For the first time since May 2021, Zion Williamson was back on the court for an NBA basketball game.
The New Orleans Pelicans star made his highly anticipated preseason debut during Tuesday's game against the Chicago Bulls and gave fans a taste of what he might do when the season begins with 13 points in just 15 minutes.
He knocked in four of his six shots from the field and all five of his free-throw attempts. He also chipped in four rebounds, one assist and one steal as part of a 129-125 Pelicans win.
"Couldn't show them everything," Williamson told reporters. "But just kind of getting a feel for it again. Find spots. Picking and choosing where I want to attack. But, I got a new team since the last time I played. I'm still learning some of the guys. Today we were able to click. I feel like if we can do that for the rest of these preseason games, I feel we'll be in pretty good shape."
Williamson's return was one of the biggest storylines of the preseason after he missed the entire 2021-22 campaign, which would have been his third in the league. He also played just 24 games as a rookie, but those durability concerns didn't stop the Pelicans from giving him a max contract extension this offseason.
One look at the Duke product blowing past Patrick Williams for a monster dunk and protecting the rim on the other end had social media remembering why he is worth the contract as a franchise cornerstone for years to come:
Having a healthy Williamson elevates New Orleans' ceiling into a legitimate contender in the Western Conference, especially if he resembles the player who averaged 27 points and 7.2 rebounds per game while shooting 61.1 percent from the field during the 2020-21 season.
The Pelicans emerged from the play-in tournament and then challenged the top-seeded Phoenix Suns in the playoffs last season with a promising core that includes Brandon Ingram, Jonas Valanciunas, Herb Jones, Jaxson Hayes and Jose Alvarado.
Throw in a full year of CJ McCollum, who they acquired from the Portland Trail Blazers via trade last season, and Williamson, and a deep postseason run should be the goal in New Orleans in 2022-23.
Having Williamson back on the floor on Tuesday was just the first step, but it was an important one.