Zion Williamson 'Didn't Miss a Beat' in Return from Injury, Pelicans' Green Says

Tim Daniels@@TimDanielsBRFeatured Columnist IVOctober 20, 2022

NEW ORLEANS, LA - JUNE 26: Zion Williamson #1 of the New Orleans Pelicans signs his contract extension in New Orleans, Louisiana on June 26, 2022. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that by downloading and or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2022 NBAE (Photo by Layne Murdoch Jr./NBAE via Getty Images)
Zion Williamson and Willie Green (Layne Murdoch Jr./NBAE via Getty Images)

New Orleans Pelicans head coach Willie Green said star forward Zion Williamson "didn't miss a beat" in his first regular-season game since May 2021.

Williamson, who missed the entire 2021-22 campaign while recovering from a foot injury, recorded 25 points, nine rebounds, four steals and three assists in the Pelicans' 130-108 victory over the Brooklyn Nets on Wednesday night.

"It's a lot of room for improvement," Williamson told reporters. "I'm still learning my teammates. Now we get real in-game reps. I'm just excited to grow."

While it was only the first step of an 82-game marathon, there were a lot of promising signs for New Orleans in the season opener.

Along with Williamson's standout performance, fellow starters Brandon Ingram (25 points), CJ McCollum (21) and Jonas Valančiūnas (15) also had strong outings offensively, while Herbert Jones had his usual across-the-board impact, including a highlight-reel block on Kevin Durant.

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The Pels' also received 35 points off the bench, led by Trey Murphy III with 16. So Green couldn't have asked for a much better all-around start to the new season.

"When you have smart players and talent out there, it's easier to go out there and just play the game," Ingram said. "It was good to see a lot of one-on-ones that they couldn't be in a lot of help on the defensive end where we had shooters and we had different guys that can make players on the basketball floor."

As for Williamson, he played 30 minutes and showed no signs of any physical restriction in his first competitive game in 17 months. The talent that made him one of the most hyped draft prospects in recent memory three years ago was still on full display.

The 22-year-old Duke product is confident the best is yet to come once he shakes off some rust.

"Yeah, there are some shots where I'm like, 'Well that's good' and when it rolls out I'm like, 'No way.' But my teammates are there for me," Williamson said. "They just tell me to stay aggressive, keep attacking and just be myself. So I mean, they're in my corner so my confidence is going to stay high."

New Orleans entered the season as a sleeper in the championship conversation. It needs several things to fall into place to compete with the NBA's elite, starting with a healthy year from Williamson, but the talent is there to make some serious noise.

The Pelicans will look to keep the good vibes rolling Friday night when they visit the Spectrum Center to take on the Charlotte Hornets.