NBA

How Zion Williamson's debut compares to LeBron James, Michael Jordan and other NBA greats

By Sports Desk January 23, 2020

Zion Williamson certainly announced his arrival to the NBA on Wednesday night.

The first overall pick in the 2019 NBA Draft had 22 points, seven rebounds and three assists in 18 minutes of action for the New Orleans Pelicans in their 121-117 loss to the San Antonio Spurs.

Williamson had been sidelined since preseason due to a knee injury but dazzled in his debut, scoring 17 straight points at one point and hitting all four of his three-point attempts.

But how did other NBA greats fare in their first games?

 

Bill Russell - 6 points, 16 rebounds, one assist (December 22, 1956)

Prior to Russell's NBA debut, the Boston Globe had asked whether it was possible to "be too good to be overrated". No pressure, kid. 

Russell did not make any of his four free throws and went 3-of-11 shooting in 16 minutes. However, a man who would go on to be an 11-time NBA champion shone in other facets, grabbing 16 boards and blocking three straight Bob Pettit shots.

Wilt Chamberlain - 43 points, 28 rebounds, one assist (October 24, 1959)

A star at high school and college, the 7ft 1in center's bow for the Philadelphia Warriors was eagerly anticipated and he did not disappoint, racking up the points and rebounds.

It was a sign of things to come and Chamberlain won both the Rookie of the Year and MVP awards in his first season.

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar - 29 points, 12 rebounds, six assists (October 18, 1969)

The broadcast of this debut included the line "the whole country has waited for it", a reflection of the attention the 7ft 1in Milwaukee Bucks center commanded at the time.

Abdul-Jabbar, then known as Lew Alcindor, scored 29 of his NBA record 38,387 points that night and he went on to be named to 19 All-Star Games.

Magic Johnson - 26 points, eight rebounds, four assists (October 12, 1979)

The first overall pick in the 1979 NBA Draft came to a Lakers team that featured Abdul-Jabbar, and it was the veteran's buzzer-beater that delivered the win against the San Diego Clippers.

A pumped-up Johnson certainly impressed, though, and his zeal for the game was evident when he jumped on Abdul-Jabbar amid wild celebrations at the end.

Larry Bird - 14 points, 10 rebounds, five assists (October 12, 1979)

Johnson was not the only future Hall of Famer debuting on that night in October 1979 as Celtics great Bird was also making his first appearance.

The Lakers man might have had more points, but Bird had the double-double and he, not Johnson, would go on to be named Rookie of the Year. Both men won three MVPs and were named to 12 All-Star Games.

Michael Jordan - 16 points, six rebounds, seven assists (October 26, 1984)

There was little indication of what was to come when Jordan put up solid but not spectacular numbers against the Washington Bullets.

He would soon find his groove, though, averaging 28.2 points in a campaign that ended with the Rookie of the Year award. Five MVPs and six championships would follow for perhaps the greatest of them all.

LeBron James - 25 points, six rebounds, nine assists (October 29, 2003)

A man well-versed in dealing with insane hype, James' NBA debut for his hometown Cleveland Cavaliers was delayed because another game went into overtime and ESPN did not want TV audiences to miss a second of the 18-year-old's bow.

Cleveland lost but 'The Chosen One' delivered exactly what the television executives were looking for, a steal and a dunk providing the first of many highlight-reel plays the four-time MVP would produce.

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  • Is the Premier League's new handball rule resulting in more penalties? - Investigating the Opta numbers Is the Premier League's new handball rule resulting in more penalties? - Investigating the Opta numbers

    Handball – after matchday three of the 2020-21 Premier League season, that seems to be all anyone is talking about.

    It proved decisive in three different games over the weekend, with Brighton and Hove Albion, Tottenham and Crystal Palace all on the receiving end of controversial decisions – the latter's manager, Roy Hodgson, went on a tirade regarding the "nonsense" rule change.

    But arguably the most vociferous of the hot takes regarding handball – see Jamie Carragher deriding the decision as "an absolute disgrace" – focused on the events at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, where in the seventh minute of added time, Eric Dier was penalised via VAR for handball despite having his back to the ball.

