Welcome back to the NBA Star Index — a weekly gauge of the players who are most controlling the buzz around the league. Reminder: Inclusion on this list isn’t necessarily a good thing. It simply means that you’re capturing the NBA world’s attention. Also, this is not a ranking. The players listed are in no particular order as it pertains to the buzz they’re generating. This column will run every week through the end of the regular season.
Williamson didn’t just live up to the red-carpet hype of his NBA debut —. And it only took him a little over three minutes. After a first-half dud in which he looked out of shape and completely out of sync, sparking questions — at least in my head — as to whether he should even be playing at all, Zion proceeded to erupt for 17 consecutive points in a 3:29 span of a fourth-quarter run for the ages. All told, Williamson wound up with 22 points, seven boards and three assists on 8-of-11 shooting, including a perfect 4 of 4 from 3, in just 18 minutes of action.
To the frustration of every person watching, including New Orleans coach Alvin Gentry, the Pelicans medical staff administered the biggest buzzkill I can ever recall seeing in an NBA game when they forced Gentry to pull Williamson from the game in the middle of this historic run in strict accordance with the always-exciting minutes restriction placed on Zion before the game. Zion went to the bench with the Pelicans up three and 5:23 remaining in the game. He never returned. The Pelicans lost the game.
Williamson’s 17 fourth-quarter points were the most any player has scored, in any quarter, while playing in his first game over the past 20 years, per ESPN. The 22 total points were the most any player in the shot-clock era has scored in his debut while playing fewer than 20 minutes. In fact, Zion is now the only player in NBA history, debut or otherwise, to record at least 20 points and seven rebounds with four or more made 3-pointers in fewer than 20 minutes. He is also the first player in history to shoot 100 percent on at least four 3-pointers in an NBA debut.
So, yeah. He was pretty good.
LeBron knows all about being heckled by fans. But on Monday night, it was his ninth-grade son, Bronny Jr., on the receiving end, and it wasn’t just words coming his way. Bronny’s high school team, Sierra Canyon, happened to be playing in Springfield, Mass. with LeBron scheduled to play with the Lakers in Boston later that night, so he got to see the game. It was during the second half that his son— which turned out to be an orange peel — as he was preparing to inbound the ball on the sideline.
You can see LeBron’s measured, mature comment to go with the video.
Later that night in Boston, LeBron addressed the situation in greater detail:
“I didn’t see it or hear it, actually. While I was on the opposite side of the floor, I did see the referee stop the game or stop the inbound, and the cop came up there,” James said. “I didn’t even know what happened until the video evidence showed me when I got here … It’s just disrespectful, and it was a little kid, too. I don’t know how old that little kid was, so I don’t know if he learned that on his own or if he learned it at home. Whatever the case may be, it’s disrespectful.”
Turns out, LeBron heard right that it was a little kid who threw the orange peel. Some time later, the child issued an admission and apology on YouTube.
Obviously this becomes a less troubling situation when you learn that it was a small child doing the throwing. If an adult did that to Bronny, that would be an entirely different story. This looks like a kid just making a dumb mistake, and good on him, and likely his parents, for taking the steps to own up to his actions and apologize. There’s a lesson in that, too.
But there’s also a lesson in the way LeBron responded. He’s a parent. He’s going to defend his child, as most any parent would. But he didn’t fly off the handle. His own experiences have taught him what it’s like to be a target, and no doubt his son, simply by virtue of being LeBron’s child, but also because of his own talent as he continues to rise through the basketball ranks, hasn’t been heckled or harassed for the last time. LeBron setting an example of how to handle it with maturity, how to take the high road and keep it moving, is, to me, the most meaningful takeaway from this situation.
In what has, to this point, been the worst Trail Blazers season in recent memory, it’s ironic that it has arguably been Damian Lillard’s best. Lillard is averaging career highs in both points and assists per game, field-goal percentage, effective field-goal percentage and free throws attempted per game.
In Portland’s 129-124 overtime victory over the visiting Warriors, Lillard on 17-of-37 shooting, including 11 of 20 from 3 and a perfect 16 for 16 from the line. He added 10 rebounds and seven assists for good measure, and committed just two turnovers. As we’ve all come to take for granted, he hit a barrage of absurdly difficult 3-pointers with the game in the balance — including these two beauties to tie the score in the waning seconds of regulation, and then again in the final minute of overtime.
Per ESPN, only six players in NBA history have logged two or more 60-point games in their career. Lillard has done it twice this season. The other came in a loss to Brooklyn on Nov. 8. It tells you what Lillard is up against this season that he had to score 121 combined points for the Blazers to barely beat the Warriors and lose to the Nets.