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The Revitalization of Zion Williamson

New Orleans Pelicans guard CJ McCollum (3) throws an alley-oop pass to forward Zion Williamson (1) for the dunk against Philadelphia 76ers forward Tobias Harris (12) during the second half at the Smoothie King Center.

Many gloss over Zion Williamson’s history of knee injuries when looking at his NBA career so far. However, this season, he is revitalized.

The Revitalization of Zion Williamson

Zion Williamson’s Injury History

It is essential to recognize that Williamson’s knee has been unhealthy since his early high school days. He suffered a deep knee bruise in April 2017, causing him to miss some time with his AAU team, the South Carolina Hornets, and teammate Ja Morant. Williamson racked up a couple more injuries during his senior year of high school, not limited to his knee. Of course, we will never forget the infamous “shoe tear” incident when he was at Duke.

This is arguably the epitome of his injury history, creating drama around the Nike shoe he wore and his injury inclination. This has unfortunately carried over into his NBA career, with Williamson having knee surgery at the end of his rookie season, fracturing a finger in year two, and missing his entire third year after yet another surgery (foot). He has also faced scrutiny from fans and the media regarding his weight during these periods of injury.

Williamson’s Weight Struggle

The wrecking force that is Williamson can bulldoze his opposition in the paint. However, like every athlete, he needed to watch his calories. He registered over 300 pounds in his second year, up from his 285-pound freshman year at Duke. He said that part of his struggle with his weight was due to his unfamiliarity with an NBA salary. When asked about eating healthy food to stay in shape on the “Gil’s Arena” podcast, Williamson said it was hard because he felt like he had “all the money in the world.” Despite this, Williamson got that number back under 300 last year and maintained it through the offseason. Maybe this is due to his new max contract signed last fall, which included a “financial incentive” requiring him to keep his weight under 295.

What Now?

When Williamson is on the court, he is nearly unstoppable. Through 15 games, he’s averaging 24 PPG, 5.9 RPG, and 4.9 APG. A driving Williamson is unquestionably the scariest sight in all of basketball. Although the New Orleans Pelicans’ offensive scheme has changed with each coach, his presence has persisted. Williamson has thrived in Alvin Gentry’s fast-paced offense, Stan Van Gundy’s offensive freedom philosophy, and now Willie Green’s off-the-ball motion scheme. Yet, it is the latter that intrigues me the most.

The Pelicans brought former Charlotte Hornets assistant James Borrego to be Green’s consigliere. The relatively young Borrego and Green have modernized the Pelicans’ offense, emphasizing off-the-ball movement to assist Williamson and Brandon Ingram in scoring. Every NBA team employs off-the-ball movement, but how the Pelicans are doing it is specialized to past season struggles in efficiency, possessions, and three-pointers. The main focus is clear: run! This has been the first order of priority since camp started in September.

New Orleans, who ranked 24th last year in points per possession, has not improved in the first month of the season. Even Williamson’s numbers are down as the Pelicans hang on to a 10-9 record, eighth in the West. Is a play-in spot good enough for the Pelicans? If not, is it time we get serious about offloading talent in New Orleans? Would Williamson be better suited in a place like Charlotte or New York?

I hesitate to jump the gun, as we are only 19 games in, but it is something to keep an eye on as the season ramps up. This is the perfect year for fans to witness what a fully healthy Williamson can do. So far, he has missed four games this season – not ideal. However, I have faith that Green will be able to get the most out of Williamson because if he doesn’t, the Pelicans will have a taxing decision.

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