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David Griffin says Zion Williamson expected to debut on Jan. 22

Michael C. Wright

Michael C. Wright

The pregame between-the-legs dunk routine for Zion Williamson could finally manifest itself on the court this season, with the rookie star set to make his NBA debut on Jan. 22 when the New Orleans Pelicans host the San Antonio Spurs (8 ET, League Pass).

New Orleans Pelicans Executive Vice President of Basketball Operations David Griffin told reporters Wednesday that Williamson is on track to make his NBA debut then.

Williamson’s return would mark his first action since Oct. 13, and is the culmination of a slow, deliberate rehabilitation process stemming from an Oct. 21 surgery on his right knee.

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.

Gentry has stated all along that once Williamson returns, he’ll be on a minutes restriction. However, Griffin told reporters Wednesday that Williamson will not be on a minutes restriction when he returns. His playing time will be determined by how he’s faring on the court.

Still, it remains possible when Williamson hits the court against the Spurs, his time could be brief.

Either way, 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.

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Michael C. Wright is a senior writer for NBA.com. You can e-mail him here , find his archive here and follow him on Twitter .

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