New York — Zion Williamson is unlike any NBA player in history. The size, the explosion, the intensity. It’s not just the height on Williamson’s vertical, it’s how quickly he gets there. A true athletic phenomenon. It’d be easy to envision him terrorizing the paint for 15 Hall of Fame years.
And yet, Williamson also arrives with a warning label concerning his durability.
The Pelicans forward will be out “weeks” of the regular season because of a knee injury, according to ESPN. He was scheduled to make his debut at Madison Square Garden in Friday night’s preseason game against the Knicks, but remained in New Orleans for treatment and tests. The injury is reportedly not severe, which ostensibly means we can rule out a ligament tear. Still, it’s the same knee that Williamson sprained at Duke when his sneaker blew out. The other knee prompted him to abandon Summer League after playing just nine minutes.
Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry told reporters that Williamson probably sustained the latest injury on Sunday against the Spurs, and downplayed the concern with a little humor.
“He’s not dead, guys,” Gentry told reporters at MSG.
Perhaps, as scouts cautioned before the draft, he’s too big at 285 pounds to launch into orbit multiple times per game. Defying gravity on the way up doesn’t mean Williamson can avoid the consequences of the falling back down and its affects on the human body.
Hopefully, this is just a minor setback on the way to a thrilling career. Not only is Williamson a unique athlete, he carries a gravitating personality. Zion even made Duke likable.
But knees don’t get better with age. A simple way to ease concerns is for Williamson to drop weight. It’ll detract from the mystique of his athleticism, but verticals are worthless if Williamson can’t get on the court.
The NBA is more about speed than power these days. LeBron James cut weight a few years ago to accommodate. The rest of the league, per usual, followed LeBron.
Of all the NBA comparisons to Williamson, the two that make the most sense — although certainly aren’t perfect — are Blake Griffin and Larry Johnson. Both were high-flying immense men. Both entered the league with immense hype as No. 1 picks.
And unfortunately, both had careers derailed by injury. Griffin and Johnson reinvented themselves by developing a perimeter game, but the rim-shattering styles were not sustainable. Griffin’s left knee went out and Johnson’s back was the main issue. Williamson weighs more than both of them.
In the short term, Williamson’s knee “soreness,” as the Pelicans characterized it, is a blow to New York fans who bought a ticket for Friday’s game. The Nets host the Pelicans on Nov. 4 — their seventh game of the regular season — and it seems likely Williamson will miss his only scheduled appearance in Brooklyn.
For the sake of the NBA, hopefully this isn’t a sign of things to come for the most exciting rookie since LeBron.