2019 No. 1 overall pick Zion Williamson has taken the basketball world by storm and he has yet to play in his first NBA game.
Will he have a 40-point game this season? Is he the runaway favourite to win Rookie of the Year? Can he lead New Orleans to the postseason? Our NBA.com staff decided to play Fact or Fiction as we anxiously await the rookie's debut on Oct. 22 against the defending champs.
Zion will outscore Pascal Siakam on opening night.
Gilbert McGregor (@GMcGregor21): Fiction. We're going to see a performance from Siakam that's reminiscent of Game 1 of the NBA Finals. Zion, on the other hand, will have a solid night, but I see him falling victim to foul trouble or first-game jitters.
Micah Adams (@MicahAdams13): LOL. Fact. Of course he will. Look, I love Siakam and think he's going to average in the low 20s this year. But one game into his career, we'll look back at Zion's debut against the Raptors in the same way we look back at LeBron's debut against the Kings.
Scott Rafferty (@crabdribbles): Fiction. With Kawhi Leonard no longer on the Toronto Raptors, Siakam could very easily go for 25-plus points on opening night. Williamson has the talent to do the same, but I think it's more likely Siakam outscores him for reasons Gil mentioned.
Zion will average more points per game than RJ Barrett.
McGregor: Fact. Off of the strength of the Pelicans having more compatible pieces for Zion than the Knicks do for Barrett, I see Williamson having more opportunities in better spots that will allow him to average around 20 points per game.
Adams: Fact. While there's certainly no shortage of bucket getters in New Orleans (Brandon Ingram, Jrue Holiday, and JJ Redick to name a few), Zion's efficiency - more on that in a minute - will rule the day over Barrett who could play some offensive tug-of-war with Dennis Smith Jr.
Rafferty: Fact. The Knicks are loaded with ball dominant players next season, to the point where I'm not sure Barrett will get the opportunities he'd need to average more points than Zion.
Zion will make the All-Star team.
McGregor: Fiction. Since he can't get in on fan voting alone, I think the enormous amount of frontcourt talent in the Western Conference will keep the 19-year-old out of the February exhibition.
Adams: Fiction. No rookie has made it since Blake Griffin in 2010-11. No teenager has ever made it. LeBron James, Anthony Davis, Nikola Jokic, Kawhi Leonard, Paul George, Karl-Anthony Towns, Rudy Gobert, LaMarcus Aldridge, a healthy Kristaps Porzingis … making it in the West as a frontcourt player is BRUTAL. If it's any consolation, if it was solely based on the fan vote, he'd get in.
Rafferty: Fiction. As Micah noted, Williamson plays a pretty loaded position in the Western Conference. Talented as he may be, it's hard to see him getting the nod over one or two of those players.
Zion will have a 40-point game.
McGregor: Fact. Why not? He'll run the floor well, he's got willing passers to set him up and is extremely efficient. I can see it happening on a night where he's got everything going for him.
Adams: Fact. Trae Young and Grayson Allen had 40-point games last year. Donovan Mitchell had two of them the year before. Dropping 40 as a rookie isn't some impossible feat, especially given Williamson's remarkable finishing ability not to mention the fact that Alvin Gentry's teams love to run and up the pace which means more possessions and opportunities to hit that benchmark.
Rafferty: Fact. He's going to be a matchup nightmare for most teams from Day 1, so I could see him bulldozing his way to 40 at some point next season.
Zion will set the rookie record for field goal percentage.
McGregor: Fiction. Steve Johnson's 61.3% from the 1981-82 season just seems like one of those figures that will never be met, though I do see Zion hovering around 60.0%.
Adams: Fact. He shot 68% at Duke including 75% on twos. Yes, finishing over NBA players is a much different animal. But he also won't be finishing in crowded lanes with collapsed zone defenses and 2-3 help defenders coming from all directions. More than any other question here, this one feels like a lock. He's going to annihilate that record.
Rafferty: Fiction. Look at the list of players who shot over 60% from the field last season. The list is filled almost entirely with 7-footers who score on pick-and-rolls and putbacks. With how much more versatile Zion is as a scorer, it's going to be tough for him to shoot that well on decent volume.
