If there is one question that has hung over Zion Williamson’s first NBA season, it has been the matter of his conditioning and whether a player built like a bowling ball the way Williamson is can handle the grind of the league.
He played only 19 games before the season was shut down in March but his numbers were impressive—23.6 points on 58.9% shooting. The Pelicans, 18-29 without Williamson, were 10-9 when he played. But his weight seemed to be an issue that could hold him back.
Over the last three months, though, Williamson has been working on making sure he is in peak condition for the NBA’s return to action. And those around the Pelicans are raving.
“Honestly, I’m ready now,” Williamson told TNT’s Ernie Johnson. “I’ve been staying in shape, working on myself and just staying ready. You never know when the time is going to come when they’re going to say, ‘All right, let’s resume.’ I don’t want to have to look around at my teammates and say, ‘Sorry, guys, I’m not ready.’ So I’m staying ready for my teammates.”
Those teammates have taken notice.
“He looks amazing,” said teammate Lonzo Ball. “He looks fully healthy. He looks even stronger than he was before, if that’s even possible. But I was happy to see him, happy to see he’s in shape, and looking forward to playing with him.”
Lonzo Ball Formed Quick Chemistry with Williamson
Ball, especially, should be looking forward to playing with Williamson. It has been a good year for Ball but playing with Williamson has clearly pushed his game to another level.
Ball has averaged 12.4 points, 7.0 assists and 6.2 rebounds this year, shooting 38.3% from the 3-point line. Since January 22, when Williamson made his debut, Ball has really taken off: 13.1 points, 8.4 assists, 7.0 rebounds and 43.2% 3-point shooting.
Even in a limited window, the two have pulled off some of the most impressive alley-oop plays of the season:
WIlliamson’s Knee Injury was a Mystery
Williamson was the No. 1 pick in last year’s NBA Draft and entered the league with extraordinary expectations. While the hype was significant, so were the questions—especially about his frame and whether he was too big to handle the NBA’s schedule.
In fact, when he injured the meniscus in his knee in the preseason, some questioned how legitimate the injury was.
On TNT in October, analyst Chris Webber said, “I think the narrative on Zion has been a little unfair about him being injured, because I really don’t believe he was injured during the preseason. I think that maybe the Pelicans said, ‘Wait a minute, why would we put him in this situation to get hurt?’ And maybe gave him a little time off.”
Indeed, Williamson sat out much longer than expected. He injured his knee in October and, typically, a meniscus tear requires 6-8 weeks for recovery. Williamson was out for 13 weeks.
But there’s little doubt now that Williamson is in peak condition. When the Pelicans released photos of players at the team’s training facility, Williamson’s physique caught special attention.
It’s still a longshot that the Pelicans will play anything more than the eight remaining games on their schedule. They’re tied for 10th in the Western Conference and would need to be No. 9 and within 4.0 games of the eighth-seeded Grizzlies to force a play-in.
But with the Williamson looks now, however many more games the Pelicans have should be entertaining.