Zion Williamson injury update: Pelicans rookie expected to make NBA debut on Jan. 22 vs. Spurs

Zion Williamson has missed the first several months of the NBA season while recovering from a torn meniscus. He was initially on a 6-8 week recovery timeline, but that time frame came and went with little news. Now, we finally have a firm idea of when Williamson will return. Pelicans executive vice president of basketball operations David Griffin revealed that he expects their No. 1 overall pick in last year' draft to make his NBA debut next Wednesday, Jan. 22 against the San Antonio Spurs

The plan, Griffin revealed, is for Williamson to participate in a few more practices. Assuming all goes as planned, he will play in his first NBA game against the Spurs. If that timeline is altered for any reason, New Orleans' next games following the Spurs matchup come against the Denver Nuggets, and then the Boston Celtics on national television on Sunday, Jan. 26. 

Williamson will be returning to a Pelicans team that has been surging up the standings of late. They are 7-3 in their last 10 games with the return of Derrick Favors causing drastic improvement on both sides of the ball, and are currently only four games out of the No. 8 seed in the Western Conference. Five teams sit between them and the current No. 8 seed Memphis Grizzlies, so actually reaching the postseason appears to be a rather daunting task. 

Still, Williamson's presence should prove hugely impactful for a Pelicans team that has struggled with inconsistency at the power forward position. Lately, they have been using lineups that start three guards in Lonzo Ball, J.J. Redick and Jrue Holiday, while their rather skinny potential All-Star in Brandon Ingram up to power forward. A staggering 71 percent of Ingram's minutes this season have come at power forward, and while those lineups have had success, he is far better equipped to play small forward given his frame. Williamson's return will enable that. 

It should also create even more space for New Orleans' vastly improved shooters to work with. Ingram, a career 32.9 percent 3-point shooter prior to this season, is hitting over 40 percent of his attempts as a Pelican, while Ball is shooting 36.6 percent on over six attempts in his last 20 games. The Pelicans are currently 20th in the NBA in points in the paint with 46.4. Zion will change that, and it will only make his perimeter teammates more dangerous. 

But more than anything, his return is a major victory for a league that desperately needed one. NBA ratings have been down across the board this season, and Williamson is perhaps the most anticipated rookie to enter the league since LeBron James in 2003. The NBA gave the Pelicans numerous nationally televised games in an effort to showcase him. Now fans are only a week away from seeing what he can do as a professional, and that should give both the Pelicans and the league a major ratings boost. 

Sam Quinn joined CBS sports as a basketball writer in 2019. Prior to that, he wrote for 247Sports and Bleacher Report. He is a New York native and NYU graduate who also has roots in Florida and California. Full Bio

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