Zion Williamson's debut is looming, with him set to make his long-awaited NBA debut on Wednesday night against the San Antonio Spurs (9:30 ET, ESPN). The path back to the court hasn't been easy for the No. 1 overall pick of the 2019 Draft, but he's ready, at last, to play.
"The rehab workouts are long and strenuous," Williamson said Tuesday. "There were a lot of times where I wanted to punch a wall or kick a chair. It's frustrating to not be able to move your body the way you want to, especially since I'm 19. It's been tough, but I battled through."
Williamson's regular-season debut was expected to be one of 2019-20's marquee events, but it was delayed several months due to Oct. 21 surgery on his right knee. Last week, New Orleans Pelicans Executive Vice President of Basketball Operations David Griffin told reporters that Williamson was set to debut against the Spurs.
Zion's mom told him it wasn't going to be easy.— New Orleans Pelicans (@PelicansNBA) January 21, 2020
His wait is almost over. pic.twitter.com/G5jbjqwpDM
That long-awaited debut is a welcome sight for Williamson.
"I know the people of New Orleans are going to show a lot of love because that's what they do," he said. "For the outside people, all I can do is invite the love. If they want to bring it, then bring it.
"It's been great. The city is beautiful, the people are beautiful as well. They've welcomed me. It felt like they've adopted me a little bit. They show love everywhere I go and just tell me they can't wait for me to get back out there."
LIVE 🎥: Zion Williamson addresses media ahead of Pelicans vs. Spurs on Wednesday night https://t.co/5SmDNQiLeb— New Orleans Pelicans (@PelicansNBA) January 21, 2020
Williamson returned to full-court, five-on-five work in practice with the Pelicans on Jan. 7. But coach Alvin Gentry and the organization took a non-committal stance about when Williamson would join his teammates on the floor in games.
"I think it might be a little different magnitude to this one. This is my first NBA game ... this is business now. This is different," Williamson said of his debut Tuesday.
He told reporters he expects a learning curve on the court, but hopes to fit into what the Pelicans have working of late as well. New Orleans has gone 11-5 since a 6-22 start, putting it within striking distance of a West playoff spot as Williamson's debut nears.
When asked what his role will be for the Pelicans, Williamson simply smiled and said he's spoken with the coaches and that it is to "go out there and help the team win."
Zion says his body feels better in terms of flexibility and says he’s been working on his landings a lot.— Andrew Lopez (@_Andrew_Lopez) January 21, 2020
Talks about not landing straight-legged. Says he can show us more than he can tell us.
"It's very exciting to be coming back at this time," he said. "We did go through a bad stretch but things are turning around. Everybody's been playing better and I'm just looking to go join in on the fun.
"It's just basketball. This is what I do. I've been doing it since I was four. ... It's one game at a time and that's what's been working for us."
Williamson, 19, hasn’t played in a game since an Oct. 13 exhibition victory over the San Antonio Spurs, in which he racked up 22 points to go with 10 rebounds.
Williamson said he first started to feel pain in his right knee after New Orleans’ 123-114 win in San Antonio.
A subsequent MRI exam revealed damage to the meniscus in Williamson’s right knee, and the rookie underwent surgery on Oct. 21, a day before the team’s season-opening road loss to the Toronto Raptors.
The team initially pointed to a six-to-eight week time frame for Williamson’s recovery, but it also took a long-term view toward the rookie’s rehabilitation process, before deciding ultimately to bring him along at a slower pace, given his importance to the franchise.
The No. 1 overall pick in last year’s Draft, Williamson scored the most points in the preseason by a rookie in the last three seasons when he hit on 12-of-13 shots for 29 points in a Pelicans comeback win over the Chicago Bulls.
Williamson averaged 23.3 points per game in four preseason outings while shooting 71.4% and pulling down 6.5 rebounds.
Information from The Associated Press and NBA.com's Michael C. Wright were used in this report.