Zion Williamson’s unique blend of size and athleticism made him the most exciting prospect in years, but injuries have plagued him since high school. We dive deep into the physics of Zion’s leaping ability and the technique he must master in order to avoid chronic injuries in the future.
Charles Curtis | USA TODAY SPORTS
Nine NBA games is an extremely small sample size to lean on when gushing about a rookie sensation.
But not every rookie sensation is Zion Williamson.
And in the first nine games of his career after his debut was delayed due to knee surgery, the New Orleans Pelicans stud has already shown why he has more than a good chance of becoming a star in this league. No guarantees, of course, but the future is bright.
So with the All-Star break upon us, let’s look back on the first few games he’s played and the incredible things he’s doing as a first-year player.
1. His shot chart is wild
We saw this in the preseason and we’re seeing it now:
2. He’s doing things only two other rookies have done
3. He’s doing things only two other rookies have done, Part II
4. Zion is doing off-the-wall stuff in limited time
5. His Rookie of the Year odds were low while he was injured
This doesn’t have a ton to do with him, but it sort of does. ESPN’s Zion odds tracker tells us Ja Morant was minus-1000 in January and Williamson was plus-1600. Now? Per BetMGM, the gap has closed. Morant is minus-500 to win ROY and Williamson is just plus-400.
6. He’s doing all of this before he’s turned 20 years old
Jay Connor | THE ROOT
Zion Williamson is a force of nature, and for three agonizing months, millions of sports junkies throughout the world waited with bated breath for Coach K’s pride and joy to unleash a tsunami upon the NBA.
Williamson’s meniscus tear in the preseason derailed the entire league: TV ratings plummeted and his new squad, the New Orleans Pelicans, nearly careened into the bottom of the standings until a recent resurgence sparked renewed hope. And finally, on Wednesday night, Basketball Jesus emerged from his tomb and the only thing that could stop his reign of terror was his own coach, current bane of the universe, Alvin Gentry.
After a slow start, Zion unleashed a full-frontal assault on the San Antonio Spurs in the fourth quarter that looked something like this:
For three minutes and eight seconds, we bore witness to what can best be described as “tearing the Spurs a new asshole” as the 19-year-old phenom scored 17 consecutive points in one of the most insane displays of superhuman powers in recent memory. His opponents watched helplessly as our new Lord and Savior knocked down trey after trey with relative ease.
Yet with 5:23 remaining, and victory well-within the Pelicans grasp, Gentry did the unthinkable: He benched Zion.
No, seriously. I’m not making that up.
He. Benched. Zion.
Gentry had some explaining to do after his team inevitably lost by four points, and he pinned his decision to bench the nuclear weapon at his disposal on a minutes restriction.
“He couldn’t go back in the game, so don’t go there,” Gentry told reporters after the game. “Just because the medical people said that was it.”
Zion finished the game with 22 points, seven boards, and three assists in only 18 minutes of burn. And the Spurs aren’t stupid. They know they dodged a bullet.
“I’m glad he’s back,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. “He’s quite a package, both as a player and as a person.”
“He’s special, you know?” shooting guard DeMar DeRozan said. “Anybody who’s been following basketball the past few years seen the talent that he has, you know? Hope [he’s] able to stay healthy and be able to put it together. The sky’s the limit for him.”
As for Zion, he took the high road in discussing his coach’s decision.
“It’s very hard,” he said. “I’m 19. Honestly, in that moment, I’m not thinking about longevity. I’m thinking about winning the game. So it was very tough.”
Once that minutes restriction is lifted, the rest of the league might want to invest in some disaster insurance. Because it’s abundantly clear that the rookie phenom is about to wreak havoc for years to come.
Charles Curtis | USA TODAY SPORTS
Rejoice, NBA fans. It’s ZION WILLIAMSON DAY!
The No. 1 overall pick out of Duke will make his debut Wednesday night against the San Antonio Spurs at just the right time for the New Orleans Pelicans, a team that’s suddenly come together over the last month or so.
There are so many questions swirling about Williamson after his return from knee surgery, and so much speculation about what he’ll be able to do in the NBA.
I’ll add to it, with a prediction that’s probably not that nuts for those fans who watched him with the Blue Devils: he’s going to turn out to be something we’ve never seen before.
This is the Williamson who blew out his shoe while playing for Duke, likely because of the sheer force he put on his foot (and knee) while trying to pivot. It’s the Williamson who brings Shaquille O’Neal-like rim-shattering thunder when he dunks, who could prove critics wrong by hitting threes occasionally and make himself unguardable in the process. He’ll wow you with his underrated ball-handling skills for a man that size. And his otherworldly springiness will lead to surprise blocks and steals like this one:
Look at that speed! Look at that bounce!
And that SIZE! The Charles Barkley comparisons were somewhat apt, but Barkley didn’t seem this explosive above the rim. At 6-foot-6 and 285 pounds, it’s shocking at how nimble and smooth he is. A reminder: there are two NBA players heavier than Williamson is, and they’re 7-foot-4 (Boban Marjanovic, 290 pounds) and 7-foot-5 (Tacko Fall, 311 pounds).
Yes, that’s led to all the concerns about his size and his knees, with the Pels saying his weight isn’t an issue, but now, New Orleans is helping him with his “kinetic chain” to take pressure off certain parts of his body. We’ve actually seen that before with Steph Curry and his ankles (that worked out well!), but you get the point. He’s the rarest of body types in the league.
How do you defend that? I keep coming back to this incredible preseason shot chart against the Chicago Bulls:
Is he going to keep getting hacked to go to the line, where he might struggle (he hit 64 percent from the charity stripe in his one year with Duke)? Or is that a bad idea because he’s strong enough to fight through some arms near the rim to give himself and-ones forever?
You get the point.
