The hype should be too high, even unfair. Zion Williamson missed 44 games. He was not in top basketball condition. It would take time to find his way around and prepare for the best league in the world.
Even LeBron James had a full training camp to prepare for and didn't have to recover from right knee arthroscopic surgery before playing his first NBA game.
As it turned out, the insanely high bar was not high enough. Williamson, the one-time former Duke star, has broken expectations in his first ten games – playing at a level few could expect from knee surgery. He did what only Michael Jordan did and scored at least 20 points in eight of his games first 10 games.
And here's the scary part: The 6-foot, 6, 284-pound sports freak is getting better and better. Just look at how he overwhelmed the thunder and put big man Steven Adams on the road to a career-best 32-point performance – his sixth 20-point game in a row – in a loss on Thursday.
"I am impressed with where he is and I can't wait to see what the next step is because I know it will be nothing but size," said Brendan Haywood, NBA analyst at Turner Sports, in a telephone interview. "When he's at his best, he's someone who can dominate this league."
If that sounds a bit much to a player who hasn't even played in an eighth NBA season, consider these numbers: In 10 games, no player has scored more color points in the past two decades than Williamson. He is the third No. 1 overall winner since 1992 (after Shaquille O & # 39; Neal and Allen Iverson), who scored 200 points in 10 games. Williamson was the first rookie since 1966 to score 30 points, five rebounds and five assists while playing less than 30 minutes. The 19-year-old phenomenon was also the first rookie in 35 years since Jordan to score at least 30 points in two consecutive games.
"I was expecting to have an impact, but I wasn't expecting to do anything of the sort," Williamson recently told reporters. "I kind of wanted to come in and just fit in and just not try to screw it up."
Forget to screw it up. Williamson leads the playoff push of the pelicans with an average of 22.1 points at 57.6 percent shooting and 7.5 rebounds. They won six of the ten games he played in, impressive considering that six of the teams they faced would play in the postseason if the season ends now.
What further impressed everyone is how he dealt with the hype associated with his name. Haywood loves that he doesn't try to prove people wrong by showing that he can shoot from deep down, but does what he does best, which is a threat to color. He'll line up smaller players and play bigger ones. He's blinded everyone by scoring four 3-point goals on his debut, but he's only tried six since then. He has taken the lead to heart that newbies often hear: "Get in where you fit in," as ESPN analyst Jay Williams said.
"He doesn't make the game difficult," said Haywood.
This is what a coach, player and analyst had to say: "Such talent – he's a great guy – the whole world has to see him," said Spurs coach Gregg Popovich.
"I don't think he's comparable to anyone I've seen," said Trail Blazers striker Carmelo Anthony.
"He is Zion – he is one of one," said Williams. "There is no comparison for someone who is 6-6 ½, weighs 285 pounds, and has the agility and dexterity that he has."
The pelicans' play-by-play announcer, Joel Meyers, called games for the Lakers 2003/04 – a team that included the Hall of Famers Kobe Bryant, O & # 39; Neal, Gary Payton and Karl Malone. Their street games were events. The fans would adjust directly to their warm-up exercises to catch a glimpse of the size. He saw that at Williamson.
"There is a similar atmosphere," said Meyers. “As soon as the doors open, everyone flows to the floor. You put it on. "
There is a stream at home that Meyers has never seen with the pelicans, and it has been at their games for eight years. Even the team led by Anthony Davis, who beat Trail Blazers in the first round of the 2018 playoffs, couldn't compare. The building has become incredibly noisy.
Although the pelicans are only 3-4 with Williamson at home, three of those defeats came to the Nuggets, Bucks and Thunder. It goes back into the night when an estimated 20,000 fans line up on a promenade in the city center in anticipation of the selection. Everyone is excited about the team in New Orleans.
"It changed everything dramatically," said Meyers.
And Williamson is just getting started. His best, it seems, has only just begun.