NBA Rumors: Zion Williamson to Start in Pelicans Debut, No Minutes Restriction

Tyler Conway@jtylerconwayFeatured ColumnistJanuary 21, 2020

New Orleans Pelicans forward Zion Williamson laughs on the sideline in the first half of an NBA basketball game against the Memphis Grizzlies Monday, Jan. 20, 2020, in Memphis, Tenn. (AP Photo/Brandon Dill)
Brandon Dill/Associated Press

Zion Williamson will not be on a strict minutes restriction in his NBA debut Wednesday night against the San Antonio Spurs. He'll also reportedly be in the starting lineup.

Andrew Lopez of ESPN reported Williamson is slated to be part of the Pelicans' starting five after missing the season's first 44 games due to a knee injury. It's unclear who will shift to the bench, but JJ Redick is the obvious candidate if Alvin Gentry wants to keep Lonzo Ball and Jrue Holiday on the floor together.

The Pelicans are expected to keep his minutes in the 15-20 range despite having no "hard" limit. 

“This process has been one that has been really, really good. We’ve learned a lot more than we’ve probably taught him, frankly,” general manager David Griffin told reporters last week. “He’s getting to the point where we actually believe that he’s as ready as he believes he is.”

Williamson, the No. 1 pick in last June's draft, has been out since tearing his meniscus in the preseason. During his brief preseason action, Williamson looked primed to continue the dominance he showed last season at Duke. He averaged 23.3 points, 6.5 rebounds and 2.3 assists while shooting 71.4 percent from the floor in four preseason appearances.

While the three-month absence will undoubtedly lead to the Pelicans bringing him along slowly—it feels unlikely he'll play in any back-to-backs this season—it's still a promising outcome compared to those who said he should sit out the entire 2019-20 campaign

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Most, including the NBA, expected Williamson's rookie season to be one of the biggest draws on the league calendar. The Pelicans' schedule was packed with nationally televised games early on with hopes of drawing eyeballs to arguably the most hyped prospect since LeBron James. ESPN flexed out a marquee game between the Nuggets and Rockets on Wednesday to broadcast Zion's debut, despite the Spurs and Pelicans being well below .500.

The Pelicans are playing their best basketball of the season ahead of Williamson's return, posting a 10-4 record over their last 14 games. That run has gotten them back into the chase for the No. 8 seed in the West, sitting 3.5 games back coming into Tuesday night.