The Zion Williamson introductory tour will make it to San Francisco for the first time when the rookie sensation leads the visiting New Orleans Pelicans up against the Golden State Warriors on Sunday night.
The game matches a team that earned the first pick in the last NBA draft, which resulted in the Pelicans’ selection of Williamson, against a Warriors squad that currently has the fewest wins in the league this season and could be selecting first this summer.
After missing the first 44 dates of his rookie season with a right knee injury, Williamson has played in 11 games, including first-ever NBA visits to Cleveland, Houston, Chicago and Portland. He sat out the game at Indiana.
Williamson has been impressive as a must-see visitor, contributing an average of 20.3 points on 61.8-percent shooting to help give the Pelicans three wins in the four road games.
After losing Williamson’s first two games, when he was limited to 21 or fewer minutes, the Pelicans have won seven of 10 to make themselves a contender for a Western Conference playoff spot.
“The thing with him is he just fits in,” Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry said to reporters after Friday’s 128-115 win at Portland, a game in which Williamson went for 25 points. “It’s not like we call a ton of plays for him. Our guys do a good job of finding him within the flow of the offense.
“Obviously, we like any matchup when he has the ball on the block. The smaller guys, he can just back them down. The bigger guys, he just faces up. His first step is as good as anybody’s as far as getting around them. And he’s unselfish.”
Williamson has scored at least 20 points in each of his last seven games. At age 19, he is the youngest player to have such a streak since Carmelo Anthony in 2004.
The Pelicans will be facing the Warriors for the fourth and final time this season in a series that began back on Oct. 28, when Golden State still had Stephen Curry (26 points) in the lineup.
The Warriors won that game 134-123 in New Orleans, and have since split the other two matchups, assuring them of at least a tie in the season series.
Golden State won’t have Curry (broken hand) or D’Angelo Russell (traded to Minnesota) for Williamson’s visit. Russell had 25 points in a 106-102 Warriors home win over the Pelicans in December.
The Warriors will, however, have Andrew Wiggins, acquired in the Russell trade to Minnesota earlier this month, and that’s not necessarily good news for the Pelicans.
Wiggins had a 27-point effort for the Timberwolves against New Orleans this season, and has burned the Pelicans for 20 or more points in 13 of his 20 career head-to-heads.
Now the Pelicans will be seeing Wiggins on his 25th birthday, a celebration he has yet to enjoy at home in his NBA career.
The Warriors have no wins in four games since Wiggins joined the team. They’ve lost five straight overall, while Wiggins has been on the losing end of his last 17 games dating back to his time with the Timberwolves.
He’s averaged 22.8 points on 57.9-percent shooting since joining the Warriors and has impressed new coach Steve Kerr.
“People have said he’s overrated for a couple of years, and he’s become underrated,” Kerr insisted to reporters before Friday’s 135-105 home loss to Houston. “You look at what he does, you look at his size, you look at how he defends … he’s a darn good NBA player.”
–Field Level Media