Why Doesn’t Zion Williamson Get More Playing Time on the Pelicans?

The Zion Williamson experiment has officially begun in the NBA, although it may not have happened under the circumstances that fans wanted. After suffering a series of knee injuries in both the Summer League and the NBA preseason, the New Orleans Pelicans put Williamson’s much-anticipated debut on hold as he rehabilitated his knees. Now on the court, fans are still frustrated, as Williamson’s minutes are not where they expected them to be. 

Zion Williamson’s promise

Williamson has been on the radar of basketball fans since he was barely in high school. Built like a center with the height of a shooting guard, Williamson’s unique combination of girth and athleticism made him, unlike any player that people had ever seen.

In previous generations of the NBA, he likely would have been the top pick out of high school, but Williamson would have to take his talents to Duke before his shot at the NBA. 

Williamson dazzled at Duke. In one year, he averaged nearly 23 points per game while shooting a ridiculous 68% from the field. He could knock down threes when needed, and his overwhelming build proved to be an impossible player to guard.

However, a late-season knee injury that saw Williamson explode out of his shoes against UNC put him in doubt entering into March Madness and also highlighted a recurring issue. 

Knee issues have plagued Williamson since high school, and after missing the majority of basketball since March, the Pelicans have to be cautious with the way they handle their budding superstar. 

A stunning NBA debut

Fans were able to catch brief glimpses of Zion Williamson in the Summer League and the NBA preseason, but they never got enough of a look to see what he was capable of. The 19-year-old had years of hype and a league that was biting its chops to get a taste of the league’s next juggernaut. Out on the floor, Williamson did not disappoint. 

His NBA debut game against the San Antonio Spurs saw Williamson go on a tear where he not only showed his high-flying leaps, but his ability to shoot the ball and defend. A national audience cheered and gasped as they saw the full extent of Williamson’s moves. They also saw the New Orleans Pelicans pull him before the end of a close game before they could see what he had in the clutch. 

Williamson’s numbers have been amazing through his first seven games. He is putting up nearly 20 points to go with eight rebounds and two assists. He’s making shots both inside and out, and while his free throw game needs some improvement, his raw talent is far ahead of where his age would imply it to be. One jarring thing, however, is his lack of minutes. 

Why is Zion Williamson getting so few minutes?

Williamson might have all the hype and tools to become a superstar, but he also needs a healthy career to get there. Knee problems can be the bane of anyone’s existence in the NBA, and handling them poorly can be the beginning of the end — even if that player is a once in a lifetime talent. Head coach Alvin Gentry and the Pelicans know this and have treated Williamson with caution. 

Fans might want to see Williamson hit big shots against the Spurs and other teams, but they should also want to see him do so for years to come. Through his first seven games, the Pelicans are being cautious. Williamson has averaged 27 minutes per game during his initial stretch, and the Pelicans will likely continue playing him like this for the foreseeable future. 

Knee issues are no joke, and for a player who has been christened the next big superstar in the NBA, the hype surrounding him is huge. For Williamson to have the legacy that was promised him, he will need to stay on the court.

By limiting his minutes off the bat, the Pelicans are trying to ensure that they will not have to do so in the future as he settles into his role as the face of both the franchise and the league.