When will Zion Williamson return? Pelicans struggling, awaiting Zion’s NBA debut

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Zion Williamson hasn’t even played one minute on an NBA court, so it’s weird to say that the New Orleans Pelicans really need the a player without any official NBA experience. Well, that’s because Zion really impressed during the NBA Summer League and during the NBA preseason, and New Orleans has severely under performed to expectations

The Pelicans have a 3-9 record through the team’s first twelve games of the 2019-20 season. With some injuries and the disappointing early performance of the team, the focus on when Williamson will return becomes more of a priority for an organization that was already projected to be a 7-8 seed in a tough Western Conference.

When Will Zion Return to the Pelicans?

It’s been a month since the Pelicans announced that the dynamic rookie was going to be out indefinitely on October 18th, 2019 due to an injured right knee. A few days after that deflating announcement, the Pelicans released a clarification that Zion would miss 6-8 weeks as he rehabilitated a torn right lateral meniscus after undergoing surgery on his knee.

If we’re to take the team’s given timeline, we can expect to see Zion in his first game sometime in late December. Projecting out eight weeks from the time they announced his recovery schedule, we matched that up with the Pelicans schedule and Zion could potentially make his NBA debut:

  • December 18th vs. Minnesota Timberwolves
  • December 20th vs. Golden State Warriors
  • December 23rd vs. Portland Trailblazers

If Zion heals quicker, the six week mark means Williamson could make his debut on December 3rd, 2019 when the Pelicans host the Dallas Mavericks. Even coming into the fifth week, we’re still very much uncertain when Zion will play.

That said, we’re encouraged by Pelicans executive vice president of basketball David Griffin after recently referred to Zion as a “Genetic Marvel” and mentioned on ESPN during an interview that he expects Zion to play his first game before 2020.

No doubt New Orleans will take their time bringing back Williamson to ensure that he is as close to 100% before putting him on the court. “[Zion is] doing really well,” Griffin said. “He’s… in really good spirits. We think his recovery will be really smooth.”

No Need to Rush Zion

There’s no lack of story lines this NBA season. Even with everything going on, there’s still a healthy amount of  hype surrounding Zion and his return, especially after his spectacular, record-setting performances in the preseason. In limited minutes, Zion used his strength, athleticism, powerplay and NBA ready body on his way to 23.3 points, 6.5 rebounds, 2.3 assists and 1.5 steals while shooting 71.4% from the field.

All that said, Zion seems to have settled into waiting until he’s ready.

“The team supports me and wants me to stay here and keep rehabbing so I can be ready.” said Williamson, who addressed the media last week for the first time since the surgery. I’ve been able to be around the team a lot more now. It’s great. It sucked at first, but it’s getting better day by day.”

With the Pelicans way below .500 and one of the big disappointments this season after adding Brandon Ingram, J.J. Redick, Jahlil Okafor, and Lonzo Ball, the early impulse is for Zion to put on his #1 Pelicans jersey after he passes the first few tests of readiness.

The medical staff and organization will think better of it and take their time with their potential franchise cornerstone. The long game is important to keep in mind and Zion already is talking like a veteran knowing that it’s better to wait a few extra games than to take any risk; no matter how small.

“It’s a long season,” Williamson said. “This isn’t like college or something where it’s 30 games. It’s 82 games, so I don’t really see a need to rush back.”

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