Now that the NBA rookie wunderkind is back on the court for the New Orleans Pelicans after a pre-season meniscus injury, tongues are wagging. Can Zion Williamson beat out Ja Morant for Rookie of the Year? And what exactly are his thoughts on the accolade?
Until his return to the Pelicans in late January 2020, the conversation centered on Morant, with the New York Knicks’ RJ Barrett and Miami Heat’s Kendrick Nunn in the conversation, too.
Zion Williamson is back
The big man highlighted his thunderous return in late January 2020 with a showstopping 17 points in three minutes (12 of the points from behind the arc). Williamson dropped 22 points in 18 minutes and was perfect from the distance.
This performance alone is enough to hail the return of a newer and possibly better Williamson, but there’s more. He’s logging nearly 20 points a game, as well as eight rebounds and a few assists in about 27 minutes per game. So why wouldn’t he be in the hunt for Rookie of the Year?
Williamson is laid back about Rookie of the Year
Rachel Nichols asked Williamson about the Rookie of the Year chatter during a recent interview with ESPN. His response was remarkably zen. The kid is only 19 but has a maturity far beyond his years.
The power forward smiled and said, yeah, it would be nice, but he’s focused on helping the team make the playoffs, and he did already miss half the season. Then, Williamson said that Morant is playing incredibly and has earned the title.
Nichols asked Williamson if he had ever considered redshirting his rookie year. But Williamson’s a pro and didn’t take the bait. He responded that he wants to play basketball and help his team out, and he’s not that interested in awards. The Pelicans are in decent shape to make it to the playoffs this year, fighting with Morant’s Grizzlies for the last spot in the Southwest Division.
What’s clear is that Williamson is a player’s player; he’s not in the game for recognition and awards. The year he spent at Duke taught him that you’re only as good as the rest of your team and contributing is more important than being a superstar.
Williamson’s philosophy is confirmed in New Orleans, where he’s the best player on an already pretty good team. He seems content right now with his limited minutes, showing off a killer jump shot and landing like a butterfly instead of an elephant.
Is he really in contention?
It’s a good thing Williamson is focused on the Pelicans and playoffs more than Rookie of the Year. The NBA rewards season-long consistency over a blowout half-season.
Look back to the 2016-17 season when Joel Embiid was unquestionably the best first-year guy. The problem was, he only played 31 games and lost the award to a far-distant second Malcolm Brogdon. This season, Embiid is averaging over 24 points per game, while Brogdon caps out at 13, so the loss of the award probably doesn’t keep him up at night.
Morant is hitting 49% of his shots and 34.5% from behind the arc. Barring injury, he shows no signs of a mid- or late-season slump. Williamson’s numbers are stellar given his minutes played, but it’s still more of an uphill climb for him to be the official Rookie of the Year.
More awards are on the horizon for Williamson
Williamson doesn’t really care if he’s the Rookie of the Year, he’s focused on winning games rather than awards. If he stays healthy, he’s got a shelf full of Player of the Year and MVP trophies in his future.
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