Zion Williams may not be quite as tall as billed.
He still soared in his first NBA preseason game Monday night.
Showing off the high-flying talents that made him one of the most anticipated rookies in years, Williamson turned in a ferocious slam less than 2 minutes into his debut with the New Orleans Pelicans and dunked it two more times before the first half was done against the Atlanta Hawks.
It was quite the close-range repertoire.
One with the right hand.
One with the left hand.
One with both hands.
Williams finished the first half with 11 points, five rebounds and two assists, helping the Pelicans to a 75-61 lead over the Hawks before a much larger crowd than what normally be expected in Atlanta for an exhibition between two teams that failed to make the playoffs last season.
Of course, the score was irrelevant. This was chance to see the future of the NBA for the first time — not counting his brief stint in the Las Vegas Summer League — and Williamson did not disappoint, though he’s not close to being a finished product after just one college season at Duke.
Just 62 seconds into the game, he took a pass from Lonzo Ball on the pick-and-roll and banked one in while drawing the foul from John Collins. Williamson knocked down the free throw and — voila — he had his first three-point play. A small section of the crowd chanted “Overrated!” but their hearts weren’t really in it.
Williamson was still listed at 6-foot-7 on the Pelicans roster, though he reportedly measured an inch shorter without shoes as part of the league’s push to accurately measure everyone in the league this season.
Whatever the case, he turned Hawks 7-footer Damian Jones into the first of what will likely be an abundance of poster victims with his next basket.
Sizing up the Hawks from beyond the 3-point arc, Williamson suddenly burst toward the hoop, split a pair of defenders and dunked over the taller Jones with a fearsome right hand that left the fans gasping.
A couple of minutes later, Williamson delivered a two-handed slam off another pass from Ball, a tantalizing display from the young duo. In the second quarter, it was a left-handed dunk set up by a dish from Kenrich Williams as the Hawks defense wisely scrambled out of the way.
Before the game, the past and future came together.
Williamson lingered at midcourt during warmups, clearly eager for a chance to pay his respects to the NBA’s senior citizen. Atlanta’s 42-year-old Vince Carter, preparing for his record 22nd — and final — season, came over to say a few words to the 19-year-old phenom, pulling him in close to make sure he could hear it all.
After the introductions and the national anthem, Williamson took the court with his new team, a franchise that was rocked by Anthony Davis’ trade demand but quickly recovered by landing the first overall pick in the draft lottery.
Davis was dealt to the Los Angeles Lakers for a haul that included Ball and Brandon Ingram — both of whom joined the teenager in a Pelicans starting lineup that also included Jrue Holiday and Derrick Favors.
The rebuilding teams featured four of the top 10 picks in this year’s draft.
The Hawks sent out No. 5 pick De’Andre Hunter as part of their starting lineup, and brought 10th selection Cam Reddish off the bench. The Pelicans also have No. 8 choice Jaxson Hayes, though he didn’t play in the first half.
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