For the next 10 days, we’ll be answering one key question surrounding the 2021-22 NBA season. Here’s question seven:
What does Zion Williamson need to do to get to the next level in year three?
The phrase “the next level” is a little scary with this guy, since he’s already performing — offensively, at least — at a level few ever have known. Williamson averaged 27.0 points, 7.2 rebounds and 3.7 assists per game, while making 61.1% of his shots. So what if so many of them came from the restricted area? What, he’s supposed to pull up when no one is stopping his bull rushes to the rim? No other player in league history has averaged 27 or more while making 60% plus and yes, this time such a claim includes Wilt Chamberlain.
Williamson’s numbers were even better over the Pelicans’ final 52 games: 28.5 ppg, 4.3 apg and 62.3% shooting. Not bad for a guy who only has played 85 games in his NBA career. This officially will be his third season but by appearances, it’s the equivalent of Year 2.
The 6-foot-7, 284-pound uncategorizable performer will be heeding instructions from his third coach in that short time, with Willie Green taking over for Stan Van Gundy and, before him, Alvin Gentry. That’s not ideal for a young guy, beyond some exposure to various styles, and the lack of continuity around Williamson extends beyond coaching. Teammates have come and gone at a hectic pace, and now three of the four teammates who played the most minutes around Williamson last season — Eric Bledsoe, Lonzo Ball and Steven Adams — are gone, too.
New Orleans might run its offense through Williamson and Brandon Ingram, which might mesh best with newcomer Jonas Valanciunas down low. But Zion’s most ripe areas for improvement are on defense, where he needs to stay locked in for a change, and by having his gaudy numbers translate to winning. The Pelicans are 40-45 in his 85 games, a rate that won’t even get them a Play-In Tournament spot.
Next question: How hard will it be for the Hawks to top last season’s success?
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Steve Aschburner has written about the NBA since 1980. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter.
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