Pelicans' Zion Williamson Won't Play Back-to-Backs After Knee Injury Return

Joseph Zucker@@JosephZuckerFeatured ColumnistDecember 6, 2019

MIAMI, FLORIDA - NOVEMBER 16: Zion Williamson #1 of the New Orleans Pelicans looks on prior to the game against the Miami Heat at American Airlines Arena on November 16, 2019 in Miami, Florida. 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. (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)
Michael Reaves/Getty Images

The New Orleans Pelicans are already mapping out a load-management plan for prized rookie Zion Williamson when he makes his NBA debut.  

David Griffin, the team's executive vice president of basketball operations, said during Thursday's 139-132 overtime defeat to the Phoenix Suns that New Orleans will probably avoid playing Williamson in back-to-backs (h/t ESPN's Andrew Lopez).

"He very likely will not be asked to take the pounding of back-to-backs initially," Griffin said. "There will be a sort of ramp-up for him to getting back to where you would call him full strength, but he's certainly going to be playing, and we're trying to win basketball games."

Williamson underwent surgery in October to repair a torn meniscus. At the time, the Pelicans said they expected the No. 1 overall pick to be back within six to eight weeks.

Now that he's six weeks removed from the procedure, Lopez reported Williamson "has returned to doing some on-court work, including light walk-throughs with the team and spot shooting."

Griffin said in November the Pelicans would use "a great number of metrics" to determine when Williamson would receive the green light to suit up.

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Even with the former Duke star healthy, New Orleans faced a difficult road to the playoffs. Without him in the lineup, the team is 6-16 and above only the injury-ravaged Golden State Warriors in the Western Conference standings.

The Pelicans' struggles give them even less incentive to push Williamson hard out of the gate. The last thing Griffin wants to see happen is Williamson getting hurt again in what's shaping up as a lost season.

Fans can at least take one positive from the fact New Orleans is still expecting Williamson to play this year. Along with Brandon Ingram's breakout, his eventual introduction provides excitement for the future.