Williamson's career is too precious to rush him back.
Zion Williamson came into this season as the most hyped prospect since LeBron James. Just a few years ago, Zion wasn't even on anyone's radar. Eventually, he had a huge growth spurt which allowed him to become one of the most physically gifted college athletes we've ever seen. During his entire rookie season at Duke, Zion measured 6'6" and weighed a whopping 285 pounds. His physical measurements translated exceptionally well on the basketball court as he was doing things no one could have imagined. His dunks were monstrous while his blocks were downright demoralizing. He made the Duke Blue Devils one of the most fascinating sports teams in the entire world and when March Madness rolled around, all were on him. After numerous awards and enough National media attention to last him a lifetime, Zion was drafted first overall by the New Orleans Pelicans. Of course, this move had Pelicans fans salivating as they were over the moon about seeing such a generational talent play for their team
While the excitement was high, there has only been one problem. We are two months into the season and Zion hasn't played a single game. The explanation for this is a fairly easy one. During Summer League, Zion banged his knee in the first game and as a precaution, the team didn't let him play a single match afterward. Once the preseason rolled around, Williamson was allowed to play and just as we expected, he was spectacular. He was consistently scoring over 20 points per game while delivering his signature earth-shattering dunks. His preseason play brought his hype back up to unforeseen heights. Unfortunately, it all came crashing down when it was revealed that he needed surgery for a torn meniscus and would miss six to eight weeks.
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It's been around eight weeks since this initial announcement was made and Zion is nowhere to be found. While there have been some videos of him shooting at the Pelicans practice facility, he doesn't look like he's anywhere close to ready for real NBA action. Not to mention, it appears as though he has gained weight due to his inability to participate in physical activity. Despite Williamson's lack of progress, Pelicans president David Griffin assured former NBA star and current analyst Reggie Miller that Zion will be back soon. Of course, Miller wasn't buying it and took to Twitter for his take on the whole thing. "Said this November 21 during the Pelicans vs Suns game, only to be told by David Griffin the President of the Pels at Halftime “No No No, Zion will DEFINITELY be back mid December”, fast forward to December 3rd Mavs vs Pels I double downed and said again," Miller explained. "Only to be told again, no no he’s coming back.. STOP the charade, trying to keep interest and more importantly the national TV games.. This young man will be the face of the franchise, let him heal and more importantly get in NBA SHAPE."
Miller makes a great point that the Pelicans need to consider at this point. Williamson has a lot at stake here. As a highly-touted prospect, the expectations for Williamson are high. If he can't turn the Pelicans into a contender, or at least put up big numbers, he will be hailed a bust. If the Pelicans rush him back and put him at risk for even more injuries, his chances of becoming a bust will be even greater. There are plenty of examples of players who have been rushed back from injuries and their careers suffered from it. Perhaps the best example of this is Greg Oden. Oden was selected first overall by the Portland Trail Blazers in 2007 and was considered a generational talent who could make the Blazers a real contender. His massive frame led to some devastating knee injuries that forced him to retire early. In fact, Oden missed three full seasons because of his injuries and only played a total of 105 games in the NBA. Aside from Oden, Derrick Rose is another great example of what can happen if you rush a player back from injuries. Rose was a former NBA MVP whose prime years were completely derailed by injury after injury. The Detroit Pistons star was never able to find some consistency and now he is considered to be one of the biggest "what-if" stories in NBA history.
Zion's injury woes are nowhere near those of Oden or Rose although the potential is definitely there. At 285 pounds, you're putting a lot of weight on your knees especially if you do a lot of dunking. If Zion were to be rushed back this season, in his current physical condition, he would be in prime position to reinjure himself and put his entire career in jeopardy. The Pelicans are mortgaging their future on Williamson and if they want their investment to pay off, they're going to need him healthy for the long haul. Not to mention, Williamson has various endorsement deals at stake and if he continues to miss a prolonged time due to injuries, those deals will dry up very quickly. There is simply too much money at stake to be playing with his health.
If Zion and the Pelicans want to make sure their partnership is a fruitful one, they need to proceed with both patience and caution. For now, Williamson needs to make sure his knee is 100% functional while also getting his diet and exercise plans right. From there, the Pelicans should ease him back into on-court workouts slowly but surely until he's comfortable with the team's system. This process could take months of hard work but in the end, it will all be worth it. A healthy Zion will be the ultimate weapon in taking down some of the Western Conference's more prominent teams. As it stands, the Pelicans are 14th in the Western Conference and have no chance at making the playoffs. Forcing Williamson to play this season would not only be reckless, but it would also be downright pointless.