The New Orleans Pelicans announced in September that All-Star forward Zion Williamson was in jeopardy of missing the start of the 2021-’22 NBA season due to a foot injury. More than a month later, the Pelicans are still unsure when the NBA star could return to action.
Williamson underwent foot surgery this offseason to repair a fracture in his right foot. New Orleans initially expressed optimism that the 6-foot-6 forward would be cleared to return for the regular-season opener. But the Pelicans are now through their first seven games of the season and Williamson isn’t close to seeing the floor.
Williamson recently underwent more scans over the weekend. After further evaluation, Pelicans’ head coach Willie Green said Williamson is tentatively scheduled to undergo more scans in 2-3 weeks. If he is cleared by doctors after that, then he can progress to full participation in practice.
- Zion Williamson stats (2020-’21 season): 27 ppg, 7.2 rpg, 61.1% from the field, 124 Offensive Rating, .205 WS/48
While there is some good news with that update, it still leaves tremendous uncertainty for a specific timeline for the NBA star’s return.
Appearing on ESPN’s “NBA Today”, NBA insider Brian Windhorst reported Nov. 11 that Williamson is weeks away from a potential return.
“The good news is he is working very hard, he is putting in the sweat equity, he is getting closer, but he is still weeks away.”ESPN NBA insider Brian Windhorst’s Zion Williamson injury update
When will Zion Williamson return?
New Orleans is going to play it safe with the face of its franchise. The team took extreme caution during his rookie season as he worked his way back from a torn meniscus. He played in just 20 games during the COVID-shortened 2019-’20 season and had a minutes restriction.
- Zion Williamson stats (2019-’20): 22.6 ppg, 6.3 rpg, 58.3% from the field, 115 Offensive Rating, .141 WS/48
The Pelicans know the long-term risks for big men with significant foot injuries. Williamson, whose weight has increased since being sidelined, has reportedly drawn some concerns from the organization about him exceeding 300 pounds at 6-foot-6.
While the team hoped to compete for the NBA Playoffs, or at the very least a play-in spot this year, the Pelicans’ season is off to a rocky start. New Orleans has the worst record in the NBA and has the second-lowest point differential (-11.1) in the NBA.
The team’s upcoming schedule also makes it increasingly likely they will be near the bottom of the NBA standings by the time Williamson undergoes his next scans. From Nov. 13 to Nov. 19, New Orleans faces the Memphis Grizzlies, Washington Wizards, Miami Heat and Los Angeles Clippers.
Realistically, there’s a possibility the Pelicans’ losing streak stretches deep into November. If the club is still sitting on one or two wins entering December, that will raise some question about exactly when Zion should return.
- Zion Williamson contract: $10.733 million salary (2021-’22), $13.534 million salary (2022-’23). Eligiible for rookie supermax extension (five years, $181 million) in 2022.
Williamson is making progress in his recovery, cutting during drills before games and at practice. But clearance for 5-on-5 drills is at least three weeks away. Even once that happens, there are no guarantees he’ll be in a playing shape that the Pelicans are comfortable with him on the court for 28-plus minutes.
At the earliest, it’s unlikely we see Zion Williamson return until December. By that point, the Pelicans will have played more than 25 games and could be 15 games below the .500 mark. With Zion’s long-term health and availability the organization’s top priority, rest games, minutes restrictions and an eventual shutdown are realistic outcomes.