Rookie Watch: How Pelicans Will Use Zion Williamson

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Zion Williamson, the first overall pick of the 2019 NBA Draft is a Pelican and is creating hype around the league.

The High-School Phenom Highflyer has been generating a new wave since the Pelicans recent divorce with Superstar PF/C Anthony Davis. The obvious trade of the summer between the Lakers and Pelicans set the narrative for both teams. The Lakers are a win-now team building their roster for the championship run with ageing superstar LeBron James. Meanwhile, the Pelicans are building for the future and are looking to contend in the Western Conference for years to come.

With the brand new core group of players and landing the first and fourth pick of the 2019 NBA Draft, David Griffin (Pelicans GM) went to work on building the core right away to form around the potential generational talent: Zion Williamson

After being Drafted, Griffin and Head Coach Alvin Gentry had nothing but praise for their selection:

With the 2019-20 Season right around the corner, we will analyze how Alvin Gentry will implement Zion in his system and compare him to a former Pelican (now a Knick) to show how effective he can be in his rookie campaign.

Julius Randle and Williamson are probably the closest in terms of playstyle, body types and the fact that they are both left hand dominant. It’s obvious from eye test that Zion is more athletic and explosive but that doesn’t mean Gentry isn’t gonna put him in the same situation as Randle. Zion comes in at 6-foot-7 and 285 pounds. While Randle is taller he is a bit lighter at 250 pounds.

Here are the many ways Gentry can use Zion to his maximum potential, just as he did with Randle’s breakout season:

1. Attacking the Right High Post Area

Without Anthony Davis for most of the year, the Pelicans relied on Julius Randle for scoring and he delivered almost every night. He averaged 21.4 PPG, 8.7 RPG and 3.3 APG with a 27.3 percent in Usage Rating which was 37th In NBA and 2nd on his team (really first due to Anthony Davis’ Injury and not playing for most of the season)

One of the ways he was used was through the high post area, specifically on the right side elbow. Randle operated on the right side and was able to isolate against his matchup. Randle’s ability to use his unorthodox dribbling and finishing with his left hand, using his strength and size to power through his matchup or using his spin move to get around quickly and score.

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Same can be applied for Zion as we see here from his freshman season with Duke. Even though Coach K didn’t run much high post action for Zion but whenever he did, he was very effective. You can see why Zion would attack the same way in Gentry’s system, Zion with a similar frame could do the same as Randle and have the same way off finishing around the basket as Randle. Zion can finish with both hands and can access the basket in many ways using his size, speed, creative finishing, and footwork.

This action can help Zion get points against his matchup and create opportunities in the Pelicans’ Offense to have him Isolate and create for himself.

 

2.  Attack In Transition

Randle not only did his work off the catch in the high post but also while trailing in transition and even bringing the ball up on the fast break.

In this example, Randle attacks right away on the catch in transition and puts his head down and attacks using size and speed. In Zion’s case, he runs full speed and gallops gather to catch and attack. Again, being faster and able to have more control, Zion can barge through defenses with ease and will be a special talent on the break

According to BBallBreakdown, NBA.com/stats and Synergy Stats

Pelicans were 8th in Transition Frequency but almost dead last (29) in the NBA in terms of Transition Efficiency.  With the addition of Lonzo, Ingram and other key addition this rating will go up but also with Zion and his special ability to finish in traffic, create ways of scoring and bully his way into fouls.  This will create a lot of opportunities for him to create for others as well and will make for very exciting basketball to come for NOLA.

3. Bringing the Ball Up Court

The Pelicans created a lot of actions with Randle using either brush screens(screens to create space to attack) or handoffs PnR’s. (Pelicans were 14th in the League in handoff percentage).

Being middle of the pack in the category due to running a lot of PnR’s, in general, starting with the guards instead of the big man doing handoffs. However, they ranked 12th in field goal percentage when doing handoffs.

Here, Randle uses brush screens to drive and create opportunities to score. He also set up the play by being the ball-handler and setup handoffs, He would usually have the middle of the lane to drive to score or set up teammates after the catch on the PnR. In this case, Zion can do the same and even have shown in college to make plays for his teammates.

 

4. PNR Finisher/RimRunner/Low Post Scorer

The final way Gentry can make Zion effective is him just coming off PNR as the screener and scoring using floor spacing. In today’s NBA, small-ball offense is the rave and having speed and versatility is key. Zion’s size can place him as a center and he can score from dump-off passes and lobs around the rim. Pelicans used Randle at center at times and made defenses pay using his size and speed on PnR.

Randle also forces mismatches on defensive switches by running down in the low post as well. Using his frame and skill set against guards and smaller wings in the low block is almost a no contest. Zion can do the same and be creative around the rim to score on the low block.

The Pelicans’ roster is a tricky but fun roster to look at but looking at it, it’s fun, exciting and should make the causal NBA fan root for them for the up and coming season.

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