Zion Williamson’s return to the court has been one of the most closely followed storylines in the NBA preseason after he missed the entirety of their last campaign with a Jones fracture in his right foot.
The 22-year-old forward has looked explosive in the limited action that he has seen in the New Orleans Pelicans’ first four exhibition games. He looks trim after understandably putting on weight during his rehabilitation last year and his athleticism has clearly not waned.
However, an apparent ankle injury that he suffered during the second quarter of their most recent outing versus the Miami Heat had the team and its fan base collectively holding their breath.
Although Williamson sat out the entire second half of the preseason contest, it was later revealed that it was only a precaution and early indications from the Pelicans are that the injury is nothing serious. He has been listed as day-to-day and it is likely that he will be ready for New Orleans’ season opener next week.
While it has been over half a year since he last suited up in an NBA game that had actual stakes, the first overall pick of the 2019 NBA Draft remains the centerpiece of the Pelicans’ present and future. He will have to remain healthy if this team is to take another leap forward following its promising ‘21-’22 campaign where they made a surprise run to the first round of the playoffs after acquiring C.J. McCollum in a midseason trade.
McCollum, Brandon Ingram, and Jonas Valanciunas may have established themselves as legitimate scorers on the NBA level, yet they are nowhere near the star that Williamson already is. These three players are best suited as secondary options and the upside of a team that relies on them as its primary options is realistically capped at the lower seeds of the Western Conference playoff race.
Feeding off Williamson’s gravity will open up many more opportunities for them on and this combination of talent should allow New Orleans to at least compete for home court advantage in the first round of the postseason this year. Their presence will also enable Williamson to further hone the playmaking skills that he flashed during his sophomore season where he had six assists or more in 13 of his 61 appearances.
The Pelicans’ role players are solid as well, from defensive specialist Herb Jones to Larry Nance Jr. to EuroBasket 2022 Most Valuable Player Willy Hernangoez, which further boosts their outlook coming into ‘22-’23.
It will be a difficult task to crack the top three in the West with the reigning NBA champion Golden State Warriors, Los Angeles Clippers, and Denver Nuggets all poised for a strong run, but New Orleans has the tools to wind up right behind them in the standings or even barge into this group if things fall in their favor.
The biggest variable for their season is undisputedly the health of Williamson. If he can recapture his form from ‘20-’21 where he played 61 games and averaged 27 points on 61.1% field goal shooting, 7.2 rebounds, 3.7 rebounds, 0.9 steals, and 0.6 blocks, then the sky’s the limit for this team. A disaster has been averted with his ankle scare and the hope is that he can stay healthy enough to have an impact this season.
The Pelicans’ hopes are pinned on this man and discovering the altitude that they can ultimately soar to this year is all dependent on how high–or more accurately, for how long–Williamson can fly.