Zion showing signs of early MVP candidate; Pelicans off to best start in franchise history
Some in nat. media started an MVP campaign for Anthony Davis though Lakers are at the bottom; why not for Zion at the top?
NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - Now that the 2022-23 NBA regular season is over a quarter of the way over, teams and players can be better assessed with a decent sample size to review and some leaders are emerging from the pack.
Anyone that follows NBA media knows that MVP campaigns start early and are monitored throughout the year. After last week, there’s been some shifting and now those with eyes on the league can make judgments on some early returns.
The Lakers have been hot as of late, winning 8 of their last 10 games. That’s mostly been the result of Anthony Davis going on an absolute tear, averaging 30.9 ppg. 13.6 rpg, 2.9 apg, 1.4 steals, and 2.5 blocks in that win streak. Last week some members of the national media began making the case for Davis as a candidate in an early MVP campaign. The only problem? Thanks to a league-worst start, the Lakers still only currently hold an 11-15 record, in the No. 12 spot in the West.
Traditionally, exceptionally performing players on bad teams don’t win MVPs. The Lakers have time to get into the winning mix, but if national media is eager to start campaigns for a player on a sub .500 team, then how about also making the case for someone on one of the top 3 best teams in the NBA?
After back-to-back wins over the Suns last weekend, the New Orleans Pelicans are the No. 1 team in the Western Conference with an 18-8 record, the current third-best overall in the league. They’re ranked top 5 in both offense and defense and currently hold the No. 2 spot in the NBA’s power rankings.
The Pelicans are currently on a 7-game win streak and that’s largely thanks to the dominant play of forward Zion Williamson who is averaging 30 ppg, 9.1 rpg, 5 apg, 1.6 steals, and 1.1 blocks during this stretch.
Comparatively, Zion’s numbers are up there with everyone that’s been mentioned by national media as an early MVP candidate. For the season he’s averaging 25 ppg, 7.2 rpg, 4.2 apg, and 1.2 steals while converting shots from the field at a 60 percent rate.
Basketball Reference, a stat-tracking website, has an MVP tracker that ranks potential MVP winners by placing them in data-generated rankings. The tracker has Zion ranked at No. 7, one spot behind Davis with other notable names such as Luka Doncic, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Jayson Tatum, and Steph Curry. While all of Zion’s stats are impressive, the one category that might make him stand out above the rest is his rate of made shots from the field. The only player that makes shots at a higher rate than Zion currently is reigning MVP Nikola Jokic at 61.5 percent. Jokic, leading the Nuggets with a 16-10 record, is the tracker’s current MVP board leader with a stat line of 23.8 ppg, 10.1 rpg, 9.1 ast, and 1.2 steals this season.
While the Pelicans have been dubbed the “deepest team in the NBA” by many, most of the current streak has been without two starters on the floor, fellow star Brandon Ingram and defensive specialist Herb Jones. The Pelicans’ depth is still apparent as contributors like bench point guard Jose Alvarado recently had a 38-point outburst, but it has truly been the expanded play of Zion that has changed the team as they wait for the return of two important players.
Zion has consistently held an average that designated him as the team’s leader in scoring all season, but he was mostly playing a complimentary off-ball role through the first 10-12 games. Now that Zion is playing with the ball in his hands more, like a point guard at times, his season averages could likely improve to reflect the averages he’s earned through the current win streak if he continues to stay healthy.
The difference between Zion now and when the world last saw him put up historic averages in his sophomore season before the major injury is that he’s in the best shape he’s ever been in as a pro. He isn’t just individually performing well, he’s changing the game every time he steps on the floor.
“Zion is – he’s a matchup problem,” said Pelicans coach Willie Green. “They did throw some different looks at him. He started to hit off of just a number of guys at the top, and he still made the right plays, and the ball would continue to find him.”
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When it all comes down to it, numbers make a case for MVP but it will come down to votes from human sportswriters. Will they notice how much his center of gravity pulls defenses to him? Will they notice how he’s either going to score through a wall of four or kick it out to someone wide-open from 3-point range? Will they take note of his defense, particularly in late-game situations under the goal or in the form of a steal in the open court?
Most of all, will they notice his MVP moments on the floor? In the first of the two wins against the Suns, Zion’s thunderous end-of-regulation dunk that brought New Orleans to their feet was an iconic moment for a multitude of reasons.
Zion has come back from an injury that could have derailed his career to captivate the attention of a city many said shouldn’t even have an NBA franchise just a couple of years prior.
His critics will say it’s too early or that he hasn’t proved anything yet. But also, you can hand some people a million dollars and they’d complain that it wasn’t a billion.
Fortunately for Zion, his numbers are rising, but more importantly, so is his fearlessness...and that certainly deserves a good hard look.
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