Zion will shoot a better percentage from 3 than Giannis Antetokounmpo.
McGregor: Fact. Not only do I think Zion will be encouraged to shoot 3-pointers, I think the encouragement will be what boosts his confidence from the perimeter. He shot 33.8% at Duke, I can see him doing something similar in New Orleans.
Adams: Fact. From January 1 onwards, Williamson shot 39.6 percent from beyond the 3-point line. Over that same span, he shot it significantly better than both RJ Barrett (30.4%) and Cam Reddish (32.2), the latter of whom was considered one of the best shooters in the draft. He's only going to take wide-open looks while Antetokounmpo - who only converted 25.6 percent last season - will likely start taking more of them off the bounce. Shooting is far from a strength for Williamson, but he'll be willing and able to knock down open shots at a reasonable clip.
Rafferty: Fiction. I think Giannis will shoot better from deep next season and it's going to be tough for Zion to shoot 33.8% from an extended 3-point line. I'll give Giannis the slight edge.
Zion will lead the league in dunks.
McGregor: Fiction. Zion will dunk at a pretty impressive rate, but last year's dunks leader finished with 306. That's a figure I don't see Williamson reaching in Year 1.
Adams: Fiction. Let's say he's good for 7-8 made shots a game (by comparison, Julius Randle averaged 7.8 last year in New Orleans). Let's say 40% of them are dunks which is probably on the high end. That's about 3 per game which even if he plays all 82, gets him to 246. Rudy Gobert led the league with 306 last season. Williamson's offensive game is diversified enough that I'm not sure he'll need to rely on dunking and only dunking. This one feels like a tall order.
Rafferty: Fiction. It could happen one day, just not next season.
Zion will unanimously win Rookie of the Year.
McGregor: Fact. The top three from this year's draft is pretty talented, so it's no disrespect to them, but I think the impact that Williamson stands to make will result in his receiving all of the first-place votes.
Adams: Fact. Ja Morant and Barrett will both put up big numbers but likely won't come close to winning as many games as the Pelicans. Rookie of the Year won't be a debate by the end of the season.
Rafferty: Fact. Zion will become the fourth player this century to do so, joining Blake Griffin, Damian Lillard and Karl-Anthony Towns.
Zion will lead the Pelicans in scoring.
McGregor: Fiction. While it will be close, I think Jrue Holiday, who averaged 21.2 points per game last season, will definitely lead New Orleans in scoring this upcoming season.
Adams: Fact. Jrue Holiday (21.2), Brandon Ingram (18.3) and JJ Redick (18.1) all had relatively prolific scoring seasons last year so it's not as if there's a lack of competition. I think Williamson's efficiency and ability to score in other ways (put-backs, in transition, etc.) will lead him to the neighborhood of 22-23 a game.
Rafferty: Fiction. Like Gil, I think Holiday will lead the Pelicans in scoring. I could see Brandon Ingram averaging more than Zion due to how much he'll likely have the ball in his hands, too.
Zion will lead the Pelicans to the playoffs.
McGregor: Fiction. With the amount of talent in the Western Conference, the Pelicans just aren't there yet. Nearly every playoff team from 2019 got better and the Lakers are a team that missed that will certainly make it as well. With just eight spots, I think New Orleans is another season away.
Adams: Fact. In case you can't tell, I'm all-in on Zion. I get it … the West is an absolute bloodbath. Fact of the matter is, there are teams assumed right now to be locks that are most certainly not locks. The Pelicans have scoring, they have high level defenders and I honestly believe that the duo of Williamson and Holiday will be good enough from Day 1 to lead New Orleans back to the playoffs. Sign me up right now for Lakers-Pelicans in the 1st Round.
Rafferty: Fiction. I like this Pelicans team a lot, but it's going to be tough for them to make the playoffs next season. I think they're more likely to do it in 2020-21 after they've had a year to figure everything out, from what Zion's role is to what their rotation looks like.
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