Zion Williamson: Number one draft pick set makes long-awaited NBA debut

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'Welcome to the NBA' - Williamson scores 17 points in three minutes on debut

Zion Williamson made the most eagerly awaited NBA debut since LeBron James on Wednesday.

The 19-year-old New Orleans Pelicans forward scored 22 points as his side lost 121-117 to the San Antonio Spurs - his first appearance after missing the first 44 games of the season with a knee injury.

Fans, fellow professionals and the NBA itself have been longing to see the impact the number one pick in last year's draft will have on the league.

So why all the hype?

Delivering on early promise

Williamson was pretty much known by his first name alone by the time he got to Duke University, one of the best college teams in the United States.

Videos of his dazzling dunks and stunning blocks in high school had already received millions of views.

There were doubts whether he could be as effective against other NBA prospects in college.

But Williamson averaged 22.6 points and 8.9 rebounds per game in his single season at Duke to win college player of the year and impressed in NBA pre-season before injuring his knee.

What are his strengths?

Williamson, who is 6ft 6in and 129kg, has a rare and electrifying blend of athleticism and technical skill.

His power is obvious - Williamson burst through his own shoe playing for Duke University last year.

But he is also fast and agile, making him seemingly unstoppable when receiving the ball in space to run to the rim.

His neat footwork and deft touch with either hand allows him to outmanoeuvre taller opponents to score lay-ups and he is also a gifted passer.

Many rookies struggle on defence at first but, with a 114cm vertical leap on top of his other gifts, Williamson is expected to be a capable defender from the off.

No wonder limbs went everywhere when the Pelicans found out they were getting the number one pick last year...

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Any weaknesses?

Williamson is a decent shooter - but don't expect him to be draining threes like Stephen Curry straight away.

The left-hander does not have a smooth shooting motion but the Pelicans will hope to make him a reliable shooter so he poses even more of a threat.

And Williamson's athleticism could well mean he makes an immediate impact even without a jump shot - reigning MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo is still improving as a shooter.

Another concern is whether his size and fearless playing style could lead to more injuries, though the Pelicans have been careful so far, letting him take three months to come back from an injury that was at first meant to keep him out for six weeks.

What have other NBA stars said?

Two-time NBA champion Kevin Durant called Williamson a "once-in-a-generation athlete" after watching the first few months of his season at Duke.

Golden State Warriors star Curry said Williamson is "unreal" and plays with a passion that "you can't teach" on top of his "unbelievable" talent.

And three-time NBA champion James, while also praising Williamson's talents, noted that "he's got his head on straight" despite receiving a similar level of coverage as James did from an early age.

What does the future hold?

Zion Williamson leaps to make a dunk while playing for Duke University
Zion Williamson signed a shoe deal with Jordan Brand before the NBA season started

The Pelicans started the season poorly but are now close to the final play-off spot in the Western Conference and, even if Williamson can't help them reach the play-offs this year, he has ensured they will be one of the biggest draws in the league.

It is likely too late for Williamson to win rookie of the season, with number two pick Ja Morant starring for the Memphis Grizzlies.

Yet if he can deliver on all his promise, Williamson could prove to be the NBA's biggest star once James eventually retires.

Milwaukee Bucks forward Antetokounmpo and Houston Rockets guard James Harden continue to amaze, while Dallas Mavericks guard Luka Doncic is putting up stunning numbers in just his second season.

But the hype, the humility he has shown so far and those huge dunks could see Williamson overtake them all.

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