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Predicting Zion Williamson’s return after Pelicans latest press release reveals positive news

Let’s throw some smart darts

Memphis Grizzlies v New Orleans Pelicans Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images

The New Orleans Pelicans released some positive news yesterday in a team press release regarding Zion Williamson’s return from injury.

The New Orleans Pelicans announced today that forward Zion Williamson has been cleared to participate in contact drills, beginning with 1-on-1 workouts and progressively working towards full team workouts.

Williamson, who underwent imaging on his fractured right foot on Thursday (Nov. 11), was medically cleared by Dr. Richard Ferkel of Southern California Orthopedic Institute and Dr. Scott Montgomery of Ochsner Health. Williamson will undergo further medical imaging on November 24, which will determine his availability for full team workouts. Additional updates will be provided on his anticipated return to play timetable accordingly.

Barring any setbacks, Williamson is on track to be cleared for full team workouts, like 5-on-5 workouts, in one week’s time. That lines up accordingly with what Willie Green told media earlier this month.

If this upcoming set of scans produces promising results once more, the next hurdle should be the last one: how much full-contact practice time will Williamson require before seeing his first game action of the 2021-22 season?

It should largely be a matter of conditioning — and Aaron Nelson’s group signing off on the aftereffects from the level of forces that Williamson’s body generates.

Not only do the Pelicans’ medical and training staffs have to consider the surgically repaired bone in Zion’s right foot, they also have to factor in the potential for all types of pitfalls after such a long lay-off. So Williamson’s knees, hamstrings, various tendons found in the leg will all be closely monitored.

Everyone remembers Christian Clark’s report, right?

Publicly, the Pelicans said Williamson left the bubble to deal with a family medical issue; while there was no reason to doubt that, team sources said Williamson had suffered a hamstring injury, which the Pelicans didn’t disclose.

If any new problem crops up, expect Zion’s return date to get pushed back, likely falling sometime in the 2022 calendar year.

Then, of course, there’s the glaring issue of game shape. You know the old adage: one isn’t in basketball shape until one plays enough competitive basketball.

Well, that’s exactly what NBA players faced when asked to go zero to sixty just weeks before the start of games that counted towards the standings inside the Orlando bubble.

Think back to how in the first few months of the Covid-19 pandemic everyone was isolated from one another. No one knew for quite awhile if the 2019-20 season would resume. And when that decision was finally made, teams were not allowed to immediately start practicing together in preparation for Orlando. It was all just individual-based work until they physically landed in Florida.

Teams started to arrive in the bubble about July 7. The first game on the schedule was July 30. So, the league’s decision, after doing their due diligence, felt it was fair to give players a hair over three weeks to get into basketball playing shape.

Incidentally, that’s also the same time frame that Kendrick Perkins mentioned when asked by Rachel Nichols, “How long do you think it’ll take players to get into game shape?”

“It takes longer for a big guy to get into shape than it does for a guard or a wing,” Perkins said. “I don’t know why. Maybe it’s just because you’re 7-foot, 260-270 pounds. For professional athletes, I think three weeks of training camp, with the three scrimmage games, I think guys will be perfectly fine.”

260-270 pounds? Hmm.

Perkins’ words should never be taken as gospel; however, the data to come out of Orlando, interestingly, was positive. It showed that fewer injuries were sustained in the bubble than in other regular seasons.

Combining that research with the fact that Zion is a 21-year-old and the Pelicans are more familiar with leg injuries befalling their star, it’s reasonable that his earliest realistic return could be in approximately three weeks or so from November 24 — provided doctors see a bone that’s 100% healed next week.

If no voodoo curse gets uttered, his first action could come against the Thunder (Dec. 15), Bucks (Dec. 17), 76ers (Dec. 19) or Trail Blazers (Dec. 21).

As for how many minutes Williamson receives in his first game back, and whether bursts are forced to become a part of our vocabulary again, is anyone’s guess. But let’s not act greedy. Seeing Zion back on the court in any capacity counts most at the moment.

For more Pelicans talk, subscribe to The Bird Calls podcast feed on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher or Google Podcasts. You can follow this author on Twitter at @OlehKosel.