Zion Williamson and Josh Hart shake hands

Pelicans shootaround update: Zion Williamson describes rookie season as ‘crazy journey’

by Jim Eichenhofer

So much has transpired in the 14 months since Zion Williamson officially became a New Orleans Pelican, that when he asked Thursday what he’ll remember most about his rookie season, he was apologetic, unable to narrow it down. Between an earthquake during his summer league opener, his preseason knee injury, a dramatic Jan. 22 debut vs. San Antonio, his team’s midseason surge into playoff contention, a pandemic halting play and an unprecedented NBA “campus” environment this summer, the list of possibilities is endless.

“It’s been a crazy journey,” said Williamson, who has turned both 19 and 20 since shaking hands with Adam Silver on draft night. “There is so much to remember, so much to take in. I don’t even know how to answer that question. I’m sorry.”

Williamson, Brandon Ingram and Jrue Holiday will not play in Thursday’s game vs. Orlando, meaning the Duke product’s rookie campaign is completed after 24 official game appearances. He spent part of his Thursday morning post-shootaround session discussing next season, which may only be a few months from tipping off this winter.

“We’re not in the playoffs and we didn’t reach the goal we wanted to reach, but our potential for the future is bright,” he said of a roster filled with young talent. “That’s a starting point. We just build off that.”

Williamson experienced perhaps the strangest rookie season of a No. 1 overall draft pick in NBA history, interrupted for lengthy stretches twice, first by October knee surgery, then by COVID-19 in March.

“There were a few rough patches where I was trying to get into my rhythm, but it’s a part of the game and a part of coming back from injury,” Williamson said. “But I feel like the coaches and the training staff handled it very well. Just to be able to play one minute in an NBA game, I’m grateful for that.”

Other notes after Thursday’s shootaround:

Asked for some of the positives for the Pelicans in ’19-20, Williamson said, “Our team chemistry. When we first got together in preseason, we didn’t really know each other. We didn’t have a feel for each other in the game. To watch this team grow and build chemistry on and off the court, that was a big success for us.” …

Very few NBA teams ever have the ability to return the same rotation or core group from one season to the next, but Pelicans key reserve Josh Hart is optimistic about the future of what New Orleans began to build this season.

“If we are able to run it back with the same team, fully healthy, I think we would be a top-five or six team in the West,” Hart said. “But you guys (in the basketball media) know that in the NBA, that ain’t going to happen. There always will be changes made, players that are gone, players that come in. I’m curious to see all that stuff. It was a very unfortunate year in terms of injury and stuff like that, but I think this team talent-wise has the potential to be a very good team if we were healthy.” …

Hart on the circumstances and ups and downs for New Orleans and the impact of those: “It was tough in terms of we were playing our best basketball going into (the mid-March shutdown of the NBA), making a push for that eight seed. Then losing some of the momentum, trying to get it back, then guys are hurt, guys can’t work out, et cetera, et cetera. That’s not an excuse. Every team that was down here (in Orlando) felt that same way. A lot of teams had to fight through that adversity. Obviously we could’ve done that a little better. It’s a learning process. Next year we’ll probably be in a bubble for at least some time. We’re still a young team. We’ve still got to really learn how to win and the attention to detail we have to have, to compete at a high level night in and night out. We have to have that. That’s something we can learn going into next season.”

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