The San Antonio Spurs game a week from today against the New Orleans Pelicans just got more difficult after it was announced that Zion Williams will make his NBA debut that night. Williamson has been sidelined for his rookie campaign after undergoing surgery for a torn meniscus.
Ironically, Williamson injured his knee during preseason in a game against the Spurs. In that game, which took place on Oct. 13, the 19-year-old had 22 points, ten rebounds and two steals in 31 minutes, while hitting 8-of-11 shots from the field.
Once he returns, Williamson will have 38 games remaining in his rookie season. The No. 1 overall pick of the 2019 NBA Draft is unlikely to be able to do enough to get in the running for the Rookie of the Year award. In addition to his abbreviated season, it’s unlikely that he will participate in back-to-back games for the Pelicans — or play an exorbitant amount of minutes on a nightly basis, for that matter, as New Orleans works him back from injury.
What to Expect from Zion Williamson in his Debut Versus the Spurs
First of all, the Pelicans fans will surely be hyped. They’ve been waiting a while for the man who they hope to be their franchise savior to make his regular season debut.
As far as Zion Williamson himself, there’s no reason to expect him to do anything other than play really, really well. In preseason prior to his injury, Williamson averaged 23.2 points and 6.5 rebounds on 71.4% shooting from the floor in only 27.2 minutes per game. Expect him to be in the starting lineup and impact the game with his athleticism right away.
Defensively, the Spurs will likely begin with Trey Lyles guarding Williamson. Don’t be surprised if the Spurs throw multiple bodies at him — everyone from Rudy Gay to LaMarcus Aldridge could spend time on him. In the preseason game, head coach Gregg Popovich actually used Jakob Poeltl as Williamson’s primary defender — and that’s something Pop could go back to in a week.
The Impact on the Playoff Race
Both the Spurs and Pelicans will be fighting for a spot in the playoffs the rest of the season. Currently, San Antonio is ninth in the Western Conference; they’ve fallen behind the Memphis Grizzlies due to a six-game winning streak by the Grizzlies.
New Orleans is 14th in the West but they are only 3.5 games behind the Spurs. If Zion Williamson proves to be a star and elevates the franchise, San Antonio and the rest of the teams fighting for the seventh and eighth seeds could find themselves fighting off a charge from the Pelicans.