When Pelicans rookie Zion Williamson cleared quarantine and returned to practice this week after an apologized absence from the team, perhaps no one was as excited to see him as Lonzo Ball.
“We are happy to have him back,” Ball told reporters on Tuesday. “He’s putting our team at full strength. We’re a lot better with him than without him. Just to have him back to start.” [seeding] games are great for us. “
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Ball is right, of course. In 19 NBA games prior to the interruption of the game, Williamson averaged 23.6 points, 6.8 rebounds, and 2.2 assists per game, shooting nearly 59 percent of the field. When he lay on the ground, the pelicans did a net rating of plus-10.4. When he sat, that number dropped to minus-3.5.
Yes, that’s a small sample size of less than 600 minutes, but Williamson’s initial impact went beyond the numbers. His presence alone can change the complexion of a game, and Ball understands that idea better than anyone on the team.
The Pels’ new dynamic duo have already built a strong relationship on the pitch, one capable of taking fans off their seats in seconds – and there’s no better example of that element than Lonzo’s lobs to Zion during a match March 8 against the Timberwolves.
In a span of about a minute of playtime, Ball Williamson found twice outside the halfway lane with fine alleys.
Often grabbing a rebound or outlet pass, Ball is already looking for Williamson before his body is completely turned to the edge. He is one of the best players in the league in terms of production points with speed.
“Honestly, sometimes I don’t even think he’ll throw it,” Williamson said after the victory over the Timberwolves. “But then he just throws it. I’m like, “Okay, I’m going to try to make it. “… He’s setting up a perfect spot and I can just get it. “
But it is not only the spectacular plays that illustrate their chemistry. Ball already understands how defenses approach Williamson and he is not afraid to improvise.
In the game below, Williamson explains how Ball recognizes that the defender is jumping for the game. Ball swings a pass to Williamson, who tears the ball’s baseline and ends with an inverted layout.
Although extremely early in his professional career, Williamson also seems to be keenly aware of the “Zion Effect”. He knows defenders plan to jump when he starts to drive towards the paint, and he’s a willing passer-by.
“He makes my game very easy, frankly” Ball said in March. “Whether it’s pick-and-roll, or throwing the ball over there to get it. He needs a lot of offensive attention, so he frees up a lot of open shots for other guys, including myself.”
New Orleans faces a challenging road to the 2020 NBA playoffs as the Pelicans are 3 1/2 games behind the Grizzlies with eight “seeding games” left. They may be able to force a play-in prior to the first round, but other Western Conference teams are also in discussion, including the suddenly healthy Trail Blazers.
But even if the Pels don’t reach post season this year, they can find comfort knowing that Williamson, 20, and Ball, 22, are just scratching the surface of their joint.
“It’s just natural, really. [Williamson is] a different kind of talent, ” Ball said on JJ Redick’s podcast in April. “I’ve never really played with a man like him before. He’s a great addition to my game. I’m just happy to be with him.”