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Just how good was Zion Williamson’s rookie debut?

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Zion took the court Wednesday and it was HISTORIC!

Getty Images/Pete Rogers Illustrations

Zion Williamson, little known rookie for the little watched New Orleans Pelicans, played some basketball Wednesday night, and boy howdy, did he put some oranges in the buckets. Zion scored 17 straight points during the game, and he ended up with 22. He also grabbed 7 boards, dished three dimes, and went 4-for-4 from three.

Sooo...is that any, y’know, good? For a rookie? I’ll put it like this: he’s not as good as Michael Carter-Williams. Yet. I’ll explain later, but feel free to freak out now.

Basketball-Reference.com tells us that 55 rookies in history have scored 22 points in their debut game, including Zion. (Points at B-R are tracked back to the 1946-47 season. That was before we had 50 states, by the way: Alaska and Hawai’i were admitted to the Union in 1959.) Right away, Zion’s pretty good. He’s already accomplished something that Michael Jordan didn’t do, and that only 54 other players IN HUMAN HISTORY have done.

Notable names from that list of 55 include Bob Lanier, Earl Monroe, David Robinson, Dominique Wilkins, Maestro Damian Lillard, Kendrick Nunn (!), Hakeem Olajuwon, Elgin Baylor, Grant Hill, LEBRON JAMES, Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf (he averaged 5+ 3PA in the 1995-96 season, and had a 39 3PT%; not bad for an ancient in the long long ago before the New NBA!), Jahlil Okafor (lol, that’s soooo 76ers), MAGIC JOHNSON, Jerry Stackhouse, PJ WASHINGTON (get hyped Hornets fans), KAREEM. ABDUL. JABBAR., AI (Obviously; he scored 30, and went 12 of 19 from the floor.), Lamar Odom scored 30 in his rookie debut (for the LA Clippers btw), Isiah Thomas scored 31 points and dished 11 assists in his debut game, and Wilt Chamberlain scored 43 effing points in his debut game.

There are a bunch of SUPREMELY good NBA players on that list of 55, but Zion also took down seven rebounds, and made some really nice passes. Who else has done that?

Rebounds only get tracked as “offensive” and “defensive” starting in 1983-84, because we just didn’t have the technology to record rebounds by an offensive player or a defensive player before Red Dawn came out in the fall of 1984. Since ‘83-’84, 23 players, including Zion, have scored at least 22 points and grabbed at least 7 “total” boards. Zion’s seven rebounds are actually tied for fewest on this list: Robinson grabbed 17, Wilkins had 12, Hakeem only had 9, Kareem had 12, and Wilt had, uh, 28. (But, we’ll never know how many were offensive rebounds, or defensive. What if all of them were offensive? Alas. Thank you, Red Dawn. Your remake was dreadful and unnecessary, much like the teal Pistons jerseys that Grant Hill was forced to wear.) Seven rebounds in a debut game isn’t that special, over 200 players have done it. I mean, 200 people out of the history of the NBA is still pretty amazing, since there are 450 players in the NBA every season, and hardly any of them got as many boards as Zion did in his first game. But, 22 and 7 is much more impressive and rare.

Three assists isn’t some outlandish number, either, BUT when you combine the dimes, the board, AND the points, you get a list of only 10 players in NBA history. Including Zion, of course. That puts Zion on a list with Elgin Baylor, Magic, Grant Hill, and Kareem. Any time you’re on a list with those guys, you’re doing it right. Not even LeBron did that! LeBron had a measly six rebounds in his first game (...along with 25 points, 9 assists, and 4 steals; he used to be so good).

San Antonio Spurs v New Orleans Pelicans Photo by Jeff Haynes/NBAE via Getty Images

“But, Natty, Zion also made four three pointers!” you coyly point out.

Yes, he did. Which is impressive. Because only 12 people have done that in NBA history (including Nicolo Melli, ZION’S TEAMMATE, earlier this season). Obviously, threes didn’t always exist, but Steph Curry didn’t have four threes in his debut game. Neither did Trae Young: Ice Trae went 1 for 5 from deep. Zion’s on an incredible list of 10, and he’s on a ridiculously exclusive list of 12. This was his debut game.

HOWEVER, what Zion didn’t do was hand out TWELVE assists. What Zion didn’t do was grab NINE STEALS (NINE!!!). That’s why Zion isn’t as good as Michael Carter-Williams yet, because you’re goddamn right that’s what MCW did for the Philadelphia goddamn 76ers! That’s right, the most Philly thing about this is that Michael Carter-Williams somehow bested Zion. Does that make you afraid? It terrified the living hell out of me when I first saw it.

But, then I realized something:

Zion only played in 18 minutes on Wednesday, meanwhile MCW racked up 36 minutes in his impressive debut. Imagine Zion’s 18 minute performance stretched across 36 minutes. *Drooling emoji*

So yea, Zion Williamson is good at basketball.