Zion Williamson was supposed to be the talk of the NBA season. Making headlines since before he was old enough to drive, Williamson’s combination of size and talent in 6’6″ frame made him unlike anyone the NBA had seen before and likely will ever see afterward.
All of this was put on hold, however, when a history of knee injuries caught up to him during the preseason and sidelined him until the second half of the NBA schedule. Now, he’s reflecting on where this took him and how his rehab is going to guide his immediate future in the NBA.
Zion Williamson’s concerning injury history
As far back as Williamson’s hype train goes back, so do his knee problems. Williamson has had knee issues that go back to his days as a high school player, and he missed a good chunk of AAU games because of it. His one season at Duke was also marred with the problem, as a viral moment where he blew out his knee and exploded out of his shoes showed some vulnerability.
Williamson’s knees also came up during the NBA’s Summer League, when he only played in one game before sitting out the rest of the event with a bruised left knee. He re-aggravated his knee during the preseason, and rather than risk putting him out there too soon, the Pelicans decided to sideline him for an extended amount of time.
Injuries early on are never a tell-all for a person’s career. Plenty of players have missed one or two seasons at the beginning of their careers and gone on to have long and healthy careers thereafter.
Williamson appears to be fine being patient with his knee troubles, however, and recently spoke with ESPN about how his rehab went and where he plans to go now that he is playing again.
Zion Williamson had a difficult rehab process
Williamson reflected on his rehab process now that he is back out on the court. It wasn’t easy. While most players have an offseason to prepare for their rookie season and get to start with the rest of the league, he had to wait and remain cautious while his mind told him that he was ready to play.
“The rehab process was horrible,” Williamson told ESPN. “There was a lot of days I just wanted to punch a wall [and] kick chairs because I wanted to play and they were like, ‘No, you can’t go out there, yet.’ “
The NBA saw what happens when players rush back from injury in the Finals last year when many believed that Kevin Durant was rushed out there from his preceding injuries in a way that helped aggravate his Achilles’ tendon. The Pelicans didn’t want to jeopardize Williamson before he even got a chance to step out on the court, and while he resisted, he understands why that was important.
“I think [that] at a certain point, the only thing that people could tell me was, ‘It’s going to pay off,’ ” Williamson said. “I kind of got mad because I heard the same thing every day.”
All of those long days spent doing leg exercises, walking drills, and whatever else was needed to add strength to his knees paid off, and Williamson was finally able to make his delayed debut.
An incredible debut
Zion Williamson beamed as he spoke about his debut against the San Antonio Spurs. Still on a minutes restriction, Williamson has made the most of his limited minutes and shown NBA fans the high-flying dunks, remarkable skills, and ridiculous athleticism that they hoped for.
Williamson’s rookie season might not be what people thought it would in June, but his career may meet the hype if he continues to keep it up and stay healthy.
Through nine games, Williamson is averaging 21 points, nearly eight rebounds, and a pair of assists. He is hitting shots, getting wins, and showing why he was already a household name years before the NBA debut. Williamson didn’t get here without hard work and the ability to overcome adversity, and that might be what helps him reach the level others expect from him.