It’s safe to assume the 2019-20 NBA season didn’t go how Zion Williamson planned. After suffering a torn meniscus, the New Orleans Pelicans star didn’t make his professional debut until January; then, in March, the season was put on hold. Williamson, however, has been busy turning lemons into lemonade.
While no one was happy about the NBA season’s suspension, Zion Williamson put his downtime to good use. By turning back the clock and focusing on fundamentals, the forward should be ready to lead the Pelicans into the playoffs.
Zion Williamson’s bizarre rookie season
During his time at Duke, Zion Williamson seemed like a surefire NBA star. While his rookie season hasn’t gone according to plan, he’s still shown plenty of potential during his time on the floor.
After becoming the first overall pick of the 2019 draft, Williamson was the marquee attraction at the Las Vegas Summer League; a knee bruise, however, quickly confined him to the sidelines. While that injury didn’t seem like a big deal in isolation, it foreshadowed Zion’s rookie season.
Williamson returned to action in the preseason and looked dominant, but didn’t make his regular-season debut as planned. He underwent knee surgery to repair a torn meniscus; he was slated to miss six to eight weeks but ended up spending three months on the sideline.
Once the big man hit the hardwood, however, he immediately lived up to the hype. Before the NBA shut down, Williamson appeared in 19 games; despite playing less than 30 minutes per night, he averaged 23.6 points, 6.8 rebounds, and 2.2 assists per outing.
Working out like a five-year-old
Every NBA player is well-versed in the fundamentals of basketball. During the NBA season’s suspension, however, Zion Williamson flashed back to childhood and focused on the small details of his game.
“It just felt like I was 5 years old again,” Williamson said, according to ESPN’s Andrew Lopez. “Just went back to square one, tried to get my body where it needs to be, get my fundamentals back to square one, and start from there. So yeah, it was just like starting over at 5 again. It was a great process to learn it all over.”
Head coach Alvin Gentry had plenty of praise for Williamson and his stepfather. He also noted that the big man’s shooting touch seems to have gotten better during the layoff.
“His stepfather did a fantastic job of working him out every day, of making him be in good conditioning when we got him back,” Gentry explained. “He’s made a lot of strides in his shooting, I think. Although we weren’t together, he did a lot to improve his game.”
The layoff may have been exactly what Zion Williamson needed
In a vacuum, most players probably weren’t happy to put the season on hold for a few months. The NBA season’s suspension, however, could be a blessing in disguise for Zion Williamson and the New Orleans Pelicans.
After Zion’s surgery and lengthy rehab, the Pelicans were careful to treat him with kid gloves; while he was working his way back to full fitness, the young star was on a strict minutes limit. While individual workouts are no substitute for game action, Williamson will have had plenty of time on the court over the past few months. It’s hard to imagine those efforts, combined with his focus on the small details of his game, won’t allow the forward to hit his stride when the season resumes.
As things currently stand, the New Orleans Pelicans are 3.5 games out of the final playoff berth. With Zion Williams at his best—and potentially knocking down jump shots with ease—they’ll feel pretty confident about closing that gap in Orlando.
Stats courtesy of Basketball-Reference