Rookie phenom Zion Williamson expected to play the Bulls on Thursday Night

"(Zion) was a big part of our summer as a league and a big part of the fall, the hype for him. You saw our game here in preseason. It was electric with him in the building.” -Jim Boylen
by Sam Smith
Remind Me Later

Body

Highly-touted rookie Zion Williamson is expected to play his first regular season game against the Bulls on Thursday night.

He's a superhero, so don't come at him weak or meek.

Zion is coming to Chicago and we're all anxious to take a peek.

Out of the night,
When the United Center is bright,
Comes the man known as Zion.
This bold paladin,
Carves a "Z" with the wins,
A "Z" that stands for Zion!

It should be a bright night Thursday because the NBA's most anticipated rookie in a decade, Zion Williamson, is expected to play his first regular season game against the Bulls and just eighth overall as a 19-year-old professional phenom.

"A physical specimen, one of those once-in-a-lifetime type players," said Thaddeus Young, who figures to draw (endure?) the defensive assignment. "Super athletic with a big, wide body,"

That is if Zion—already a one name guy—plays. The explosive wide body washer/dryer combo listed at 6-6 and 285 was considered early Wednesday as questionable for Thursday with a sprained toe. The New Orleans Pelicans later upgraded him to "available," which if not a break for the Bulls is for fans anxious to see the next big thing in an NBA having a difficult season.

Zion Williamson shoots against Lauri Markkanen in a preseason game in October 2019.

It's taken awhile as Zion, after slicing up the Bulls for 29 points in 27 minutes in a preseason game, skipped the start of the season with meniscus surgery. It was worrisome for he as much as the NBA after being injured as a freshman at Duke and after just minutes in his only Summer League game. Williamson finally returned January 22.

A physical specimen, one of those once-in-a-lifetime type players.

Thaddeus Young

He's been good and occasionally exciting, averaging 19.6 points and eight rebounds. The Pelicans, 20-31, are 3-4 in his return. Williamson has scored at least 20 points in five of the seven games with a high of 24. He's not MJ quite yet. Jordan had 37 points by his third game and would get 45 by his ninth. The Pelicans are being cautious with Williamson, who has played more than 30 minutes twice. Though both in his last two games, a positive sign of confidence that his body can withstand the NBA grind.

The irony is that Zion is one of the most uniquely physical players ever to come into the NBA, drawing comparisons mostly to Charles Barkley. Zion is an extraordinarily explosive player for carrying so much weight. His body width for a 19-year-old is surprising as he moves like he's in a ballet. Like with LeBron James, observers say they've never seen a person that size react like that.

Zion returns to one of the league's more promising young teams that last month in New Orleans broke away from the Bulls with a 75-point second half for a 123-108 victory. And that was with Markkanen and Dunn, and LaVine scoring 32 points. Brandon Ingram was dominant that night with 29 points and 11 rebounds. Now he is expected to line up next to almost 300 pounds that moves as swiftly as a sword in the night.

Zach LaVine dropped 32 points during the last meeting between the Bulls and the Pelicans in January.

The mark of the Z!

"From what I've heard he's playing four and five, not three, four and five, which is probably good for him," said Bulls coach Jim Boylen about Zion mostly near the basket. "And he's healthy. I'm happy for him. He was a big part of our summer as a league and a big part of the fall, the hype for him. You saw our game here in preseason. It was electric with him in the building."

The Bulls would like to match that, which has become difficult lately with the surfeit of injuries.

Lauri Markkanen, Otto Porter Jr., Wendell Carter Jr. and Kris Dunn all remain out until likely after the All-Star break.

Zach LaVine has mostly attempted to keep the team afloat amidst the adversity. Though it's been a sinking feeling lately with 39 percent shooting the last four games and the Bulls losing their last three.

The veteran Young has attempted to salve the wounds, scoring a season high 21 points in Sunday's loss in Toronto and playing his best of the season starting for Markkanen. In seven starts this season, the last six with Markkanen out, Young has averaged 14.7 points. Playing off the bench, he'd been averaging a near career low 8.8 points.

Thad Young will likely draw the assignment of defending Zion Williamson on Thursday evening.

Though at the same time Young's name with the eventual return of Markkanen has come up in trade rumors with the deadline Thursday afternoon.

"No stress for me," Young said after Wednesday practice. "It might be stress for my wife and kids if they have to move and stuff like that. I've just got to go out there and play basketball. Haven't talked (to management) about trades or anything like that. The only thing we've talked about is going out there and trying to win as many games as possible. The last couple of weeks the minutes have changed. I've been playing more. The more you play, the more you get acclimated to the game, the more you get acclimated to your teammates and what we're trying to do out there. So I think that's been better for me."

The reward for him Thursday—assuming he's still with the team—is to attempt to catch that man of growing legend. Swift like a fox with a rapier like quickness, agile, acrobatic and as welcome as a superhero. Here comes Zion. Time for the mark of Z!

Got a question for Sam?

Submit your question to Sam at asksam@bulls.com

The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Chicago Bulls. All opinions expressed by Sam Smith are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of the Chicago Bulls or its Basketball Operations staff, parent company, partners, or sponsors. His sources are not known to the Bulls and he has no special access to information beyond the access and privileges that go along with being an NBA accredited member of the media.

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