New Orleans Pelicans

One Play: Zion Williamson's improvement as a passer is a scary sight for the rest of the NBA

Welcome to "One Play!" Throughout the 2020-21 NBA season, our NBA.com Staff will break down certain possessions from certain games and peel back the curtains to reveal its bigger meaning.

Today, New Orleans Pelicans forward Zion Williamson takes the spotlight.

Context: At 20 years old, Zion Williamson became the fourth-youngest All-Star ever when he was selected as a reserve for the 2021 NBA All-Star Game.

After a rookie season that fell short of expectations due to a lingering knee injury, followed by a minutes restriction upon his return, Williamson has bounced back in Year 2, looking like every bit of the franchise-changing player he was hyped up to be prior to the 2019 NBA Draft.

And while his efficient scoring and rebounding - two things everyone knew he was capable of doing in the league - are major reasons for Williamson's All-Star nod, the young superstar has made significant improvements in areas that were considered weaknesses, namely ball handling and playmaking for others.

After averaging only 1.5 assists per game over his 15 games of the season, Zion notched a career-high seven assists in his team's win over the Milwaukee Bucks on Jan. 29. Since that contest, Pelicans head coach Stan Van Gundy has utilized Williamson more as a playmaker, and the returns have been promising, averaging 4.7 assists over the Pelicans' last 19 games.

As Zion continues to develop his dribbling and passing, becoming more intuitive in learning how to use his offensive gravity to his advantage, the more unstoppable he will become.

This one play against the Memphis Grizzlies showcases exactly that.

The play:

Breakdown: The Pelicans get the ball in Williamson's hands to initiate the offence, something they have been doing much more frequently as of late.

The Pelicans like to hunt for mismatches by using Williamson as the pick-and-roll ball handler with J.J. Redick, who is typically guarded by a lesser and smaller defender, as the screener in hopes of forcing a switch that can create an easy scoring opportunity for the All-Star forward.

Williamson gets the switch he's looking for with John Konchar trading places with Dillon Brooks, but Brooks knows that means trouble so he tries to double Williamson, leaving Redick to roam free on the perimeter.

When Zion turns the corner on Konchar with Brooks' help trailing late, he has the attention of everyone on the Grizzlies, knowing that more help will be needed to keep him out of the paint, where he leads the league in scoring. Rookie big man Xavier Tillman Sr. slides over to add a third body on Williamson, with the other two defenders, Tyus Jones and Grayson Allen, left to guard four players by themselves.

Just look at all that attention that Williamson draws by putting the ball to the floor with a full head of steam toward the basket. By the time he goes to make a pass, he could legitimately go to any teammate on the floor to find a good shot.

Josh Hart is open on the opposite wing as Allen is trying to mark both Kira Lewis Jr. in the corner and Jaxson Hayes in the dunker spot. Ultimately, Williamson makes the correct read to find the sharpshooting Redick wide open at the top of the 3-point line, which may as well be a layup for the veteran marksmen.

Why it matters: Averaging 25.6 points per game on an unfathomable 61.4 percent shooting from the field, Zion has been scoring at will this season, on pace to join Kevin McHale as the only player in NBA history to average over 25 points per game while shooting 60.0 percent or better from the field, according to StatMuse.

I mean, just look at his shot chart from this season.

He's a wrecking ball when he gets going downhill and the gravity he commands from opposing defences is remarkable. Most teams don't have a one-man answer for the 6-foot-7, 248-pound forward, making him a magnet for double teams.

If the defence stays home, anticipating that Williamson will dish to the perimeter for an open 3, it'll make for easy buckets. If the defence doubles down to try and prevent him from getting to the paint, he can find the open man, making for more easy buckets.

The more he develops as a passer, the more unstoppable he will become because his teammates are more than often going to be open on the perimeter when Williamson is driving to the rim or has the ball inside. Head coach Van Gundy deploying "Point Zion" is the first step toward maximizing that potential, because as the 20-year-old continues to polish his ball handling and playmaking, the more mismatches he can create for himself and his teammates.

Williamson's improvement as a playmaker over the course of just half of this season has already allowed the former No. 1 pick to take the jump to All-Stardom, and he's only scratching the surface of where he can get to in that aspect of the game.

Once Williamson reaches his full potential as a passer and creator, the rest of the league is in serious trouble.

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