    Although Mourinho refused to criticise the decision, in his own unique Jose way he left no uncertainty as to his feelings on the matter – "If I want to give money away, I'll give to charities, not the FA," he told Sky Sports.

    Steve Bruce, whose Newcastle United profited from the decision to clinch a 1-1 draw, gave the impression of being almost embarrassed at having been a beneficiary, effectively suggesting some form of football managers' mutiny against the sport's rule-makers.

    But are they exaggerating the changes? Is handball proving more prevalent? We looked at the Opta data and, as the old adage says, there's no smoke without fire…

    Premier League on course for avalanche of penalties

    Before delving into the data, we have to understand what specifically has changed with respect to handball in the Premier League. Technically, the idea that it is a "new rule" this season is a red herring – instead, the law has been altered in England to bring it into line with those adopted across Europe last season.

    It's a stricter approach that basically means a player will be penalised for handball – in a defensive context – if the struck hand/arm is away from the body or raised, or if the player leans into the path of the ball.

    On top of those points, the International Football Association Board (IFAB, the body in charge of the rules) tightened up the boundaries involved, meaning handball should be given – regardless of intent – if the ball strikes the arm below the bottom of the armpit unless it has come off another part of the player's body first or they have fallen on to the ball.

    The numbers do IFAB and FIFA no favours.

    After 28 matches in the new Premier League season, 20 penalties have been given and six of them awarded for handball.

    That means there has been an average of 0.71 penalties per match this term, a huge increase on the averages from the previous four seasons.

    Last term it was at 0.24 per game – prior to that it stood at 0.27 (2018-19), 0.21 (2017-18) and 0.28 (2016-17).

    "But those figures could be down to an increase in bad tackling!" – don't worry, we thought of that.

    While that stat of six handballs may not sound huge, it's actually the same figure for the entirety of the 2017-18 season, while it also equates to 30 per cent of all penalties this term – in 2019-20, 20.7 per cent of penalties were awarded for handball, 13.6 per cent the year before and 7.5 per cent before that.

    Put into a 'per game' context, penalties for handball are being given every 0.21 matches – almost one in four. The most it reached in the preceding four seasons was 0.05 in both 2019-20 and 2016-17.

    While it is unlikely that penalties will be given at such a frequency throughout the season, it's not impossible.

    If it does carry on, we are on course for 271 in 2020-21, just four fewer than the totals for 2019-20 (92), 2018-19 (103) and 2017-18 (80) combined. Similarly, we would expect 81 of those to have been caused by handball.

    That's 24 more than were given in total across the previous four years.

    How do the figures compare to European leagues?

    Clearly, the change that has been effected in the Premier League is significant, but compared to the other top five leagues, the differences are a little less stark… in most cases.

    Even though the rules are now supposed to be consistent across the top five leagues, we are still seeing a lot more penalties in general.

    Last season, Serie A recorded the highest frequency of penalties at 0.49 per game, with that figure dropping to 0.15 specifically for handball.

    LaLiga was next with 0.39 penalties each match and 0.13 for handball. The Bundesliga's respective figures were 0.24 and 0.06, and for Ligue 1 they were 0.32 and 0.08.

    But specifically relating to handball, the percentages are much closer. In fact, LaLiga (32.2 per cent) and the Bundesliga (30.5 per cent) saw a greater share of spot-kicks awarded for such offences than the Premier League is in 2020-21.

    Ligue 1 (25.8 per cent) and the Bundesliga (24.7 per cent) aren't far behind, either.

    So, while the data would seemingly prove the points of Bruce and Hodgson, IFAB might argue the consistency and black-and-white nature of the law make it better - football managers and players, on the other hand, disagree.

  • NBA Finals: LeBron's 10th appearance – the highlights and records awaiting NBA Finals: LeBron's 10th appearance – the highlights and records awaiting

    LeBron James is back in the NBA Finals and a significant achievement is in the offing for the Los Angeles Lakers superstar.

