ATLANTA – It took less than two minutes for “Reverend” Zion Williamson to baptize his first non-believer.
The poor individual who had his raptured soul snatched was Damian Jones. I have no idea why the seven-footer thought it would be a good idea to jump.
But, he did.
I’m guessing it wasn’t what Jones had in mind when he was traded away from the Golden State Warriors to the Hawks a few months back, but Jones managed to get put on a poster by Williamson seconds into his first game.
After converting on an and-1 in the lane for the New Orleans Pelicans first points of the night, Williamson followed that up with the tomahawk over Jones after he slashed down the lane, fulfilling the wishes of everyone in attendance at State Farm Arena, as the Pelicans won 133-109.
As nasty as it might have been on TV, it was even better in person.
“I just saw the lane open up,” explained Williamson. “In high school and college you have to go up strong, so I went up strong and I was able to finish.”
With Williamson as the No. 1 overall pick in last summer’s draft and Atlanta’s De’Andre Hunter going three spots later at No. 4, the former ACC foes scored the first points for their respective teams.
While Hunter’s was textbook Virginia Cavalier basketball, with a solid pump-fake followed by a mid-range jumper, Williamson’s opening 5 points were louder.
“It was a lot of fun. First NBA game. And the first one of hopefully many. I’m glad to get that one under my belt,” said Williamson after the game to a mob of reporters outside the Pelicans locker room.
With an 82-game season, preseason often feels like glorified pick up. Monday night’s game featured 49 combined turnovers, as most coaches are weeks away from putting in some of their signature plays and sets.
“There were some things we did extremely well, and other things that we gotta spend time working on,” said Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry. “Offensively we moved the ball and did a pretty good job. Our goal was to try to get up 40 3’s, and we did that. We have to be a little more selective in the ones that we shoot.”
The Pelicans shot 17-45 (37.8%) from deep. Williamson was 0-2, in case anybody was wondering.
The Hawks eclipsed the 40-mark for 3-pointers as well, as they connected on 14 of 41 (34.1%) attempts from deep.
Both teams are young, long, talented, like to push the tempo, play positionless basketball, and love to chuck it from three. So if you’re a fan that embraces what the future of basketball will look like, Monday night was just for you.
“They (Hawks) have a lot of good young talent here. Obviously, they’ve got some guys that can shoot it. They’ve got good size, also,” said Gentry.
But back to Zion. If you were wondering, he finished with three dunks on the night and 16 points, 7 rebounds, 3 assists and 3 steals in 28 minutes in his first game since going one-and-done in the Summer League.
“I don’t think dunking would have just got me here,” he said. “I feel like I had to be somewhat of a good basketball player to get here. So whenever I get a chance to showcase my other abilities, I try.”
Jrue Holiday led the way for New Orleans with 21 points, which made him the game’s high-scorer. Brandon Ingram, Nicolo Melli, Jahlil Okafor, and Nickeil Alexander-Walker also scored in double figures.
DeAndre’ Bembry was the high-point man for the Hawks with 16. He was joined by Hunter, John Collins, Alex Len, Jabari Parker, Charlie Brown Jr. and Cam Reddish in double figures.
With much of the hype focusing around Williamson, Reddish was the other lottery pick from Duke that got to showcase his game after being limited during the offseason. A core muscle injury kept Reddish out all summer, but he came off the bench to score 11 points, connecting on 3-of-4 from deep.
“I’m waiting for him to get off his minutes restriction so he can play a little bit more,” said Trae Young regarding Reddish. “He can really shoot the ball and make plays.”
Young only scored 9 points on Monday, but collected 11 assists and one of the best highlights of the night during the second quarter. Young caught JJ Redick with a nutmeg as he raced up the sideline, freezing the 13-year veteran in his tracks while Young cruised in for a layup.
With young, flashy players making up the core of both teams, the Pelicans and Hawks are going to be fun to watch all season long.