Zion Williamson’s summer league stint didn’t last long — the NBA’s No. 1 overall pick played just nine minutes before suffering a knee injury. The next day, the New Orleans Pelicans announced he would miss the rest of summer league play. According to Williamson’s former coach at Duke, the star forward would have been best served by sitting out summer league altogether.
“I thought really he never should’ve played just, because he’s been on this circuit of awards, the ESPYs, everything,” Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski recently told Forbes.
“I don’t think he’s in the playing shape or the mental shape to play,” Krzyzewski added.
Williamson bruised his left knee during a game against the New York Knicks on July 5. He didn’t accept his ESPY award for Best College Athlete until five days later. His one college season had garnered him a number of major honors, including Associated Press Player of the Year and the Naismith Award, and the 6-foot-7, 285-pound Williamson wowed college basketball fans with skill and athleticism.
When Williamson took the court in Las Vegas, though, he raised eyebrows for what some saw as deficient conditioning. That renewed concerns that surfaced before the NBA draft, about whether Williamson’s unusual physique might eventually hinder the enormous success predicted for him at the professional level.
“My concern isn’t about his game, my concern is about his body,” ESPN analyst and former Virginia Tech coach Seth Greenberg said of Williamson recently. “I mean, you can’t improve unless you’re in shape, and he is not in shape. … Whatever his weight is, it’s significantly overweight.”
Greenberg said he thought Williamson was “going to be a terrific player,” but even while noting a highlight-reel play Williamson made against the Knicks, Greenberg said: “He couldn’t move. … And right now, he’s in condition to get hurt, not to be a great player.”
“Zion will move forward from this incident without issue,” David Griffin, the Pelicans’ executive vice president of basketball operations, said in a statement about the decision to sit him for the rest of the summer. Griffin said New Orleans was exercising “an abundance of caution” and Williamson “will continue to take part in training and conditioning with our performance team.”
In an appearance on ESPN, Griffin said Williamson “wasn’t in great condition” when he reported to the Pelicans. Griffin added that “from a cardio perspective, it wasn’t a great situation to begin with,” and there wasn’t a reason to push Williamson after the injury.
Williamson, who turned 19 a day after the injury, will work with a nutritionist and is “fully committed” to the Pelicans’ program, Griffin said.
The next time Williamson takes the floor against NBA opponents could be Oct. 7, when the Pelicans tip off their preseason slate against the Atlanta Hawks. New Orleans has already made Williamson the centerpiece of its organization, having traded All-Star forward Anthony Davis last month to the Los Angeles Lakers.