Maybe Williamson’s weight is a problem, or his penchant to explode from the floor too much for his body to take. But on the night of his debut, everything is possible, even in the limited time he’ll be on the court. Be prepared to see something you’ve never seen before, and marvel.
Too many cookies after a rich Fat City dinner?
It sure looked like Zion Williamson was falling asleep on the Pelicans bench
Andrew Joseph | USA TODAY SPORTS
New Orleans Pelicans rookie Zion Williamson is nearing his NBA debut — possibly, even this week — but in the meantime, he’s been stuck watching the action from the bench.
Apparently, that can get pretty dull.
While I wouldn’t blame any regular person for nodding off out of boredom when forced to watch a January game between the Pistons and Pelicans, a regular person doesn’t play for one of those teams. Zion, however, does.
As the Pistons and Pelicans were playing a close game in the fourth quarter on Monday, the broadcast zoomed in on Williamson seated on the bench. And it certainly looked like the Pelicans rookie was battling those heavy eyelids, trying not to fall asleep.
Yeah, that’s pretty clear. He was making his best effort to stay awake. And NBA fans took notice to Zion’s near-power nap.
The best part had to be that the Pelicans were in a close game. Theoretically, that should have been compelling. The Pelicans ended up winning, 117-110.
JOSEPH ZUCKER | BLEACHER REPORT
Andrew Lopez of ESPN shared the details of Sedano’s report:
“Williamson told Sedano that he ‘trusts the organization’ in their decision making and also shared that his rehab process has been about more than just the recovery from surgery to repair the torn meniscus in his right knee.
“The 19-year-old also said the Pelicans are trying to re-teach him how to walk and run differently – working on the kinetic chain of his body.”
When Williamson underwent knee surgery in October, the Pelicans expected him to be back in six to eight weeks. While the No. 1 overall pick is making incremental progress in his rehab, it remains unclear when he’ll actually get the green light to play.
Sedano also said during the broadcast of Wednesday’s game between New Orleans and the Denver Nuggets that the Pelicans are hopeful Williamson can participate in five-on-five practice once the calendar turns over to 2020.
If New Orleans was contending for a postseason spot, the team might have an added incentive to accelerate Williamson’s timeline. Instead, the team is 8-23 and next-to-last in the Western Conference.
Williamson’s long-term health should be the Pelicans’ bigger concern, so it makes sense to not only make sure his knee has healed but also do everything they can to prevent another knee injury down the road.
Zion Williamson to miss 6-8 weeks after undergoing knee surgery
Cassandra Negley | Yahoo Sports
New Orleans Pelicans rookie Zion Williamson, the No. 1 overall pick in this past June’s NBA draft, will miss six to eight weeks after undergoing arthroscopic surgery on a torn right lateral meniscus, the team announced on Monday afternoon.
New Orleans opens its much anticipated 2019-20 schedule on Tuesday against the defending champion Toronto Raptors in Canada. The earliest side of his recovery timeline would keep him out until the first week of December, and an eight-week window would push his return closer to Christmas, when the Pelicans are scheduled to visit the Denver Nuggets. Either way, Williamson will miss somewhere between a quarter and a third of a season in which he was a favorite for Rookie of the Year.
The Pelicans ruled the star rookie out for Friday’s preseason finale against the New York Knicks on Thursday night, citing knee soreness. Initial reports reflected confidence from the organization that Williamson avoided severe injury, even as ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported that the 284-pound star would miss a “period of weeks.” This latest news sounds a little more dire.
Williamson missed all but one game in Summer League due to a bruised left knee. Pelicans executive vice president David Griffin said at the time it was out of an “abundance of caution” they were keeping him out. The new issue is on his other knee, the one that caused him to miss a portion of his freshman season at Duke when his shoe exploded and he suffered a sprain.
Williamson’s rookie season pushed back
Prior to the injury, Williamson was enjoying a stellar preseason performance, averaging 23.3 points, 6.5 rebounds and 2.3 assists over four games while shooting 71.4 percent from the field. He led the Pelicans in his most recent preseason game with a double-double of 22 points and 10 rebounds. His dunks have mesmerized fans, and he opened his NBA career with two of them.
A favorite for Rookie of the Year before the injury announcement, Williamson told Yahoo Sports’ Liz Roscher last week that he was more focused on the team than an individual accomplishment.
“To win a championship and have an impact on the team, that would be my dream rookie season,” he said.
New Orleans opens its home schedule a week from Friday against the Dallas Mavericks. The team has sold more season tickets than it has in the past decade and is now in the top half of the NBA in total sales thanks to the excitement Williamson brought to the city.
Zion Williamson injury update: What we know about Zion’s injured knee
Nick Schwartz | USA TODAY SPORTS
The New Orleans Pelicans are set to kick off the season on national television next Tuesday with a game against the Toronto Raptors, but the new-look Pelicans will be without No. 1 overall pick Zion Williamson for the start of the season. Williamson, whose NBA debut is one of the most anticipated in recent memory, is suffering from a knee injury that could keep him out for several weeks, according to reports.
What’s wrong with Zion’s knee?
On Thursday, the Pelicans announced that Williamson would miss the team’s final preseason game with “right knee soreness.”
According to the Pelicans, Williamson is not traveling with the team to the game, and will remain in New Orleans for testing.
Williamson missed time during the Summer League as well after suffering a knee bruise in his debut, but that injury was to his left knee.
How serious is the injury?
On Friday, ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported that Williamson’s injury is more serious than a day-to-day issue, but is fortunately not expected to be severe. The Pelicans believe the injury occurred in their game against the Spurs on October 11th. Williamson scored a game-high 22 points in the Pelicans’ win.
The Pelicans have every reason to be cautious with Williamson, so it’s possible he could miss an extended period of the season as he recovers.