Welcome to "One Possession!" Throughout the 2019-20 NBA season, our NBA.com Staff will break down certain possessions from certain games and peel back the curtains to reveal its bigger meaning.
Today, Zion Williamson takes the spotlight.
Context: In case you haven't heard, Williamson made his NBA debut on Thursday. He got a lot of attention for what he did in the fourth quarter, but he flashed his superstar potential in more subtle ways in the first three quarters.
The possession: Here is one of the subtle ways that Williamson flashed his superstar potential:
I know, he turned the ball over, but stick with me for a minute...
Breakdown: The five Pelicans on the court are Williamson, Lonzo Ball, Jrue Holiday, Brandon Ingram and Derrick Favors.
The possession begins with Williamson setting a screen for Ball while Holiday and Ingram spot-up on the 3-point line and Favors makes his way to the weakside corner.
Favors can't space the floor in the same way Holiday and Ingram are - he's shooting 5-for-21 (23.8 percent) outside of the paint on the season - but he's one of the league's leading scorers off of cuts. According to NBA.com, he's generated over a quarter of his offence on those possessions this season and ranks in the 45th percentile with 1.25 points per possession.
Even though he's not much of a shooter, Favors knows how to make himself available when his defender helps off of him.
Although he doesn't make contact with Ball's defender on the screen, Williamson rolls to the basket when he sees his defender, Trey Lyles, hedge to prevent Ball from turning the corner.
Williamson receives a pass from Ball around the elbow and takes one dribble towards the paint, drawing not one, not two, but three defenders in the process.
First, Lyles recovers to Williamson.
DeRozan then helps off of Ingram on the right wing and Aldridge helps off of Favors on the right corner.
The passes available to Williamson should be obvious. Either he can kick it out to Ingram for a 3-pointer or Favors for a layup.
Unfortunately for the New Orleans Pelicans, Williamson makes the wrong read and throws the ball out of bounds for his first turnover of the game.
Why it matters: Look, I'm not going to tell you that Williamson played well in the first three quarters of his debut - he had almost as many turnovers (four) as points (five) and didn't look anything like the players who dominated preseason - but this is one of the possessions that stood out to me even when he was struggling because of the amount of attention he draws.
Spacing is a word that has grown in popularity over the last few years, mostly because of Golden State Warriors superstar Stephen Curry. With how deadly of a shooter he is, it's not unusual to see Curry draw the attention of multiple defenders when he's running a pick-and-roll or sprinting full speed around a screen, freeing his teammates up for easy scoring opportunities.
This is an example of Williamson's gravity. It's different from Curry's for obvious reasons - Curry is arguably the greatest shooter in NBA history while Williamson's shooting is the biggest question mark in his game - but he's such a dominant scorer in the paint that teams have to throw more than one defender at him to keep him away from the basket. Williamson hadn't even scored yet at that point of the game, but the Spurs are well aware of what he's capable after he scored 22 points on 8-for-11 shooting from the field against them in a preseason game.
MORE: What we learned from Zion's preseason
The next step is for Williamson to make the right read, but that'll come. He's already proven to be a solid passer and this one has "I'm still learning who my teammates are and where they like to get the ball" written all over it.
Williamson had a similar possession in the second quarter of the same game, for what it's worth. He once again drew three defenders in the paint, only this time he got called for a charge.
Forget for a second that it resulted in another turnover. Focus instead on how wide open Nickeil Alexander-Walker is in the right corner.
That's pretty crazy considering Williamson is a 19-year-old rooking playing in the first game of his career.
The fact that he failed to make the correct pass on both of those possessions shows that he still has a lot of developing to do - which is to be expected for someone his age - but the signs of Williamson's superstar potential are already crystal clear.
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