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Zion Williamson, the MVP race and 1st place in the West: Pelicans win streak powering the NBA’s hottest story

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Have you been paying attention to Zion Williamson and the Pelicans? If not, it might be time to direct your attention to what’s going on in the Crescent City.

It wasn’t too long ago that The Sporting News’ Kyle Irving issued an advisory that Williamson and the Pelicans were on the verge of establishing themselves as contenders in the West. After a few resounding statements, consider their contender status established.

Highlighted by a sweep of a two-game series with Phoenix, New Orleans’ recent seven-game win streak has propelled the team to the top of the Western Conference standings. This is the latest that the franchise has held the West’s No. 1 seed since the 2007-08 season when it finished with a 56-26 record and fell one win shy of the Western Conference Finals as the No. 2 seed.

In 2008, New Orleans was led by a 22-year-old Chris Paul, who ultimately finished second in MVP voting in his third NBA season. 15 years later, New Orleans is led by a 22-year-old Williamson, who, in his third year on the floor, has loudly entered MVP conversations.

…Just not quite as loudly as his dunk that punctuated the first of New Orleans’ two victories over a Paul-led Phoenix team.

Poetic, isn’t it?

After a year away from the game, it hasn’t taken much time for Williamson to remind us all of just how special he is, making those that were quick to write off a 21-year-old look rather silly in retrospect.

How silly? Williamson’s recent stretch of dominant play is a great place to start.

MORE: Revisiting Zion vs. Ja draft debate: Did Pelicans get 2019 No. 1 pick right?

The recent dominance of Zion Williamson

Since New Orleans’ streak began on Nov. 28, Williamson has averaged 30.0 points, 9.1 rebounds, 5.3 assists and 1.6 steals per game while shooting 66.9 percent from the field.

Averages of 33.0 points, 8.3 rebounds and 4.0 assists during the week of Dec. 5-11 were enough for Williamson to earn Player of the Week honors for the first time in his young career.

I get the feeling that it won’t be the last.

Speaking of reminders, Williamson’s video-game-like efficiency is a reminder of the matchup nightmare he presents for opposing defenses on a nightly basis.

Guard him with a big man? Zion’s too quick.

A quicker wing? Zion’s too strong.

Send an extra defender? Make sure they don’t get in the picture too late.

“Just force him right!” Yeah, good luck forcing Zion to do anything.

And even still…

Zion Williamson and the MVP race

Naturally, chants of “M-V-P” have become a nightly occurrence for Williamson, who has firmly planted himself in the conversation by elevating his team despite the absence of Brandon Ingram, who went down with a toe injury in late November. 

MORE: What we know about Brandon Ingram’s toe injury

It’s not just the fans saying it, either.

“He makes the game easier (for us), in terms of pushing tempo, always putting pressure on the basket and always drawing multiple defenders,” said CJ McCollum of Williamson’s recent dominance. “He’s been playing like an MVP.”

Not only does the game seemingly come easy to Williamson, but he also has the innate ability to make the game easier for others, resulting in large-scale team success.

By definition, that makes Williamson an extremely valuable player. Could he be the league’s Most Valuable Player?

It’s early, but Williamson’s standing as the driving force of a potentially historic season in New Orleans is a great place to start for his MVP case. As the season goes on, he’ll be mentioned alongside the likes of Jayson Tatum, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Stephen Curry, Luka Doncic and Devin Booker, and while the latest odds don’t exactly favor Williamson, early returns suggest that he’ll ultimately have just as strong of a case — if not stronger.

Winning is the ultimate component and if the Pelicans remain in the conversation as the league’s best while Williamson continues to put up absurd numbers, his case will only get stronger.

15 years in the making, New Orleans may finally have itself a 22-year-old league MVP.


Credit: sportingnews.com

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