Zion Williamson will return to practice with Pelicans; status for opener undecided

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When Zion Williamson was on the court this season, the Pelicans outscored their opponents by 13.9 points per 100 possessions (the team had a -1 net rating for the season). The rookie opened up the Pelicans offense and had them looking like a playoff team.

Williamson’s quarantine after returning to the bubble should end tomorrow and he’s expected to practice with the team Wednesday, Pelicans GM David Griffin told Malika Andrews of ESPN. But that’s just one practice after being away from the team for more than a week with limited workouts (and he had cramping issues in practices before he left). Whether Zion plays in the first seeding game Thursday against Utah remains to be seen.

While Williamson was away from the team, Griffin said, the 20-year-old was able to fit in some light workouts. Now that he is in quarantine, the league delivered a yoga mat and a few other pieces of workout equipment to his room but “it is not like he is able to do anything that is conducive to running and jumping.” Griffin was unsure whether Williamson was given a stationary bike.

Whether Williamson is available to play in the Pelicans’ restart opener against the Utah Jazz on July 30 will be determined by how he feels after practicing.

“Literally any player on our roster who went 13 days without doing any physical activity, it isn’t going to be a given that we would just cut them loose in that next game,” Griffin said. “Particularly a player that generates as much torque as he does. So we will see where he’s at.”

New Orleans has proven again and again it will be incredibly cautious with the return of Williamson, looking at the long term over the short. They have done that since Summer League last year and throughout this season.

This, however, is a playoff push, which could have the Pelicans trying to push Zion a little. They need his scoring — and the gravity he brings to draw defenders and open up the offense — to make a serious run at the nine seed. New Orleans is tied with Portland and Sacramento, with San Antonio half a game back, all pushing for the nine seed and to be within four games of the eighth-seed Grizzlies to force a play-in series. 

How much run he gets and when that starts will be determined Wednesday when Zion practices with the team.

NBA fans (and some television executives) have their fingers crossed it ends up being a lot of court time for Zion.