Zion Williamson was the No. 1 pick overall in the 2019 NBA Draft — two choices before the Knicks took on former Duke teammate, RJ Barrett — but the powerful 6-foot-7 forward missed significant time in each of his first three seasons for New Orleans with knee and foot diseases.
The Pelicans, who host the Knicks on Saturday night, opened the season with five defeats in their first six games. There was little clarity on when to return from summer foot surgery for Williamson, who averaged 27.0 points and 7.2 rebounds per game over 61 games last season.
The Pelicans vice president of basketball operations, David Griffin, told ESPN earlier this week that the 21-year-old Williamson had not been allowed to resume training with the team, but Williamson was in uniform on the court ahead of Saturday’s game against the Knicks. .
“I think Zion would be a huge help,” said coach Willie Green. “Look, we are frustrating a huge guy in terms of attack and defense for our team. So adding him, hopefully soon, will make us a better team. But now I love what our guys are doing.
“Look, we’re a little bit ahead, but we’re playing hard and we’re playing together.”
Williamson, who was said to have ballooned to more than 300 pounds after surgery, has been working mostly alone and working only in straight lines in recent weeks. Meanwhile, the 2021 All-Star was relegated to the role of cheerleader on the Pelican bench.
“Z has been great, he’s in rallies, he’s talking to his teammates, and practically the same, he’s singing,” Green said. “We started talking a lot about the offense and where we see it.
“But he’s a great teammate, he’s been there for his buddies and he’s eager to get back on the field soon.”
The Pelicans faced the Knicks without 2020 All-Star winger Brandon Ingram, who was listed as questionable on Saturday afternoon.
Ingram, who averaged 25.0 points per game with Williamson absent, suffered a bruised right thigh during Friday’s home loss to the Kings. Green said he “wake up in pain” on Saturday.