As we learned during the NBA Finals when Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson suffered injuries in consecutive games that will impact the 2019-20 season, basketball players are very fragile creatures. They are always one misplaced step from serious damage. They know it. Their teams know it. We know it.
So you can understand why the New Orleans Pelicans have decided to pull the plug on Zion Williamson’s Las Vegas Summer League season after he bruised his left knee in his debut.
Williamson’s knee collided with that of Mitchell Robinson of the New York Knicks in the first half of Friday’s game and he was kept on the bench from that point forward. Quite understandably, the Pelicans are in no mood to test fate any further.
“Zion will move forward from this incident without issue,” Pelicans executive vice president David Griffin said in a statement. “However, in an abundance of caution, we have made the determination that he will not appear in game action for the remainder of the NBA summer league. He will continue to take part in training and conditioning with our performance team.”
So there was Zion on Saturday night chilling in street clothes while his teammates played the Washington Wizards.
If you missed his debut, Williamson was spectacular in front of a sellout crowd (17,500) at Thomas & Mack Arena stocked with celebrities, including Lebron James, Anthony Davis, DeMar DeRozan, P.J. Tucker, Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, Josh Hart, Buddy Hield, Julius Randle, Trae Young and Jrue Holiday. Even Floyd Mayweather was there with his massive posse.
Credentials were dispersed to 1,000 media members and tickets for the game were selling for $400. Believe us, that’s not normal for an NBA game at any point of the season, let along in the summertime. That’s freaking Final Four frenzy.
The New York Times said the crowd actually booed him when he settled for layups during pregame drills. They wanted action. And action he eventually provided. He scored 11 points (4-of-9 from the field) with three rebounds in just nine minutes, the most notable on jams, one over RJ Barrett, his former Duke teammate.
As thunderous as that was, it was not responsible for the suspension of the game in the fourth quarter with the Pelicans leading 80-74. The 7.1 magnitude earthquake that struck about 200 miles away was all event organizers needed to run for cover.
According to The Athletic, Williamson’s best moment came with about five minutes left in the first quarter after New York’s Kevin Knox snatched a defensive rebound. Williamson snuck in and grabbed the ball, knocked Knox to the floor and shook the rim with a two-handed slam that brought the crowd to its feet.
“This was a harmonic convergence of everything we’ve never seen before,” Warren LeGarie, founder of the Las Vegas Summer League, told the media at the game. “We want great stars like that out there. Let’s see how good you are. Let’s see if you can separate yourself from the clutter. They really owe it to themselves to prove whether they were worth all the hype. And we provide that forum.”
Williamson also entertained by swatting away a layup from Kadeem Allen, although that play was ruled goaltending. If there was one shortcoming it came with his perimeter shooting. He was 0-for-2 on three-point attempts. It goes without saying that if this continues his ability to get to the rim will be impacted by sagging defenders clogging routes to the lane.
The Pelicans did not make Williamson available to reporters. It sure would have been interesting to hear what he thought about his first pro game, played one day before his 19th birthday.
However, we know by now Williamson is very familiar with people exercising great caution to shield him from further injury. You’ll recall the Duke-North Carolina game on Feb. 20 when his Nike exploded and he fell awkwardly to the floor and sprained his knee. Williamson missed a lot of time and was forced to listen to many suggesting he never play another college game.
That’s not happening now, folks. But we’re not going to see Williamson on the floor again until the NBA preseason begins and who knows how much he’ll play in those games.
In case you were wondering, Williamson wore Kyrie Irving’s Nike signature shoe on Friday and it held up well. At least something else went right for him.