Zion Williamson is going to be a “bigger, better version of himself” when he finally makes his 20129-20 season debut for the New Orleans Pelicans on Jan. 22.
That was the scouting report from Pelicans general manager David Griffin last week as the news broke that the No. 1 overall pick from last June’s draft will soon be making his long-awaited debut.
Williamson has been recovering from knee surgery that he underwent Oct. 21 after getting off to an exciting start during the preseason. By the time he returns, 13 weeks will have passed, and the Pelicans will be more than halfway through with their season.
One would think that would knock Williamson out of the Rookie of the Year race, but that is not the case.
Still on the betting board
DraftKings Sportsbook is listing Williamson as the fourth choice to win the award at +1800, behind prohibitive favorite Ja Morant (-500). R.J. Barrett of the Knicks and Kendrick Nunn of the Heat are both +1200.
Oddsmakers over at PointsBet are more optimistic, listing Williamson as the second favorite at +700 odds as of Thursday.
The moment Williamson steps onto the court and plays a minute, he will be eligible for award consideration, an NBA spokesman said.
So let’s face it, the kid is going to have to move mountains to overtake Morant, who is averaging 18 points and 6.9 assists for the Grizzlies, who currently sit in eighth place in the Western Conference and would be going to the playoffs if the season ended today.
Zion’s debut, which was originally anticipated in December, will be the highlight of the season in New Orleans.
“While he would have liked to have played already, he was very grateful we were going to put a target on it because I don’t think he gets asked anything by anybody anymore other than ‘When are you going to play?'” Griffin told reporters in New Orleans. “I think just ending that is probably a blessing.”
“Yesterday, the work Zion did was as good as I’ve seen to this point — better than he was in the preseason,” Griffin said.
That is a noteworthy comment, because Williamson was outstanding in the preseason, making 35 of 49 shots in four games, including a 12-for-13 game against Chicago. Those performances made him the Rookie of the Year favorite at every online sportsbook. But then the injury happened, and the wait has been twice as long as originally expected.
Too late to catch Morant?
Suffice to say that Williamson is going to have to do extraordinary things to overtake Morant, because voters are going to discount his candidacy because of the number of games he has missed.
But the kid was the No. 1 pick in the draft for a reason, and players with his level of talent can do extraordinary things. And that is why rookies such as Tyler Herro (+2500), Rui Hachimura (+5000), Michael Porter Jr. (+6600) and Sekou Doumbouya (+10000) are looking up at Williamson on the odds board instead of looking down on him.
That being said, Williamson is more than capable.
“It’s probably been at least a couple of months since we had anything come in on Zion, who we have up at 20-to-1,” said Jeff Sherman, head oddsmaker at the Westgate Superbook in Las Vegas. “Nobody has really stepped up to challenge Ja Morant, and it’ll probably take an MVP caliber performance for anyone to knock Morant out of the award.”
So let’s examine at the players listed above Williamson on the odds board and have a look at what they’ve done:
Ja Morant: Hey, the Grizzlies are a playoff team! Isn’t that enough? If not, consider the fact that Morant has six double-doubles, and in January he is averaging more than 20 points and 9 assists — the latter of which would put him second in the entire NBA if it was his season average. Rookie wall? What rookie wall. The kid from Murray State is getting better as the season moves along.
Kendrick Nunn: The rookie point guard dropped a season-high 33 on the San Antonio Spurs after picking up his Rookie of the Month trophy, and we all know who the most surprising team in the East is … the team with the 19-1 home record that is tied with Denver and Utah for the third-best record in the entire NBA. Generally, voters do not take a team’s record into consideration when casting their Rookie of the Year ballots. But this year may be different given the successes of both Miami and Memphis, and that will not auger well for Williamson … although it will for this first-year guard.
R.J. Barrett: In New York, he is about the only thing that Knicks fans have to get excited about aside from Andre Drummond trade rumors.The Knicks are going to blow up their roster again this summer, if not sooner, and if there was one player that is guaranteed to survive the purge it would be Barrett. Not that it will earn him any Rookie of the Year votes, but those will come naturally (probably a bunch of third-place votes) given the decent season he is having.
So does Williamson really have a chance? Hey, if the kid starts dropping 40s over the second half of the season, nothing is beyond the realm of possibility. That, as they say, is why they play the games.