Zion Williamson has continued the stellar start to his NBA career by matching a statistical feat last accomplished by Michael Jordan.
Williamson scored a career-high 32 points in the New Orleans Pelicans’ 123-118 loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder, his second consecutive 30-point performance.
In doing so, the 2019 No 1 overall pick became the first rookie since Michael Jordan to post eight 20-plus-point performance in his first 10 NBA games.
In addition, Williamson added his name to an illustrious list of former No 1 picks to achieve the feat, becoming the eighth player to do so. The elite scoring club includes NBA legends Elvin Hayes, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Oscar Robertson among others.
From @EliasSports: There have been 7 No. 1 overall picks to produce 8 or more 20-point games within their first 10 career games — Elvin Hayes (10), Ralph Sampson, David Thompson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Walt Bellamy, Oscar Robertson and, now, Zion Williamson (8).
— Andrew Lopez (@_Andrew_Lopez) February 14, 2020
His cumulative points total through 10 games of 221 has only been bettered twice in the last 30 years, by Hall of Famers Shaquille O’Neal (238 in 1992-93) and Allen Iverson (224 in 1996-97).
Zion Williamson is now over 200 points (and counting) through 10 career games…
Over the last 30 seasons, the only former No. 1 picks to score 200 points within their first 10 career games are Hall of Famers Shaquille O’Neal (238 in 1992-93) and Allen Iverson (224 in 1996-97). pic.twitter.com/kDPrJec0nu
— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) February 14, 2020
For much of the game, Williamson delighted the crowd on both ends of the floor. He rejected Abdel Nader’s floater in the paint with a volleyball-style spike out of play. His dunks included one on a put-back and another on an alley-oop feed from Frank Jackson.
However, the veteran savvy of Danilo Gallinari and Chris Paul helped Oklahoma City withstand Williamson’s stirring performance.
Gallinari scored 11 of his 29 points in the fourth quarter and Paul supplied 14 points and 12 assists as the Thunder recorded their 33rd win of the season.
“Down the stretch, that is when we feel like we’re at our best,” Paul said. “It was Gallo tonight. He was killer.”
After Lonzo Ball’s corner three gave the Pelicans a 111-110 lead, Gallinari hit a fall-away in the paint and followed up by rattling in a three. He added free throws and a left-wing pull-up in the final minutes, the last making it 121-115 with 30 seconds left.
“They just have a way of hanging in games and closing them,” Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry said. “They made plays down the stretch and we just didn’t.”
Both teams shot better than 48 per cent, but New Orleans were done in by 17 turnovers that the Thunder converted into 24 points. Oklahoma City committed just nine turnovers.
“With a leader like Chris Paul, he is facilitating their offense and they were hitting shots, and we just had self-inflicted turnovers,” said Williamson, who committed three himself.
Asked after the game about the factors behind his improving offensive effectiveness, Williamson said: “My ability to get to the free-throw line. I am just going to keep going in there in drawing as much attention as I can. When I do that, I have open kick-outs. For me, it is about just trying to make the right plays on the offensive end.”
Williamson had his most successful night at the free throw line to date, making 11-of-14 from the charity stripe. But he was not content with that return.
“At the moment it is not so satisfying because if I had made every free throw the game possibly would have had a different feel to it at the end, but there has been improvement (overall),” he said.