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The Tip Off – January 22, 2020 (ZION DAY) NBA Basketball Recap

Miss your NBA fix last night? In three minutes or less, TDC’s The Tip Off gives you the brief NBA rundown of the standout stat lines, exciting finishes and some rarities that went down on the NBA hardwood last night. On a busy evening where you miss the live action and/or the scintillating thrill of NBA Twitter scrolling, we have done the work for you and compiled notable lines and events.

Spend three minutes reading this every day to keep up with the Association and have enough knowledge and nuggets to be in the loop with casual fans as well as the ability to toss out a few specific stats and oddities an avid fan may have missed.

B-ball Date: 1/22/2020 as reported by Aram Hanessian, video by Jerin Varghese

In honor of probably the most anticipated debut since LeBron, I thought I’d change it up a little, so below you’ll find a Tip-Off dedicated to Zion and some research into the debut’s of other #1 picks over the last 25 years. 

Honor Roll

  • Let’s start with just a regular rundown of his night. Zion Williamson started, played 18 minutes, and had 22 points. He went 8/11 from the field and 4/4 from three to go with 7 rebounds and 3 assists. If you watched the game, are on twitter, or are alive then you probably know he scored 17 straight points in the 4th quarter to help the Pelicans erase an 8-point Spurs 4th quarter lead. Ultimately, however, the Pelicans fell short, losing 121-117.
  • Zion’s 22 points in his debut was good for 3rd in the last 25 years by #1 overall picks. The leading scorer was Allen Iverson in 1996. AI had 30 to go with 6 assists, but it took him over 37 minutes to do it. Iverson also came closest to matching Zion’s points per minute. The second closest was almost Zion’s teammate and the last #1 pick for the Pelicans. In 2012, Anthony Davis had 21 points and 7 boards in his debut. 
  • 7 rebounds doesn’t sound like a ton for Zion’s debut, but it does rank about average for the big men taken #1. The average big man pulled down 7.8 boards in his debut. Again though, once Zion’s minutes are taken into account, he skyrockets up the list. In terms of rebounds/minute, Zion ranked 2nd in the last 25 years. Narrowly edged out by another rookie who had a low minute debut. Greg Oden’s debut was delayed a year due to microfracture surgery on his knee and his debut was cut short because of a foot injury. Before he got knocked out though, Oden managed to pull down 5 boards in just under 13 minutes. For guys who played actual minutes, Karl-Anthony Towns leads the way with 14 rebounds in about 32 minutes of action. KAT also 14 points and the Wolves beat the Lakers that night, one of the few wins for #1 picks in their first games.  
  • In the last 25 years, #1 overall picks in their debuts have combined to make 4 three pointers. Two of those were by Iverson, the others were by Kyrie Irving and noted three-point bomber Andrew Wiggins. Obviously that low number is mostly because every year from 97-07 a big was taken #1 except for LeBron and whatever Andrea Bargnani was. 
  • Zion made eight shots from the field in his limited minutes, which is tied for third most in the last 25 years with Deandre Ayton and Blake Griffin. Two guys led the way with 12 made shots. I discussed Iverson above and will dive more into LeBron James below. 
  • I compared the hype surrounding Zion’s debut to LeBron’s above, so I’ll compare the numbers here. It’s not super easy to compare the two considering in his first game, LeBron played almost 43 minutes compared to Zion’s 18, but James’ raw counting stats are among the closest to Zions. As noted above, Zion had 22/7/3 while James had 25/6/9 (the actual closest comparison seems to be by Davis with 21/7/0). 

Quirks of the Night

  • One other rookie of the last 25 years also didn’t make his debut until the calendar turned (this excludes guys who missed an entire season like Blake Griffin and Ben Simmons). Clippers fans had to wait until February 5th, 1999 to see Michael Olowokandi for the first time due to the lockout. Despite an obviously disappointing career, the Kandi Man actually had a decent debut, scoring 14 points to go with 6 rebounds off the bench. 
  • As noted above, Zion went 4/4 from three. In 33 games last year at Duke, with the college 3-point line, he made 24 threes. He made 4 in a game zero times. 

Needs Improvement

  • His weight may have been the most obvious thing that needs improvement, but as for his game, Zion turned the ball over 5 times. That tied for the most by a #1 pick in the last 25 years with Glenn Robinson in 1994. Two other players had 4: Derrick Rose in 2008 and Tim Duncan in 1997. So apparently, if he had just had one less turnover, he’d be a shoe-in for an MVP in the future. 
  • I also have to mention his defense here.  While the threes were fun, during that 3+ minute stretch, the Spurs scored 12 points over basically the same stretch while he was on the floor. Zion struggled in pick and roll defense and protecting the rim as the Spurs basically held a parade to the basket and threw in a couple of their own threes. In all, the Pelicans had a 120.3 defensive rating while Zion was on the floor, which jumped up to 123.5 while he was at center. For comparison, the Mavs are having a historically great offensive year and their offensive rating is 116.5. Hopefully Zion can iron out some of these defensive kinks with more reps and as his mobility improves. 

NBA Twitter Table Talk

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