the other guys. They’ll continue to add more to their games as they get experience in the league,” said Bills coach Willie Green. “Tonight, he played a balanced game. He dominated where he was needed at both ends of the earth.”

(Photo: Sean Gardner/Getty Images)