    The three-time champion will make his 10th appearance in the showpiece series when the Lakers battle his former team the Miami Heat for the Larry O'Brien Trophy.

    James has produced some memorable displays in the Finals, but also some he would probably rather forget.

    Ahead of Game 1 on Wednesday, we use Stats Perform data to look back at some of his stand-out performances in the championship series and see what milestones await.

     

    2007: Things got off to a shaky start for James, who had 5.8 turnovers per game as the Cleveland Cavaliers were swept by the San Antonio Spurs. That is the most by any player in a Finals in the past 30 years.

    2011: As the Heat's dream team were defeated 4-2 by the Dallas Mavericks, James averaged 17.8 points per game. It is the only time he has been held to under 20 in a playoff series.

    2012: LeBron's wait for a first ring finally ended and he was pivotal to the Heat's 4-1 success against the Oklahoma City Thunder. He finished Game 5 with 26 points, 13 assists and 11 rebounds, making him the first player since James Worthy in 1988 to have a 25-point triple-double in a title-clinching win.

    2013: The Heat went back-to-back by defeating the Spurs 4-3 and in the process James became the first player to have two triple-doubles in a single Finals since Magic Johnson in 1991 – the second of those came in Miami's incredible Game 6 overtime win, having been five points down with 28 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter.

    2014: LeBron became the first player to average at least 25 points per game on a minimum of 50 per cent three-point shooting in a Finals since Lakers legend Kobe Bryant in 2002. However, it was not enough to stop the Heat slumping to a 4-1 defeat against the Spurs.

    2015: Although the Cavs lost 4-2, James produced a string of stellar displays against the Golden State Warriors to become the first player to average at least 35 points per game in a Finals since Shaquille O'Neal in 2002.

    2016: In a rematch against the Warriors a year later, LeBron spearheaded a Cavs side that became the first team to come back from a 3-1 deficit in the Finals and win the NBA championship. His phenomenal block on Andre Iguolada with less than two minutes remaining laid the foundation for Kyrie Irving to seal the win.

    2017: The Warriors gained vengeance with a 4-1 success the following season, despite James averaging a 30-point triple-double in the Finals – a feat no other player has achieved since the NBA-ABA merger.

    2018: Things could have been very different had it not been for J.R. Smith's brain fade at the end of the fourth quarter in Game 1 of the third straight matchup with the Warriors. James became the first player with a 50-point game in the Finals since Michael Jordan in 1993, but Golden State won in overtime and went on to sweep the Cavs for the championship.

    What now?

    After missing the playoffs in his first year with the Lakers, LeBron has a chance to join John Salley and Robert Horry as the only NBA players to win a title with three different teams.

    Even more impressively, though, he can become the first player of any of the major leagues in the United States – NBA, NFL, MLB and NHL – to win the championship MVP award with three different teams.

  • Rivers confirms exit as Clippers coach Rivers confirms exit as Clippers coach

    Doc Rivers confirmed on Twitter that his time as Los Angeles Clippers head coach was over amid reports he had been fired.

    Among the favourites for the NBA title this season, the Clippers sensationally gave up a 3-1 series lead to be eliminated by the Denver Nuggets in the Western Conference semi-finals.

    Rivers arrived at the Clippers in 2013 and led them to the playoffs in six of seven seasons, but never beyond the conference semi-finals.

    The 58-year-old posted on Twitter thanking the team, confirming his exit.

    "Thank you Clipper Nation for allowing me to be your coach and for all your support in helping make this a winning franchise," Rivers wrote.

    "When I took this job, my goals were to make this a winning basketball program, a free agent destination, and bring a championship to this organisation. While I was able to accomplish most of my goals, I won't be able to see them all through.

    "Though it was a disappointing ending to our season, you are right there and I know what this team is capable of accomplishing with your support.

    "Thank you to all the players, coaches, and staff for helping us get here. Most importantly, thank you to the fans. We went through a lot, and I am grateful for my time here."

    Rivers finished with a 356-208 regular-season record at the helm of the Clippers, but was just 27-32 in the playoffs.

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