Duke Basketball Pro Zion Williamson Delivers Career-High on Defense

The former Duke basketball star's ramped-up defensive efforts appear to be fueling a late-season Pelicans surge.
Former Duke basketball forward Zion Williamson
Former Duke basketball forward Zion Williamson / D. Ross Cameron-USA TODAY Sports
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Duke basketball fans are well aware of Zion Williamson's potential to be a bonafide defensive menace. After all, the 6-foot-6 bruiser averaged 2.1 steals and 1.8 blocks during his lone season as a Blue Devil before hearing his name No. 1 overall at the 2019 NBA Draft.

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As a pro, though, Williamson's intensity on that end of the floor, outputting an average of only 1.0 steals and 0.6 blocks for his career, has left much to be desired by New Orleans Pelicans faithful. Yet not so much of late.

On Friday night, the 23-year-old supplemented his 26 points, three rebounds, and three assists with one block and a career-high six steals in helping power the Pelicans (49-32) to a crucial 114-109 road win over the Golden State Warriors.

It marked New Orleans' fourth straight victory following a four-game losing streak, moving the franchise to within one win of securing its first ticket to the NBA Playoffs since 2021-22 and first time doing so without having to appear in the Play-In Tournament since 2017-18.

And it was the fifth straight outing that Zion Williamson, a two-time All-Star largely due to his prowess as a routinely unstoppable bucket-getter around the rim, has recorded at least one block and one steal. That's his longest such span this season.

"Point Zion" has averaged 2.6 steals and 1.8 blocks across this five-game stretch, giving the Pelicans a glimpse of the consistency he so often displayed as an aggressive ball thief and high-flying shot-blocker at Duke.

New Orleans, now sitting alone at No. 6 in the Western Conference standings, is gearing up for a home showdown against the Los Angeles Lakers in the team's regular-season finale at 3:30 p.m. ET Sunday. Again, a win by the Pelicans, who remain without the services of their other Duke basketball product and centerpiece forward in Brandon Ingram (left knee injury) but may welcome him back into the fold versus the Lakers, would ensure a playoff spot.

Stay tuned to Blue Devil Country on SI for more Duke basketball news.

Matt Giles


Matt Giles is the editor and publisher of FanNation's Blue Devil Country and All Tar Heels, covering the Duke Blue Devils and UNC Tar Heels on SI.com.