Zion Williamson’s debut overshadowed after earthquake shuts down Summer League for night

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People are going to talk about Zion Williamson‘s NBA Summer League debut for a long time.

Not just because he took Kevin Knox‘s lunch money and threw down a dunk.

But rather because an earthquake — a 7.1 quake centered in Ridgecrest, Calif., a city basically halfway between Los Angeles and Las Vegas — shook the Thomas & Mack center where the game was being played, causing the massive overhead scoreboard and speakers to sway, and pushing NBA and Summer League officials to call off the rest of the games for the night.

The Knicks/Pelicans game has 7:53 left to go in the fourth quarter was eventually declared a final with the Pelicans winning 80-74. The late game in the Thomas & Mack, the Suns vs. Nuggets, was canceled.

The games in the smaller Cox Center next door, which seats about 5,000 and feels more like a mid-major college arena, continued for a while because it does not have the same overhead scoreboard. However, those games were eventually called off as well.

Ridgecrest is a city that had a 6.4 magnitude earthquake just days before. While the town itself is relatively small (fewer than 30,000) the rolling quake could be felt from Los Angeles to Las Vegas. When the quake hit, the Thomas & Mack center largely emptied out.

However, it had already started to empty out earlier after word began to get around Williamson was not playing in the second half of the game against New York because of a knee-to-knee collision in the first half. The Pelicans chose to sit him out of an abundance of caution (as they should, this is just Summer League).

The much-hyped debut showdown between No. 1 pick Williamson and No. 3 pick R.J. Barrett had both players looking like rookies who have work to do to reach their potential. Which is exactly what we should have expected, but also not what fuels the hype machine before the game.

Williamson’s Summer League debut finished with him having 11 points on 4-of-9 shooting — all four of his makes were dunks — plus he went 3-of-6 from the free throw line and had three boards. Also, for the record, he walked into the building wearing Puma’s but played in his Duke Nikes.

There were good things and highlights from Williamson — when he got a little bit of room he exploited it and showed the potential that had scouts drooling all season. He’s strong and aggressive.

Williamson’s jump shot also is a work in progress, it’s a low and slow release that led to his first three being short and later Mitchell Robinson blocking a three, which led to a run-out dunk. On the other end, Williamson’s defensive recognition was slow at times, as is to be expected with a rookie in his first game.

You can see why Williamson needs to work on the jump shot to round out his game. When Robinson guarded him, Williamson blew by the Knicks center and got to the rim, but Robinson started to play back and dare Williamson to take jumpers. It was kind of the Giannis Antetokounmpo treatment, and it worked on Zion.

Knicks No. 3 pick R.J. Barrett struggled even more, finishing the night 4-of-18 shooting including 1-of-8 from three. Barrett struggled to create separation and get his shot off how he wanted, while on the other end Frank Jackson took it right at Barrett and scored 30 points for the game (before it was postponed).

Nobody should read much into those performances, Summer League itself just sets a baseline for the coaching staffs to understand what the players need to work on the rest of the summer. One game at Summer League means next to nothing for a player. Last Summer I was at Trae Young‘s Summer League debut in Salt Lake City and struggled mightily, but by the end of the Las Vegas Summer League Young looked much better, and by the end of the NBA season he was pushing for Rookie of the Year.

The standouts for the Knicks were their second-year players Allonzo Trier (21 points on 8-of-14 shooting), Kevin Knox (17 points on 6-of-12 shooting, including a couple of plays where he attacked Zion and scored), and Mitchell Robinson (8 points, 10 rebounds, and four blocks — three of them on Williamson). It was evident how much more slowly the game moved for them.

At least until the shaking started.