The top pick from the 2019 NBA Draft appears to be moving closer to making his professional debut. New Orleans Pelicans forward Zion Williamson has been sidelined since undergoing surgery to repair a torn right lateral meniscus prior to the season's start, and though he was initially expected to return before the calendar flipped from 2019 to 2020, December came and went without a return from their rookie. Now, it appears as though his absence may soon be coming to an end.
Williamson went through his first full practice with the Pelicans on Thursday morning and the organization is hopeful that he will make his professional debut during the month of January. Williamson won't be playing on the Pelicans' upcoming two-game road trip against the Lakers (Friday) and the Kings (Saturday), according to head coach Alvin Gentry, but his return could come just after that. We'll likely get a firmer return date some time in the next week or two after Williamson has had a chance to get a couple of more full practices under his belt.
Williamson spoke to media members after his first full practice, and he was understandably excited about the progress that he's made toward a return to action. Though he's eager to show his stuff in a real game, he also preached patience and knows that his long-term well being trumps his short-term desire to play.
"It was a great experience. I'm glad I was back out there," Williamson said of his first practice. "If it was up to me I would have been out there two weeks ago or something, but it was good to get back out there ... It's been a hard balance because I'm 19 and I want to get back out there. But from a professional standpoint, I do have to look at longevity."
Williamson may have already played in a game if it were up to him, but the Pelicans are being completely cautious with their prized pick and it makes sense that they're not willing to rush him back before they're 100 percent confident he's healthy and ready to lead this team -- not only this season, but for years to come.
Even after a mini four-game winning streak, the Pelicans are 11-23 and well outside the playoff picture in the West. This is a rebuilding franchise with a bright future ahead of it, and as such, rushing Williamson back before he is ready makes little sense. Instead, the Pelicans want to make sure that Williamson is not only physically healthy before taking the court, but also mentally prepared to avoid injuries in the future.