With his nonparreil athleticism and an NBA body possessed since at least he was a junior in high school, Zion Williamson seemed like a can’t miss no-brainer( though no.2 pick Ja Morant seems to be the one who is living up that billing) when the New Orleans Pelicans took him number one overall in the 2019 NBA Draft.
When he has actually been on the court, Williamson has been spectacular, averaging 22.5 points, 6.3 rebounds and 2.1 assists in his rookie campaign and elevating those numbers across the board in his second season, putting up 27.0 points, 7.2 rebounds and 3.7 assists and making the All-Star team.
The issue with Williamson is availability, having only appeared in 85 contests in two NBA seasons. He was limited to just 24 games after a torn meniscus kept him out for the first 44 games and the team was very cautious to turn him loose upon his return/debut. He appeared in 61 games in his second season, missing contest due to thumb and ring finger injuries.
The Pelicans have played 59 games and Zion Williamson has not played in a single one of them as he has been dealing with a foot injury that seems to be slow to come around. He is rehabbing the injury away from the team; he is in Oregon working with a former LSU strength coach.
The entire injury saga and how Zion has conducted himself seems to fuel the fire that Williamson has mentally checked out and is angling to get out of New Orleans. Zion’s physical conditioning, or lack thereof, is thought to be at least a contributing factor to many of his lower leg ailments. There are multiple reports of Zion being in far less than optimal shape prior to the start of the season; some speculation placed the Pelicans star at over 300 pounds.
The latest ding on Zion’s image was his handling of the CJ McCollum situation. McCollum was traded to the Pelicans shortly before the February 10 trade deadline, and revealed during TNT’s All-Star Saturday night that he had yet to speak with his new high-flying teammate. McCollum did say that following his interview at All-Star Weekend, Zion reached out and the two have spoken.
What the Pelicans have on their hands is a player in Williamson, who while immensely talented does not seem to be all-in with taking care of his body or being a part of the team. This is not the conduct of someone who can be the face of the franchise, much less that of one that may represent this league. If they are not at this point already, the Pelicans are rapidly approaching the point of asking themselves is time to cut bait and move on from Zion? If he does not want to be there, which his behavior seems to be evident of, the day the Pelicans’ season ends, whenever that may be, David Griffin and the front office staff need to be working the phones to erect a deal for their soon-to-be-portly star.
If the Pelicans have a modicum of self-awareness, they would have been astutely observing the saga with Ben Simmons and how you do not want the dark cloud of a openly disgruntled top player to loom over the team. Fortunately for the Sixers they had Joel Embiid to help steady the ship throughout that drama. While Brandon Ingram, CJ and Valencunas are high calibre players, they are not Joel Embiid and having the rotund shadow of an unhappy Zion heading into next season could derail the Pelicans efforts before they ever get going.