Zion Williamson

Dale Zanine - USA TODAY Sports

Let's Dance

Pelicans #1 pick Zion Williamson makes his long-awaited debut tonight

Mark Menard
January 22, 2020 - 1:48 pm

The time is now. The place is here. And all of NOLA is filled with cheer.

Look, I only invoke classic Run-DMC Christmas raps when I'm really pumped, and today measures up. If you're a New Orleans hoops fan, this is the day you've been waiting for. It came about three months later than we expected, but sometimes the anticipation just makes the arrival sweeter.

Tonight in the Smoothie King Center, the New Orleans Pelicans' rookie sensation Zion Williamson will make his official debut.

We all know the story by now, but here's the Cliffs' Notes on the new face of the Pelicans franchise:

Phenomenal freshman season with the Duke Blue Devils

Rocket-ride to the top of draft boards as the most exciting player of the 2018-19 college basketball season

Such a force on the court that he exploded a shoe

ACC Rookie and Player of the Year

Put up 26 PPG in the NCAA basketball tournament

Taken #1 overall by the Pelicans in the 2019 NBA Draft

Averaged over 23 PPG playing 27 minutes a night in four Pelicans preseason games

Shot 71 percent from the field in those four games

Then in mid-October, just before the season opener, Williamson had surgery to repair a torn meniscus and has spent the last three months not just rehabbing but relearning certain things like how to run and land in ways that put less pressure on his joints.

In the long-term, those adjustments could pay huge dividends for the longevity of a player whose body type/athleticism combination is unlike any we've ever seen in basketball. In the short-term, they don't seem to have taken anything away from the way he plays.

Of course, that's speculation based on what we've seen of him in drills during practice and pregame shootarounds. But the time for speculation thankfully ends tonight.

Here's the reality of the situation. The Pelicans are a team almost completely remade from a year ago, mostly with a wealth of wildly-talented but very young players. They went through some early season growing pains that were at times ugly to watch and discouraging. But they grew and developed and adjusted, and they've hit their stride just in time to welcome in a player who could be one of the most exciting rookies the Association has ever seen.

And in a stroke of good luck, the Western Conference playoff race did not leave the Pelicans in the dust during their rough patch. The Pelicans sit in 12th place in the West, and the top eight make the postseason. But they trail the #8 Memphis Grizzlies by just 3 1/2 games with almost half a season to play, and since bottoming out at 6-22, they've gone 11-5.

In Williamson's absence, players like Brandon Ingram and Lonzo Ball were given space to develop in ways that perhaps seemed unfathomable in their prior lives as Los Angeles Lakers. It's not a pipe dream to imagine this Pelicans team hitting the turbo button now that the Zion Era will finally get underway.

Thirty-eight games remain, and a team already surging back into the playoff picture from the brink of irrelevancy is about to drop the living, breathing personification of excitement into its lineup. What do you say, New Orleans? Let's dance.

The New Orleans Pelicans host the San Antonio Spurs in the Smoothie King Center tonight at 8:30pm.

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