The Pelicans Are Being Extra Careful With Zion

The 19-year-old superstar wants to play, but it's going to be a few more weeks

Zion Williamson
Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images

When the NBA scheduled its Christmas Day games this year, it made some careful assumptions. Most panned out, a couple didn’t. For starters, the Staples Center is indeed the new battleground for the West. Lakers-Clippers delivered (the Clips won, on the back of Kawhi’s 35-point effort), as it will continue to do so, most likely through Game 7 of the Conference Championship. In the East, Celtics-Raptors and Bucks-76ers were competitive games, too.

There were two games, though, that had Adam Silver and other league big wigs anxiously checking the ratings. Rockets-Warriors should’ve been a meeting of behemoths; instead, the Warriors are decimated by injuries this year, and trot out a team of Draymond Green and four guys from the parking lot each night. (In an unexpected twist, the Warriors won — but who stuck around to watch it happen?) Meanwhile, Pelicans-Nuggets was always going to be an odd Christmas contest, but back in the middle of the summer the league assumed that Zion Williamson would have a permanent residency on SportsCenter “Top 10” by now.

Zion had one hell of a preseason, in case you’ve forgotten. He became the first player to average over 20 PPG in 20 years (23.3), and shot over 70% from the field while doing so. His dunks are about as high percentage a shot that the NBA has ever seen, and the NBA and its fans, no matter who you root for, were looking forward to seeing a whole bunch of those slams, especially on Christmas Day. Unfortunately, the injury that’s kept him out all season — a torn meniscus — still has him of the court for the foreseeable future.

According to Zion himself, he’s ready. He told ESPN’s Jorge Sedano before yesterday’s game that if it were up to him, he’d have already made his debut. But the Pelicans are taking their sweet time. The West is competitive this year, the Pelicans are not (they’re 9-23), and there isn’t much point in rushing back a 19-year-old, whose magnificent dunks may also be his undoing. To the organization’s credit, they’re working with the star on how he moves; if he can learn to run differently, and distribute the force of his athleticism in different ways throughout his body (hack his kinetic chain, essentially), he’s got a better chance of staying healthy for the next 15 years. For now, though we wait. Expect to see Zion’s debut early in 2020, hopefully by the end of January.

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