In the closing minute of the first half on Sunday afternoon, Zion Williamson was the ball-handler in an inverted pick-and-roll with CJ McCollum. As he came off the high screen to his left, Williamson attracted the attention of all five defenders, which left Jaxson Hayes all alone under the basket for a simple pass and dunk.
Most of the New Orleans Pelicans' buckets weren't quite that easy, but with Williamson back in the line-up they cruised past the Los Angeles Clippers for a 112-91 victory that improved their record to 4-2. Williamson, who , showed no signs of rust or injury as he finished with 21 points, 12 rebounds and seven assists.
Williams' skill and finishing ability was on display yet again, as he careened into the paint for a number of impressive finishes. His gravity -- the attention he commanded from the Clippers at all times -- was perhaps more noteworthy, however. Nearly every time he touched the ball on Sunday, the Pelicans wound up with a good shot.
"Glad to have him back," Pelicans head coach Willie Green said. "I've said it before, but when he touches the ball, he makes the right play. Whether it's a score for himself, finding his teammates, kicking it out, setting screens. He was fantastic."
Williamson made his mark early, scoring or assisting on the Pelicans' first seven points. Here, we'll see a perfect example of how he created open looks for his teammates. As he catches the ball on the block, the Clippers' entire defense shifts towards him. Once Paul George cheats over just a step too far to protect against the drive, Williamson floats the ball over his head to Naji Marshall in the corner for a 3.
"Before I would rush sometimes trying to see the pass, but now I let it develop," Williamson said. "I let the defense shift towards me and as soon as I see that shift -- like I said we got some special shooters on this team and I'm able to find them and they knock the shots down."
Early in the fourth quarter there was a similar possession. With Williamson isolated in the mid post, the Clippers send pre-emptive help in the form of Ivica Zubac to protect against the drive. This leaves just one player to guard two on the weakside, and Larry Nance Jr. sets a screen to free up Devonte' Graham, who Williamson finds for another open triple.
"It goes back to something Coach (Mike Krzyzewski) said to me and that's always stuck with me since the Duke days," Williamson said. "The game is so simple, it's crazy. If two people are shifted towards you, two people have to be open. It also goes to coach Green putting us in great spots, so when the double team does come, the pass is easy."
Williamson also showed off his playmaking off the dribble, which creates a whole different set of problems for defenders. Later in the fourth quarter, he cooks Luke Kennard off the dribble, which puts the Clippers in the rotation, and two passes later Marshall hits another open 3. While Williamson doesn't get any credit in the box score for that play, he was the one who made it happen.
"Something we talk about all the time as a team is our ball movement, our player movement," Green said. "We call it point five -- wanna get it from the Spurs or Golden State, whomever -- we want to play with a point five mentality. Just swing it, make the next play. The thing we did today that I hadn't done a lot was we just put the ball in Z's hands at the top and he kind of played point guard for a bit to try and take advantage of some of the mismatches."
The Pelicans have a number of other high-level offensive players in Brandon Ingram and CJ McCollum, but as talented as they are, they cannot warp opposing defenses in the way Williamson can. Capitalizing on the Zion Effect will be key for the Pelicans as they try to get back to the playoffs and compete at the top of the Western Conference.