New Orleans Pelicans star Zion Williamson will make his NBA preseason debut Monday, 16 years to the day after LeBron James made his debut under the weight of the Cleveland Cavaliers franchise.
Williamson has been compared to James by many, but don’t count Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry as one of them. He was adamant after shootaround Monday afternoon that few are like the three-time NBA champion and few 19-year-old players can impact the league immediately.
"They shouldn't do that [comparing]," Gentry said. "We are not doing that. We are comparing Zion to Zion. We want Zion to be the best Zion Williamson that he can be. Not anybody else. We want him to be the best basketball player he can become using his name and no comparison."
He continued: "I know that it's inevitable that that's going to be the case, but we are not drinking that Kool-Aid."
An estimated 10,000 attended the Pelicans’ open scrimmage on Saturday as Williamson mania revs up with the start of the season around the corner. The No. 1 pick was a big draw for TV ratings at Duke and his early games in the NBA are expected to also garner a flood of attention.
Earlier Monday, an LSU athletic department employee tweeted that Williamson would be the guest picker for ESPN’s College GameDay. It was later deleted and officials called the report inaccurate. Whether true in the moment or not, it shows how high pitched the fever is for Williamson in New Orleans. The Pelicans play the Atlanta Hawks in the preseason opener Monday night.
For those who do wish to compare, the then 18-year-old James went 4-for-12 in his preseason debut, with eight points, three rebounds and seven assists.
He averaged 20.9 points on 41.7 percent shooting with 5.5 rebounds, 5.9 assists per game en route to the 2003-04 Rookie of the Year honor.
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