zion williamson cement pelicans place atop west

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Doubt Zion Williamson at your own peril.

The precocious forward, who missed the 2021-22 season due to injury, is back stronger than ever.

One of his more exhilarating sequences came on Nov. 30 against the Toronto Raptors.

After the Raptors threatened to make the game interesting, Williamson made sure the headline wasn’t a Toronto comeback but his own exceptional play. He had a double-clutch dunk, a steal, and a layup in a span of 13 seconds:

Williamson ranks 20th in points per game (23.9 points). Among players in the top 20, he averages the fewest minutes (32.1).

His defensive improvement is the biggest revelation. Among players averaging at least 30 minutes per game, he’s in a class with known defensive standouts Jrue Holiday, Brook Lopez, Joel Embiid, and Giannis Antetokounmpo in defensive rating. He’s tied with Embiid for the fourth-best rating (104.2), one spot ahead of Antetokounmpo (104.7). (h/t NBA.com)

On offense, he’s showing increased court awareness with great passing and by focusing on what he does best. He isn’t a three-point threat and doesn’t need to be when he’s so effective from close range.

Per NBA.com, 92.5 percent of his field goal attempts come from shots less than 10 feet from the basket. He’s shooting 62.2 percent on those attempts. Data from NBA.com shows a quarter of his attempts come off zero dribbles and a majority (27.1 percent) come off three to six dribbles. Whether it is teammates finding him, or he’s getting there himself, Williamson is in the right spot.

Over the weekend, New Orleans (16-8) will play the Phoenix Suns (16-9) twice at home for Western Conference bragging rights. 

The Pelicans have won five straight. 

Williamson’s start to the season has shut down concerns about rust he may have accumulated not playing last year. 

The next step in Williamson’s evolution will be for him to lead the Pelicans to a top seed in the Western Conference and playoff success. 

We’ll find out this weekend if New Orleans is up for the challenge.

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