After a report earlier this week that heralded rookie Zion Williamson will return “outside of the 6-8 week window” initially projected for his recovery from knee surgery, Pelicans Executive Vice President of Basketball Operation joined the Fox Sports New Orleans broadcast to clarify Williamson’s progress.
“I think six weeks (from Oct. 21) was three days ago,” Griffin said. “He continues to progress. He’s progressing very well. He feels very good about his process. And eight weeks is several days from now, and if we get outside of that, it will be because he hasn’t met the metrics for return-to-play that are laid out for him and every player on our team. He will not be treated any differently in terms of the return-to-play metrics.
“Now we have been much more cautious with him in terms of how quickly we’ve ramped him up from stage-to-stage because he’s 19 and he’s still growing and he was 285 pounds when he had the surgery. That’s a different [type of] player, that’s a diffferent [type of] person. It’s a population of one. So we’re obviously going to treat him differently as we ramp him through the stages. But there’s been no other setback or mission afoot except to get him back on the court as quickly as possible.”
The Pelicans announced on October 21 that Williamson had surgery to repair a torn right lateral meniscus, sidelining him for the start of the regular season. The 6-foot-6, 285-pound former Duke star averaged 23.2 points in four preseason games before missing the final exhibition with right knee soreness.
ESPN’s Andrew Lopez reports that Williamson has returned to do some on-court work, which includes walk-throughs with the team and spot shooting. In an interview with the assembled media last month, Williamson himself was preaching patience about his recovery time and projected timeline.
“Nothing’s changed, the timeline has not changed,” Griffin said Thursday. “If he hits those [return-to-play] metrics in seven weeks fine; if he hits them in 10 weeks, fine. We don’t care when that is, but he’s not getting on the court until he proves to us he’s healthy, no matter what he wants to do.”
Griffin said that Williamson likely won’t be playing in back-to-back games initially upon returning, with a likely gradual build toward ‘full strength’ in game situations. The delayed start, which stripped New Orleans of their starting power forward, has contributed to the Pelicans’ disappointing 6-16 record thus far.
“We’re trying to win basketball games and quite frankly we’ve done a horrible job of that,” Griffin said. “And where we might be failing in the short term, I think we’re succeeding in the breadth of what we’re trying to do, which is build a sustainable winner. And we’re well on our way to that despite the current record.”
The 19-year-old Williamson turned pro after one season in college, during which he averaged 22.6 points and was voted to the Atlantic Coast Conference’s All-Defensive Team. He also averaged 8.9 rebounds, 2.1 steals and 1.8 blocked shots.
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.