What’s Wrong With Zion Williamson? The Mystery of Pelicans Rookie’s Knee Injury

Zion Williamson, Pelicans

Getty Zion Williamson, Pelicans

It started nearly eight weeks ago, when Pelicans rookie Zion Williamson was apparently injured in a preseason game against the Spurs. Originally, it was described as “soreness” in Williamson’s right knee, but a week later, Williamson was said to have torn the meniscus in his knee and underwent surgery to remove the torn portion.

At the time, there was optimism that Williamson might be a relatively quick healer and could be back on the floor on the short side of the 6-to-8-week timetable laid out by the Pelicans.

Here’s what Dr. Steven Struhl, Board-Certified Orthopedic Surgeon and a member of the faculty at NYU Medical School, told Heavy.com about meniscus recovery: “There’s zero healing, it’s just the skin that heals. The knee is going to need a little time to settle down after surgery.”

And Dr. Derek Ochiai, a leading surgeon at the Nirschl Orthopaedic Center, told Heavy.com this: “It’s a really quick recovery. The only thing that has to heal is the skin. There is not much internal healing you are waiting for and as an athlete, you can be back ready in two months, maybe less. You can be back at a high level, too.”

We’re just about at two months. Instead of celebrating Williamson’s return, there’s rising nervousness around the franchise about Williamson, who has yet to return to practice.

The Pelicans have not offered much insight into Williamson’s situation. He has begun light workouts again but has not returned to practice. Coach Alvin Gentry said this week that he was not aware of any health setbacks for Williamson.

The earliest return date for Williamson now, factoring in practice time needed before he takes the floor, would be December 15, when the Pelicans have a two-game homestand against Brooklyn and Orlando. After that, New Orleans goes on a road trip, playing four games in eight days, ending in Denver on Christmas.

It’s possible Williamson could make his debut during that trip, but he would be unlikely to play in all four games.

Last month, Gentry made clear that the team would not rush back Williamson. “Everything is progressing as it should,” Gentry said. “It’s a time thing. We’re not going to rush it and he’s not going to rush it. As far as the progress that he’s making, everything is fine and right on time.”

Would the Pelicans Shut Down Zion Williamson?

It’s important to note that Williamson’s surgery on the knee was not a repair of the meniscus but, rather, a debridement of the torn portion. That is important in this context, because issues that can arise with a repaired meniscus include problems with the stitches—a loosening or an infection, for example.

Because he did not have stitches, that’s not what’s holding Williamson back. But the Pelicans are not saying what, exactly, is holding him back. That has sparked speculation that something else is wrong or that New Orleans will shut down Williamson for the season, much as the Clippers did when Blake Griffin entered the NBA in 2009. Other than rumors and speculation, there’s been no evidence the Pelicans will go that route.

There had been some concerns about Williamson’s weight—he came into the season at 6-6 and 284 pounds—and perhaps the Pelicans want to make sure he is in top shape when he gets back on the floor.

But there is no connection between Williamson’s weight and the original injury according to

“I read some stuff about this case with that,” Dr. Struhl told Heavy.com, “where they were asking those kinds of questions. And someone said it’s absolutely absurd that his weight would put him at risk for this kind of thing and I agree. That’s ridiculous. Otherwise, every 300-pound basketball player would be ripping the lateral meniscus every time they played.”

Still, the Pelicans would need to have Williamson back quickly to have any chance at reviving the playoff hopes they carried when training camp opened. They’re 6-15 now, much worse than expected, and on a six-game losing streak.

All is not lost, because the bottom rungs of the West have been worse than expected and the Pelicans are only 3.5 games out of the No. 8 seed in the conference. But Williamson was the No. 1 pick in last year’s draft, the guy tabbed to resurrect the Pelicans as a franchise following the Anthony Davis trade fiasco last year.

The longer he is out, and not even practicing, the more questions are bound to crop up.

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