Giannis Antetokounmpo, Bucks' defense welcome rookie Zion Williamson to tough NBA nights

You’re not in Durham anymore, young Pelican.

Zion Williamson had the worst shooting night of his young NBA career in the New Orleans Pelicans’ 120-108 loss Tuesday night to the Milwaukee Bucks and Giannis Antetokounmpo, the defending MVP.

The game was billed as Williamson vs. Antetokounmpo and served as a tease for what’s to come as Williamson regains his conditioning and improves his game.

Williamson struggles against NBA’s best defense

The No. 1 pick in the draft played in only his seventh game Tuesday after a knee injury and finished with 20 points, seven rebounds and five assists with four turnovers.

He was 5-of-19 (26.3 percent) and missed all three of his 3-point attempts. In the previous six games, he shot 61.5 percent overall (48-for-78) and was never worse than 56.3 percent in any game. His 19 attempts Tuesday were a career high.

In his one collegiate season with Duke, he never shot worse than 44.4 percent in a game nor did he miss more than 12 shots.

“It was very physical,” Williamson said, via The Associated Press. “It was one of those nights where I couldn’t get my second-jump layup to fall. It was very frustrating, but my teammates were in my ear, telling me to keep going.”

That’s what happens when you run up against the best defense in the NBA. The Bucks lead the league with a 101.9 defensive rating and average 38.5 points allowed in the paint.

Antetokounmpo guarded Williamson one-on-one at times, catching him from behind on a fast break and swatting his shot at one point, and said after the game the Bucks gave the young star different looks to make it tough.

Williamson said he couldn’t keep up with Antetokounmpo and mentioned a lack of conditioning as he makes his return from a knee injury.

“It’s frustrating sometimes,” he said. “I feel like I can go do my 45-inch vert[ical] layup or dunk, and I’m like at 30-35 [inch vertical]. So it is frustrating. But I’m never one to say or make excuses. We did play a great defense and we just have to learn from it.”

The Pelicans (20-31) head to play the Chicago Bulls, 10th in defensive rating and 18th in opponents points in the paint, in a Thursday night game.

Antetokounmpo praises Williamson

Antetokounmpo had 34 points, 17 rebounds and six assists over 33 minutes, marking the 10th time this season he’s had at least 30 points, 15 rebounds and five assists. He’s the seventh player to do so, per ESPN Stats and Information, and the six others are all in the Hall of Fame.

The list: Wilt Chamberlain (six times), Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (four), Elgin Baylor (three), and Walt Bellamy, Bob Pettit and Oscar Robertson (one).

The Bucks’ leader had good things to say about the rookie and what he can be once he gathers all the professional tools necessary.

“Now when you get to the pro[s], you’ve got to be able to get your skill set right, get your fundamentals right, be sharp, get your footwork right,” he said. “And eventually he’s going to get all those things. And when you get all those things, he’s going to be really good. He’s going to have a lot of options and he’s going to help his team a lot better.”

Khris Middleton also had good things to say about his development.

“He’s a beast, man,” Middleton said. “He’s going to have a heck of a career. He’s a smart player. He creates so much force in that paint with the ball in his hands. He’s going to learn how to be a better player also, which I think is a scary thing to see.”

The Bucks scored 42 points in the third quarter and held the lead in the fourth as the Pelicans moved within seven points twice. Milwaukee has the league’s best record at 43-7 and host the Philadelphia 76ers on Thursday.

Rookie Zion Williamson had a tough time against the Bucks' Pat Connaughton (24), Giannis Antetokounmpo (34) and Donte DiVincenzo. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

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