TORONTO • Zion Williamson will not only miss today’s National Basketball Association season-opener at champions Toronto Raptors but also the next few weeks, though the injury-enforced absence has not quelled the hype surrounding the New Orleans Pelicans forward.
Not since LeBron James has there been such a buzz around a rookie and many believe the No. 1 draft pick will go on to become one of the sport’s premier stars, with 68 per cent of the league’s general managers already predicting he will be named the Rookie of the Year.
An incredible pre-season run saw Williamson average 23.3 points, 6.5 rebounds and 2.3 assists a game in four games for the Pelicans, sinking 71 per cent of his shots and dominating inside of the paint, leading New York Knicks coach David Fizdale to call him “a monster”.
“He’s a beast. He’s just going to continue to get better and better,” he said. “We understand that kid is a heck of a player.”
But the 19-year-old’s frame at 2.01m and 129kg, combined with his high-leaping game and power play, could leave him prone to injuries.
Analysts have urged Williamson to trim down, with former Boston Celtics forward Paul Pierce telling ESPN in response to his latest knee injury: “He’s going to have to lose a little bit more weight.
“I couldn’t wait to see this guy and I pegged the Pelicans to be one of the most exciting teams in the league because of Zion.
“It’s a concern being that he’s so young and having these problems this early.”
Williamson suffered a similar knee injury when at Duke University and when the news broke last week, social media was abuzz with trending comparisons to 2007 No. 1 draft pick in Greg Oden, whose NBA career was derailed owing to the same ailments.
But fellow rookie R.J. Barrett feels his former teammate at Duke University is too much of “a freak” to let injuries stall his progress.
Williamson averaged 22.6 points, 8.9 rebounds, 2.1 assists, 2.1 steals and 1.8 blocked shots a game for the Blue Devils and his 68 per cent accuracy rate was the best in history for a freshman at collegiate level.
“He’s too big, too strong,” said Knicks guard Barrett. “There’s nothing you can do about it. You just got to contain him.”
Despite his absence on Toronto’s Scotiabank Arena court today, Williamson is also convinced he will “adjust very well” to the NBA, insisting that the Pelicans can spring a surprise this season.
New Orleans had the third-worst record in the Western Conference last term (33-49) and lost All-Star Anthony Davis to the Los Angeles Lakers, but the number of hungry players they gained in that blockbuster trade, including Lonzo Ball and Brandon Ingram, has given him confidence they “can do something special”.
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