At the start of his second season, a quick survey of surveyors confirmed to Zion Williamson why excitement has haunted him since his early teens.

If he thinks you’re going to the basket, you’re done. He’s already one of the top scorers in the league on the inside, a scout said.

He gets an offensive bounce, for example B. if he allows a break because he has one of the best second jumpers you’ve ever seen, and he goes back, said another.

He’s a selfless player who really seems to care about the good stuff, a third to put it bluntly.

Williamson averaged 22 points and eight rebounds and reached 56%. These are staggering numbers for a 20-year-old who also does at least one thing most nights that causes a sensation on social media.

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But a young player in the league rarely drives a winner. With 33 games in his professional career, Williamson is no exception to the rule. In most cases, no. And here the underlying reality with Williamson has already manifested itself: He has to take the leap.

This should not be considered trivial, it is part of the odyssey, even for the best players. But it’s also a reality.

That’s a big part of the job description for Stan Van Gundy, coach of the New Orleans Pelicans, who must find a way to give Williamson a chance to develop by trying to instill better habits. Van Gundy is trying to make the Pelicans the first defensive team, something Alvin Gentry’s quick style clearly didn’t do last season, and that affects Williamson.

I think we gave him a pretty good belt, Mr. Van Gundy said. In fact, I don’t think he took advantage of everything we gave him.

Van Gundy reduced turnovers and increased the phenom’s playing time in year two, something Williamson was grateful for after playing with several restrictions last season due to knee injuries. But he hasn’t yet managed to flourish with that playing time.

Williamson builds on what he already knows how to do – his ability to score in the paint, his raw power and his tremendous ability to jump to create space are elite qualities – but his offensive game needs some fine-tuning.

Error! The file name is not specified. Zion Williamson has had his shot blocked 23 times this season, mostly in the NBA. Lane Murdock Jr./NBAE via Getty Images

We want him to take the ball out of the glass, throw it and break it quickly – an example, Mr Van Gundy said. We’d like to give him a lot of freedom.

Williamson has not developed any rider that can be used for a service. He has only taken three shots outside of 15 feet this season. That sounds good, as his 16.8 point mammoth, his first average of the season in the paint, puts him in range of rookie Shaquille O’Neal. But this support has its drawbacks.

He will probably always be a high percentage shooter; most of his shots are arm’s length from the rim. But in the fourth quarter, his shots were a bit predictable. Williamson made a ridiculous 64.3% in the third quarter of this young season. But in the fourth, as the clock ticks down and the opponent pushes for a decision, the figure drops to 46.7%.

It’s still very good. And he’s scored some crucial baskets for the Pelicans this season. But this lock is the result of the difficulty of scoring near the basket at the end of the game. And while Williamson is often the best jumper on the ground, he is also often the smallest player in the game at 6 feet.

His shot was blocked 23 times this season, which is an NBA record. Since his debut in January, his shot has been blocked 62 times – also the most in the league. You may remember his career debut, when Williamson scored four triple points in a triumphant fourth quarter. He’s only done two since then.

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Williamson may never be a shooter, or shouldn’t be, but he needs some variables. His free throws, which he has worked hard on with his beloved assistant coach Fred Vinson, still need improvement. After an encouraging preseason, it stands at 62% from the line so far, which is slightly lower than last year.

And then the defense.

This is where the responsibility lies, Van Gundy said.

The Hall of Famers who were weak defenders. Over the past decade, shooting and rhythm have led to a common perception of defense. There are many stars that do not excel in this area.

But this is where Williamson’s inexperience is most evident. He is still learning the technique, is often overwhelmed and has trouble getting over it. New teammate Steven Adams helps the Pelicans defend and rebound, but he often plays in the middle next to the second-best corner in the franchise. Williamson generally has to deal with faster but more important players.

Error! The file name is not specified. Williamson has yet to have success on the edge this season. Lane Murdock Jr./NBAE via Getty Images.

When these opponents are kickers – often in a league where forward stretching is the norm – Williamson must play defense and then fall back to the 3-point line, leaving him a step or two behind. Although he has lost weight since last summer, Williamson is lethargic. And in a top league and a heavyweight role league, his defensive positioning sometimes lets him go unnoticed.

This is a break from one of Williamson’s seasons at Duke, where his athleticism regularly gave him a lot of effort on defense. For the Blue Devils, of which there are many key pieces, he averages 1.8 blocks and 2.1 flights per game. He had a few games where he showed his quick hands and picked up a few flights from the Pelicans, the challenges on the quick shots are largely gone. So far, he has just 13 blocks in his NBA career. It is not known if this is due to a knee injury and being overweight.

Van Gundy intercepted Williamson on several occasions on late possessions or overtime for defensive reasons.

The veteran coach laments the lack of pre-season – and now post-season – drills to develop good habits. It’s probably Van Gundy’s main talking point at the beginning of the season. And with COVID-19 protocols limiting contact, not in the near future.

It’s probably the first time in Zion’s life that he’s actually been trained at this level of defense, one of the scouts said. You can see that Stan is working, but it will take a while.

Time is on Williamson’s side. At the beginning of Giannis Antetokounmpo’s career, when he had raw athleticism, there was a lot of video footage. Stephen Curry’s defense was not good early in his career. Other examples are available.

Most of the things Williamson does well cannot be taught, which is why he was the first choice. His action is a purchase and a conservation, no questions asked. But he is also only at the beginning of the journey.

 

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