NBA

Zion Williamson backed to continue shining after dazzling NBA debut

By Sports Desk January 23, 2020

Alvin Gentry and Jrue Holiday believe there is even more to come from Zion Williamson after his impressive NBA debut for the New Orleans Pelicans.

The number one overall draft pick belatedly made his regular-season bow following knee surgery, scoring 22 points - including 17 in a stunning fourth-quarter stretch - in the 121-117 defeat to the San Antonio Spurs.

Williamson made each of his four three-pointers following a slow start, and head coach Gentry quickly saw progress in his game.

"I think you'll see that in him," Gentry said. "It's his first NBA game, but I think the third time he went out there he was much more comfortable, much more aggressive.

"He found out that everybody makes mistakes and he just continued to play through them. I think, for him, it was just a relief to have one game under his belt.

"And now all of this goes away: first game, first game, first game. Now he can just play and get himself in a situation where he can continue to learn and continue to grow."

Gentry saw evidence of Williamson's "really, really high ceiling" but had to take the 19-year-old out of the game with more than five minutes left on doctors' orders.

"It was going to be a learning experience either way - if he played well, if he didn't play well," the coach said.

"I think the big thing is that he was much more aggressive during that situation. We talked at half-time, as I thought he was deferring way too much and I wanted him to be aggressive.

"I knew that he would make some mistakes, but I think what you saw there is a taste of what [is to come]. Once we get settled in and he gets settled in, there are a lot of things that we can do with him.

"There's a lot of potential there. It was good to see him do that. But I think there's a really, really high ceiling that he can reach. We'll just continue on, continue to practice.

"And no, he couldn't go back in the game. So don't go there. The medical people said that was it.

"We've got to be smart about it. I'm pretty sure Sean [Payton, New Orleans Saints coach] wouldn't take Drew Brees out in that situation. But we've got to be smart about it.

"We have to look long term and not one game, short term, and put him out there extended minutes. We were not going to do that in any situation.

"I think he made his point and he will continue to get better. But we can't sacrifice his whole future for one short-term thing."

Team-mate Holiday is certainly excited about what is to come, appearing alongside Williamson at a post-game news conference and interrupting one question to explain there is no return to "normal" when it comes to the teenager.

"This is going to be normal for him," Holiday said. "The way he plays, this is something he could do every day.

"We're here to help him and obviously for him to contribute to us and help us out, too. But with him being back, he's waited a long time for this and he's really excited to play - speaking for Zion."

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    Zion Williamson insisted he is not worried about pipping Ja Morant to the Rookie of the Year award as his chief concern is helping the New Orleans Pelicans reach the playoffs.

    A knee injury delayed Williamson's much-anticipated debut in the NBA regular season by three months, during which time Morant assumed the role of the league's outstanding rookie.

    Morant, picked second, directly behind Williamson in the 2019 NBA Draft, has led the Memphis Grizzlies to a 28-26 record and the eighth seed in the Western Conference at the All-Star break.

    And it is a top-eight finish with the 11th-placed Pels that is motivating Williamson, who delivered back-to-back 30-point games prior to the interval to enhance his own Rookie of the Year case.

    "Honestly, it's not even up to me," Williamson told ESPN of the Rookie of the Year race.

    "I'm just playing and trying to get a playoff spot for my team.

    "If I win it, it's nice, but if not, it's fine. It just comes with the game.

    "I do want it but if I don't get it I'm not worried because I did miss half the season.

    "Ja's been playing incredible so he has earned it."

    Williamson's outstanding performances in high school and college meant he was the most hyped prospect to enter the league since LeBron James in 2003.

    Pelicans executive vice president of basketball operations David Griffin tried to temper expectations back in June when he said New Orleans were "Jrue Holiday's team" and Williamson must not be considered "the saviour of this franchise".

    Yet Williamson has quickly established himself as the centrepiece of New Orleans' team, a fact that has taken him aback too.

    "I think the thing that has surprised me the most is how much my team-mates look to me to try and make an impact," the 19-year-old added.

    "I'm a rookie and I thought they would let me feel the game out before they started giving me the ball but, no, they trust in me."

  • Warriors and Kerr never considered shutting down Curry for remainder of season Warriors and Kerr never considered shutting down Curry for remainder of season

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    "Over these last nine months, I have given my all to this organisation, but after much reflection, I have decided that it is best that I step back and resign from my position as head coach of the Cleveland Cavaliers and assist the organisation in a different capacity," said Beilein, who spent the previous 12 seasons as coach of Michigan.

    "I am very grateful to Dan Gilbert, Koby Altman and the entire Cavaliers organisation for the opportunity they have provided me.

    "This was a very difficult decision for me, but I want to be clear – this was my decision to step down and I truly appreciate the understanding and support of the front office during this time. I find losing very challenging and this year has taken a much bigger toll on me than I expected.

    "I grew concerned for the consequences this toll could potentially take on my own health and my family's well-being down the road. I was not certain I could be at my best for the remainder of the season and in the future. That would not be fair to the players, coaches and support staff.

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    "For 45 years and more than 1,300 games, my journey as a basketball coach has been a dream come true. I have never been afraid of a challenge and have given each one my all – sometimes to the detriment of my own well-being. I want to thank my wife, Kathleen, for being by my side and I appreciate the outpouring of support from family, friends, and colleagues during this time. I look forward to being able to spend more time with my wife, kids and grandchildren over the coming months."

    Cavs general manager Koby Altman added: "John Beilein is one of the more accomplished basketball coaches in the history of our game and while it's unexpected, we understand and respect his decision to step down as head coach of the Cavaliers.

    "I was excited about the development of our young players, who have all shown growth and maturity under coach Beilein. We are thankful for the time he spent as head coach with the Cavaliers and are looking forward to his continued contribution.

    "The NBA is a unique business that sometimes requires aggressive risk-taking on important long-term decisions to move a franchise forward and ultimately compete for championships. I would like to thank the incredible fans of the Cavaliers for their support in both good and challenging times. Building a strong culture will continue to be the top priority here at the Cavaliers."

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