Zion Williamson Nears Return From ‘Frustrating’ Knee Injury

The Pelicans rookie forward said he wanted to “punch a wall or kick chairs” sometimes during his extended rehab from a preseason knee injury.

As Zion Williamson spent the past three months recovering from knee surgery, he tried to be patient. It did not always work.

“It was a lot of times when I wanted to just punch a wall or kick chairs,” he said, “because it’s frustrating to not be able to move your body the way you want to.”

The good news for Williamson, and for countless fans who have been eager to see the 19-year-old phenom make his regular-season debut, is that the wait is nearly over. Williamson, the top overall pick in last year’s N.B.A. draft, is expected to play for the New Orleans Pelicans on Wednesday night against the visiting San Antonio Spurs.

“It’s been very difficult,” Williamson said on Tuesday at a news conference at the team’s practice facility. “But it’s finally here. I finally get to go back out there.”

Williamson, a 6-foot-6, 284-pound forward who spent one season dominating at Duke before he left for the N.B.A., appeared in four preseason games for the Pelicans, averaging 23.3 points and 6.5 rebounds per game while shooting 71.4 percent from the field. But he had surgery in October to repair a torn meniscus in his right knee.

The injury fostered fears that Williamson — known for his viral dunks and incredible leaping ability — was too explosive for his own good, especially given his stocky build. His extended absence did not alleviate any of those concerns; the Pelicans had initially projected that Williamson would return from surgery in six to eight weeks.

But David Griffin, the team’s executive vice president of basketball operations, emphasized throughout that the Pelicans were being overly cautious. Williamson resumed practicing with the team earlier this month. He said the entire process had been grueling — both the mental toll of missing games and the physical burden of rehab.

“I did learn a lot about my body,” said Williamson, who added that he had been honing his ability to land more softly. “Focus on the small mechanics that need to be fixed.”

Without him in the lineup, the Pelicans have had an up-and-down season. They started 1-7, and later lost 13 straight games over one brutal stretch of their schedule. But since then, New Orleans has won 11 of its last 16 games, including a 126-116 victory over the Memphis Grizzlies on Monday. At 17-27, the Pelicans still have an outside shot at a playoff berth.

The team has an extremely young and talented core, one that has been highlighted by the emergence of Brandon Ingram, a multidimensional forward whom the team acquired in an off-season trade with the Los Angeles Lakers. Ingram, 22, is averaging 25.6 points, 6.7 rebounds and 4.4 assists a game.

“In my opinion, he’s a definite All-Star,” Williamson said. “Got to say that. He’s come so far in just a few months since we started, and I’m just looking to feed off that.”

At the same time, Williamson said he was aware that anticipation had been building for his debut.

“I know that people in New Orleans are going to show a lot of love, because that’s what they do,” he said. “But for the outside people, all I can do is just invite the love. If you want to bring it, then bring it.”

Source - The New York Times