- Zion Williamson – the Duke sensation whom the New Orleans Pelicans selected first overall in the 2019NBA Draft – will miss a “period of weeks” to start his NBA career with a right knee injury, according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski.
- Though the news has undoubtedly unnerved Pelicans fans who have already tabbed Williamson with reinvigorating and bringing glory to their waning franchise, the 19-year-old’s delayed debut may be a blessing in disguise for New Orleans.
- Many of Williamson’s new teammates are not accustomed to the spotlight that comes with playing with someone widely considered to be the most highly-anticipated rookie since LeBron James.
- With their young star sidelined, the Pelicans will have a chance to get acquainted in their own right without the pressure of playing the literal first game of the NBA season with the buzziest new star drawing added attention to the team.
- To be sure, New Orleans is a far superior team with Williamson on the court than they are with him sidelined, but if his injury is truly minor, it may just be the best thing the Pelicans could have hoped for.
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Zion Williamson – the high-flying Duke dunker whom the New Orleans Pelicans selected with the first overall pick in the 2019 NBA Draft – has already stunned even his most adamant doubters with his incredible efficiency throughout his NBA preseason showings.
On Friday, ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported that the 6-foot-6 power forward will miss a “period of weeks” to start his NBA career thanks to a right knee injury he sustained during those preseason games. Even though Wojnarowski noted that the injury is not severe, the news has undoubtedly unnerved Pelicans fans who have already tabbed Williamson with reinvigorating and bringing glory to their waning franchise.
But the 19-year-old’s delayed NBA debut may just be a blessing in disguise for basketball in the Big Easy.
Williamson is the most highly-anticipated NBA rookie since LeBron James first stepped on an NBA court for the Cleveland Cavaliers back in 2003. But along with those soaring expectations comes an inordinate amount of pressure and attention, even for an NBA player.
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The Spartanburg, South Carolina, native has learned to trhive within that reality. In his first game as a Blue Devil, Williamson put up 28 points on 11-of-13 shooting to help lead then-No. 4 Duke to a monster 118-84 victory over the No. 2 Kentucky Wildcats. From then on, Williamson regularly found himself surrounded by swarms of reporters and cameramen, even while fellow future NBA lottery picks RJ Barrett and Cam Reddish sat mere feet away.
His star only burned brighter as draft day neared and the reality that he could revitalize a hapless franchise became even more of a reality. Still, Williamson has lived up to and arguably exceeded any of the weighty expectations placed on his shoulders, both on the court and off. But many of his new teammates – especially the younger ones – will need to learn how to handle the intense gaze cast upon their franchise’s crown jewel.
Josh Hart and Brandon Ingram – third- and fourth-year players, respectively – have some experience navigating the bright lights as former teammates of James on the Los Angeles Lakers. Third-year point guard Lonzo Ball was there right alongside them, plus he had the added attention garnered by his boisterous father, LaVar Ball. But James was already well seasoned in the art of navigating the bright lights by the time he joined the trio in Hollywood and, as a veteran superstar, he likely knew how to shield his younger teammates from its harsh glow.
For fellow young Pelicans Frank Jackson, Jalen Adams, Javon Bess, Jahlil Okafor, and Kenrich Williams, this level of attention is unprecedented, while fellow 2019 first-round draft picks Jaxson Hayes and Nickeil Alexander-Walker are still getting accostumed to the larger stage of the NBA.
All this is to say that the relaxed atmosphere and attention that comes with Williamson’s delayed debut may be a welcome respite for a very young New Orleans roster. The Pelicans will have a chance to get acquainted in their own right – and notch a few games under their belts – before welcoming the NBA’s buzziest player back into their ranks. And it’s almost certain that the attention Williamson will receive upon his return a few weeks into the regular season will pale in comparison to what he would have garnered during the literal opening game of the entire NBA season next week – against the league’s reigning champions, no less.
And, to be sure, New Orleans is a far superior team with its young star on the court than they are with him sidelined. Should Williamson’s knee injury prove to be a lingering issue, that will certainly spell trouble for a franchise that has essentially assembled a its roster around him.
But given that Wojnarowski himself reported that the Pelicans believe “there’s no shortage of confidence on [Williamson’s] full recovery,” a brief delay in what the team hopes will be a long and fruitful career may be the best they could have hoped for.
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