Zion Williamson Talks Rookie-Year Injury Rehab, Having More Fun in 2nd Season

Joseph Zucker@@JosephZuckerFeatured ColumnistMarch 3, 2021

New Orleans Pelicans forward Zion Williamson (1) drives down court against the Phoenix Suns in the first quarter of an NBA basketball game in New Orleans, Wednesday, Feb. 3, 2021. (AP Photo/Derick Hingle)
Derick Hingle/Associated Press

It turns out getting to play basketball is more fun than not getting to play basketball.

Zion Williamson missed the New Orleans Pelicans' first 44 games as a rookie while recovering from surgery to repair a torn meniscus.

During an appearance on The Old Man & The Three podcast, the No. 1 overall pick explained the difficulty of having to sit on the sidelines (discussion begins at 53:40 mark):

"In my first year, I'm around a new group of guys, a new group of coaching staff, just new group of everything rookie year. And then I go down with an injury. At first, I wasn't traveling with the team. I was just always rehabbing. Man, any player knows the rehab process is terrible. You're the first one in and last one out while watching practices. Your days are so long. You never feel like you're getting any sleep, if I'm being honest. The tough part when I came back was trying to fit in and play catch-up."

Williamson went on to say he couldn't fully enjoy actually stepping onto the court because he felt pressure to seamlessly fit in to what the Pelicans had been building.

"The fun part of it wasn't there," he said. "I couldn't even enjoy certain moments. It would just be, 'On to the next. This game, don't mess up with this. Don't be the reason the team loses because of this.'"

The 20-year-old contrasted that with the 2020-21 campaign in which he has missed just one game.

"Now my second year, I'm there from the start," he said. "I get to grow with y'all. It's fun, I have fun. I feel like I'm back in college again. I'm just getting to have fun with it. And when I'm having fun on a day-to-day basis, yeah, the days are different due to COVID, but it does feel like things go about fast because I am having fun."

That enjoyment is reflected in Williamson's performance. He was named a Western Conference All-Star thanks to his 25.5 points, 7.2 rebounds, 3.4 assists and 0.7 blocks per game. His field-goal percentage has also climbed from an already impressive 58.3 in 2019-20 to 61.4.

The Pelicans sit 11th in the West at 15-19, so they might wind up missing the playoffs for the third straight year. But that was somewhat expected when New Orleans lost Derrick Favors to free agency and traded Jrue Holiday to the Milwaukee Bucks.

While Steven Adams and Eric Bledsoe arrived to bolster the squad, the front office clearly isn't pushing in all of its chips to contend right now. Sooner or later, all of those draft picks will come in handy.

Williamson's progress—and more importantly his overall health—provide more than enough reason to remain excited about what the Pelicans can do in the future.