Zion Williamson more than just ‘decent’ in Pelicans return

NEW YORK — Despite reward from his teammates and trainer, Zion Williamson referred to as his regular-season return to the New Orleans Pelicans on Wednesday night time just a “decent starter performance.”

“It’s a lot of room for improvement,” he mentioned. “I’m still learning my teammates. Now we get real in-game reps. I’m just excited to grow.”

The numbers instructed some distance more than just respectable. He accrued 25 issues, 9 rebounds and 4 steals in the 130-108 wire-to-wire Pelicans win over the Brooklyn Nets at Barclays Center.

It was once an effort hailed via his personal crew — or even the opposition.

Pelicans trainer Willie Green mentioned it was once like Williamson “didn’t miss a beat.” Brandon Ingram mentioned he merely “picked up where he left off.”

And Nets ahead Kevin Durant was once amongst the ones now not shocked.

“He looked healthy to me, he looked good,” Durant mentioned. “Got up 22 shots, nine rebounds, 25 points. At this point it’s just typical for him.”

Williamson mentioned it was once a “breath of fresh air” to get again at the ground after lacking the 2021-22 steady season on account of a damaged foot. He mentioned that all the way through warm-ups he may just inform he ignored the attract of being in an away area and famous that after the beginning lineups have been introduced it was once any other second when he in the end felt like issues have been returning to standard.

Williamson was once 11-of-22 from the sphere, with all 11 of his baskets coming from within the paint. In 86 occupation video games, Williamson has had a minimum of 20 issues in the paint in 45 of the ones appearances, consistent with ESPN Stats & Information analysis. Despite the time ignored, the one participant with more video games with 20 or more issues in the paint because the starting of the 2019-20 season is Giannis Antetokounmpo (74).

It was once the primary time Williamson performed with lots of his new Pelicans teammates after now not taking part in in a regular-season sport since May 4, 2021. In reality, of the avid gamers who noticed motion towards the Nets, most effective Ingram and Naji Marshall had performed in a regular-season sport with Williamson ahead of.

And on account of minor accidents to Williamson, Ingram and McCollum, the Pelicans by no means were given to look their beginning 5 in the preseason.

“This is probably the first time we played together for more than 20 minutes, including practices,” McCollum mentioned. “So it was nice to see us gel, It was nice to see us find shots and rhythm.”

Ingram had a team-high 28 issues with seven rebounds and 5 assists. McCollum had 21 issues and 6 of the Pelicans’ 31 assists.

Green has all the time emphasised ball motion, however with 3 avid gamers who can dominate the field ranking the way in which Williamson, Ingram and McCollum do, he is wired it even more this season. According to Williamson, it is helping that each one 3 avid gamers have the similar function in thoughts.

“I said it before in interviews and I wasn’t just saying it because it sounded good, I said it because I meant it,” he mentioned. “All three of us run unselfish and we all have the same goal, and that’s to win. And when you want to win, you put aside personal goals or personal things. Whatever I got to do, whatever they got to do to win, that’s what we all going to do.”

Ingram mentioned the sport was once a “good start” for the 3 and believes it’ll be more uncomplicated for them at the offensive finish transferring ahead.

“When you have smart players and talent out there, it’s easier to go out there and just play the game,” he mentioned. “It was good to see a lot of one-on-ones that they couldn’t be in a lot of help on the defensive end where we had shooters and we had different guys that can make players on the basketball floor.”

Despite the scoring effort, Williamson did admit he was once nonetheless knocking off slightly of rust.

“Yeah, there are some shots where I’m like, ‘Well that’s good’ and when it rolls out I’m like, ‘No way.’ But my teammates are there for me,” Williamson mentioned. “They just tell me to stay aggressive, keep attacking and just be myself. So I mean, they’re in my corner so my confidence is going to stay high.”

There was once a bit of bit more rust at the different bench Wednesday as Ben Simmons made his regular-season Nets debut after now not taking part in remaining season for Philadelphia or Brooklyn. He performed 23 mins towards the Pelicans and completed with 4 issues, 5 rebounds and 5 assists whilst fouling out of the sport.

“I just think he’s rusty,” Brooklyn trainer Steve Nash mentioned. “The guy hasn’t played in over a year. He’s still getting used to referees, defense, offense. This is a process for Ben. I’ve said it a lot, you guys have heard me say it. He’s shown obvious glimpses of the player we know he is and can be, but it’s not easy. We’re here to support him, we’re here to coach him up and try to get him to a place where he can play at the level he’s played at in the past.”

Added Simmons: “So much going on — I think I was just too excited, honestly. But it was just great to be out there. As a first game obviously you want to win but we know the reasons we lost. It was multiple reasons we lost and those are things we can fix. We know that’s not us as a team. I think there’s a lot of jitters out there early on, but it was good to get that one out of the way.”

ESPN’s Nick Friedell contributed to this tale.

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