Zion Williamson is a bully.
On Sunday night, the New Orleans Pelicans rookie had a play where he missed a free throw, grabbed his own offensive rebound, missed a layup and then ripped the ball from the hands of a Golden State Warriors defender before making a layup amidst half of the opposing players on the court.
This isn’t atypical for the rookie sensation. Sure, he might not be racking up forceful steals night after night, but Williamson seems to be bullying opponents in just about every quarter he plays in. He’s constantly jamming on defenders and rumbling through the paint.
Williamson has only played 12 games so far this year, but he leads all rookies with 22.8 points per game. More importantly, he’s doing it with almost unheralded levels of efficiency. He’s averaging just over 28 minutes per game, and he’s shooting almost 59 percent from the field, including 63.1 percent within 10 feet of the basket. He’s also leading the league in attempts per game within 10 feet of the basket, even outpacing the Milwaukee Bucks’ Giannis Antetokounmpo by about 0.5 attempts per game in that area.
Williamson is just getting started, and if he continues to dominate inside the paint, he’ll be hard to ever slow down.
Bradley Beal is depressed.
On Sunday night, a video of a sullen Beal sitting on the bench during a Washington Wizards loss to the Chicago Bulls circulated around Twitter. The Wizards suffered the loss to the Bulls, even as Beal scored a then career-high 53 points. Beal topped that on Monday night against the Bucks, as he dropped an efficient 55 points during another Wizards loss.
Unfortunately, this has been the story of the season for Beal. Of his top 10 highest-scoring games of the season, the Wizards have won just one.
But it’s hard to feel bad for Beal. In October, he extended his contract for another two years and another $72 million. At that time, he knew how bad this team was and still is. He knew his best teammate was going to be out all season.
Beal might be suffering in D.C., but his misery is mostly his own fault. The only real shame is that his talent seems to be going to waste.
Russell Westbrook finally understands.
The start of this year was frustrating for the Houston Rockets. Westbrook wasn’t hitting any shots. His fit in the Mike D’Antoni system was questionable, and even though James Harden was playing well enough for the team to rack up wins, the duo of Westbrook and Harden didn’t seem like it could be enough to win the NBA Finals.
But the new look, small-ball-to-the-extreme Rockets are playing great, mostly thanks to Westbrook, finally understanding what he needs to do and changing his game.
Over the last couple of months, Westbrook has asserted himself as the de-facto big man scorer for the Rockets. With no traditional center on the floor, everyone else on the Rockets has been able to spread out beyond the arc and take all the threes they were destined to take.
That new wrinkle has given Westbrook the space to charge the rim every chance he gets. When he has a full head of steam, it’s almost impossible to stop the former MVP. Since Jan. 1, Westbrook has taken far more shots around the rim, and he has made them at a much better rate.
Westbrook understands he can’t shoot, and he’s finally adapting his game properly to the tremendous benefit of the Rockets.
Two NBA players stand out far above most others to me as being extremely over or underrated on defense are Portland Trailblazers’ center Hassan Whiteside and Chicago’s point guard Kris Dunn.
Whiteside recently said that he feels he is the Defensive Player of the Year. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Sure, he rebounds the ball well and he racks up tons of blocks, but his block-chasing often puts him in poor defensive positioning, making his defensive rating abysmal.
He does well at a few things, but Whiteside simply does not excel defensively. And he is in no way deserving of the defensive praise he so often receives.
Perhaps Dunn can be on the receiving end of that praise. Dunn is second in the league in steals per game, fourth in deflections per game and ninth in deflections per 36 minutes. Dunn wreaks havoc on the ball and in the passing lane.
Few other defenders have played as well as Dunn this season, and I hope to see him on the NBA All-Defensive First Team at the end of this season.