While a lot of players were struggling to find workout equipment and courts during the break, Zion Williamson was in the New Orleans Pelicans’ practice facility, getting treatment. Because of the knee injury that robbed Zion of most of this past season, he had a special waiver (as did other injured players getting treatment).
The buzz around the league is Zion took advantage of his opportunity. Tim Bontemps and Andrew Lopez of ESPN got a few sources to talk about Williamson could make a big step forward — and be a big ratings draw for the league — in the bubble.
“Zion has been diligent about taking care of himself,” said David Griffin, the Pelicans’ executive vice president of basketball operations. “He’s in a good space physically and mentally.”
Another team source went a step further.
“He’s going to shock some people,” the source said.
He already has. Williamson missed 45 games to start the season due to a torn right lateral meniscus. However, in 19 games he played after his return, Zion was a force who lived up to the hype, averaging 23.6 points per game on 58.9% shooting, plus pulling down 6.8 rebounds a game. His athleticism and aggressive attacking of the rim opened up the rest of the Pelicans offense, and they started to look like a playoff team.
If he’s playing better than that, the Pelicans have a real chance.
New Orleans enters the restart in Orlando 3.5 games back of Memphis for the final playoff spot in the West. If the Pelicans can finish as the nine seed — meaning beating out Portland and Sacramento, among others — and within four games of the Grizzlies, it will force a play-in series. The Grizzlies and Pelicans would play two games, and New Orleans would need to win both to advance and get the eighth seed, becoming a playoff team. It’s a longshot, but not impossible.
The league’s broadcast partners would LOVE to see it — LeBron James vs. Zion Williamson in the first round would be a ratings bonanza. (Not to mention Anthony Davis vs. the team he forced his way off of; and Brandon Ingram, Lonzo Ball, and Josh Hart vs. the team that traded them for Davis. There are storylines everywhere with that series.)