Over the last few weeks, there has been much outside dialogue around when the New Orleans Pelicans expect rookie big man Zion Williamson to return to the floor. Williamson has been out of the mix for the last couple of months due to knee surgery, but there is finally some headway as general manager David Griffin has circled Jan. 22 against the San Antonio Spurs as the targeted date. That all hinges on him putting forth two more strong practices ahead of that contest. With that said, here’s what to expect from Williamson in his official NBA debut.
Pelicans will monitor his minutes on the floor
Throughout the process, the Pelicans have been quite mindful not to overwork or rush Williamson back to the floor.
It has been a recovery that he has operated at his own pace that has already exceeded the initial six-to-eight week timetable that was given for the rehab. Williamson’s return will also see the team closely monitor his minutes from the early goings to see how much he can handle.
Griffin voiced on Wednesday that there isn’t a minute restriction per se, which is more of the team not having a concrete number to cap his workload, according to Will Guillory of The Athletic. The Pelicans could lean towards the 20-minute range against the Spurs with his minutes split evenly in both halves of the contest.
That will also see them keep him out of playing in any back-to-back situations moving forward for the time being until he can prove that he’s ready to handle that physically.
Pelicans confident Zion Williamson is an improved player
These last couple of months have been tough for Williamson to be off the court, but it’s given him a chance to change things up.
Griffin indicated as much on Wednesday, stating that the 19-year-old is better than he was during his time in the preseason. Williamson was quite productive in his limited action in the preseason as he averaged 23.3 points and 6.5 rebounds while shooting 71.4 percent from the floor in just 27.3 minutes per game in four appearances.
The Pelicans are leaning on him to become a vital piece of the puzzle for the long haul. If he’s able to play with any of the same approach he had in the preseason, it could bode well for what’s ahead this rest of the season. It will also need him to prioritize taking care of his body to help avoid significant injuries.
Griffin’s comments make it clear that the franchise is confident that Williamson has grown from this experience quite early in his career.
How will Zion Williamson fit alongside Brandon Ingram?
In Williamson’s absence, the Pelicans have experienced plenty of ups and downs on the court, as they have fallen well below the .500 mark near the midway point of the season.
There have been some promising takeaways, such as forward Brandon Ingram emerging as their top-scoring option. Ingram is putting forth a career-best year as he’s 11th in the league with 25.1 points per contest on 47.6 percent shooting from the floor and 40.7 percent from beyond the arc. He’s also currently one of six players to be averaging at least 25.0 points, 6.5 rebounds, and 4.0 assists.
A significant part of bringing Williamson back into the fold will be getting him to fit in nicely alongside Ingram to further maximize the scoring prowess between them. That will be a major transition for the team to best utilize their two promising frontcourt talents on the floor together.
That will take some time as they build on-court chemistry, but it could be a promising development for the Pelicans’ future. Beyond all that, Williamson’s imminent return is an exciting step forward for the franchise and the city of New Orleans.