All stats as of March 5, 2020.
Zion Williamson only has 17 games on his NBA resumé but he's put the NBA on notice. After becoming the most viral high school hooper of all-time and winning National College Player of the Year during his lone season at Duke, Zion was drafted first-overall by the New Orleans Pelicans during the 2019 draft.
Expectations were sky-high, as they should've been. Zion's six-foot-six, 285-pound frame glides through the air with ease for thunderous dunks. He can rip the ball out of defenders hands, leading to a second-chance opportunity or defensive rebound. While Zion's not a great outside shooter, he makes up for it with his dominance near or at the basket (62.7% within five feet). Nobody thought Zion was going to be bad but who would've thought he'd be this great so soon?
During the preseason Zion gave a glimpse of what was to come. In four appearances, Zion averaged 23.3 points (71.4% from the field), 6.5 rebounds, 2.3 assists, and 1.5 steals in 27 minutes a night. His reputation as a human highlight reel translated perfectly to the NBA. Zion's status as favorite for Rookie of the Year was set in stone until it was announced that he'd suffered a torn meniscus, effectively placing his rookie campaign on hold.
New Orleans was cautious with Zion's rehab, reminding the media that they were going to take as long as necessary in order to ensure Zion's healthy return. After acquiring Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, and Josh Hart from the Los Angeles Lakers in the Anthony Davis trade, the Pelicans had a young core loaded with potential. A fully healthy Zion could immediately impact their success. Since making his NBA debut on January 22, Zion's done just that, getting the Pelicans within five games of the eighth-seed in the Western Conference.
Zion entered the league on fire and hasn't cooled down. In fact, he's only gotten hotter. He's currently averaging 24 points (58.2% from the field), 6.8 rebounds, 2.2 assists, and nearly a steal in 30 minutes a night. Zion's Player Efficiency Rating is 24.8, 13th-highest in the league. It's a small sample size but Zion is already one of the most efficient players in the NBA.
Before Zion's debut, the playoffs seemed unlikely. Brandon Ingram blossomed into an All-Star but New Orleans struggled in the tough Western Conference. Zion has given the Pelicans a much-needed second star (not to diminish Jrue Holiday's value) and in-turn has helped Lonzo Ball flourish. Ball, who thrives more as a pass-first guard, has found the perfect partner to toss full-court passes and lobs to. As they continue to develop on-court chemistry, the duo will prove to be among the most formidable in the league.
New Orleans is 8-9 when Zion plays and while that might not seem like the best record, it put the Pelicans in the playoff race. Currently sitting at 26-36, New Orleans is the 12th-seed and are five games back of the final playoff spot. After losing their last three games they've found themselves in now-or-never mode. With 20 games remaining on their schedule, their hopes are still alive.
Zion has all the accolades to run away with Rookie of the Year. The current favorite is Ja Morant, Zion's former AAU teammate and the second pick of the 2019 draft. Ja has led the Memphis Grizzlies to the eighth-seed in the West when most pegged them to be a lottery team. His stats are a bit lower than Zion's (17.6-3.5-7.0) but his rookie campaign has been unbelievable. Much like Zion, Morant's electrifying college play has perfectly transitioned to the NBA.
While Morant has been the best rookie this season, Zion has been among the league's top players (again, small sample size). What's going to hurt Zion's chances of winning Rookie of the Year is the number of games played. He'll only be able to at-most play 37 games this year, compared to Morant's 76. Rookie of the Year is usually rewarded to the rookie who averages the most points per game but Zion's odds are almost-zero with the amount of time he's missed. Similarly, Joel Embiid was by-far the best rookie during the 2016-17 season but only played 31 games, losing the award to Malcolm Brogdon.
Ja has proven he's apart of the NBA's long-term future. Within a few seasons he'll be an All-Star with Russell Westbrook-esque stats. But for now, Zion should be named Rookie of the Year. His impact on the court can't be ignored and his efficiency sets him ahead of his fellow rookies. Over his last 10 games alone he's averaging almost 28 points on 58.5% shooting. Two of those games were against the Lakers; he dropped 30-plus in both. If he were to have started the season, Zion would've been an All-Star.
Zion is fearless and he's going to be one of the NBA's best for a long time. His rookie year might be short but his influence is evident. Zion is clearly the league's best rookie and for the first time since Patrick Ewing, games played might not be a detriment.