It’s only the preseason, but NBA Twitter was abuzz last night after an impressive performance from Zion Williamson, who scored 26 points and added 11 rebounds for the New Orleans Pelicans in a 114-93 victory over the Miami Heat.

New Orleans Pelicans Zion Williamson video
Zion Williamson dominated the Miami Heat in his preseason debut with the New Orleans Pelicans. (Image: Jasen Vinlove/USA Today Sports)

It was a tough rookie season for Zion after his NBA debut was delayed due to knee surgery. As soon as he found his groove in early 2020, the NBA shuttered its season when the coronavirus pandemic hit. The team didn’t want to rush Zion back too early, which was the sole reason the Pels capped his minutes upon his return.

In 24 games last season, Zion averaged 22.5 points and 6.3 rebounds. His anemic free-throw shooting stood out with only a 64% success rate at the charity stripe, considering he knocked down 58.3% of his total shots from the floor.

Now that it’s been well over a year since Zion tweaked his knee during an NBA Summer League game, he looks like the dominant player that the Pelicans selected with the #1 pick in the 2019 NBA Draft.

The Zion and Ingram Show

In 31 minutes of action, Brandon Ingram scored 22 points and added six rebounds, six assists, and three steals in the preseason victory over the Heat, who did not have Jimmy Butler or Goran Dragic in the lineup.

Zion led all scorers with 26 points on 8-for-13 shooting. In 33 minutes of floor time, Zion also added 11 rebounds and two assists for New Orleans.

“It was a different feeling,” said Zion. “I can’t even lie. It was a different feeling for sure. When the clock struck zero, I was almost like, ‘Wow, it’s been a while!'”

Zion practiced his free throw shooting in the offseason. His diligent work already paid off dividends. He went 10-for-11 last night.

“The free throws, I’m going to get fouled a lot, so that’s free money,” said Zion. “I gotta make that.”

New head coach Stan Van Gundy was impressed with Zion’s ability to wipe the glass.

“He hasn’t really been doing much of that in practice, to be honest, and it wasn’t a strength last year,” Van Gundy said. “For him to be able to rebound the ball the way he did on the defensive end was good.”

Pelicans and Zion Odds

No one likes Duke in the college basketball realm (unless you graduated from Duke or you’re related to Christian Laettner). However, Zion Williamson earned a pass. Fans loved the larger-than-life superstar so much that they overlooked their hatred for the Duke Blue Devils.

Zion is definitely a fan favorite, which is why the Pelicans have benefited from the Zion Effect in sportsbooks. The Pelicans are 70/1 odds to win the 2021 NBA Championship, according to a recent update on NBA futures at the Mirage Casino and Sportsbook in Las Vegas.

If you want to take a flier on the Pelicans to win the Western Conference, Zion and the Pels are 35/1 odds.

The Pelicans are +500 odds to win the Southwest Division. If the Houston Rockets trade James Harden, then the Pelicans look like the strongest competition for the Dallas Mavericks, who are -225 favorites to win the division crown for the first time in a decade.