Zion Williamson smiles as he waits to check in to a game last season

Zion Williamson pleased to be back on court in Pelicans training camp scrimmages

by Jim Eichenhofer

There was no social media or TV cameras to document it, no fans in the bleachers watching, but one of Zion Williamson’s favorite basketball moments from this winter may have already occurred, when he and his New Orleans teammates were able to scrimmage 5-on-5 in the Ochsner Sports Performance Center.

“Now that I’m healthy, it was great,” Williamson said Friday, smiling widely when asked about that element of Pelicans training camp. “I was just happy to be out there, (with) no restrictions, 5-on-5, (playing) physical, and just having fun, doing what I love.”

It’s been well documented that the No. 1 overall pick’s rookie season was full of fits and starts, due to preseason knee surgery and the pandemic halting all professional sports in March. He played only one-third of his team’s 72 regular season games, appearing in 19 of 64 prior to the stoppage, then five of eight in the Orlando bubble. Although he rarely if ever publicly demonstrated frustration over how health negatively impacted his first season, recently the 20-year-old has discussed how happy he is to be clear of some of those roadblocks.

“Always being on restrictions, listen, I don’t know how many times I can say this, but being on restrictions is not fun,” Williamson said after Friday’s practice. “It’s not fun. Time flies out there. I’d be out there (on the court in a game) for five minutes, but it felt like one minute, because I’d be coming out. Knowing that there are no restrictions and I can just play – not worrying about certain movements – I’m just excited. I get to do what I love.”

Asked about how he can improve defensively in his second season, with a clean bill of health and the experience of going through his rookie campaign from a mental standpoint, the Duke University product again smiled. Williamson was a very disruptive defender with the Blue Devils in ’18-19, averaging 2.1 steals and 1.8 blocks. As a Pelicans rookie, he averaged 0.7 steals and 0.4 blocks, though a portion of that could be attributed to averaging fewer minutes (27.8 with New Orleans, compared to 30.0 at Duke).

“Honestly, just my movements,” he said of being able to move more freely physically. “I’m a basketball player – I rely on instincts and IQ. Last year, I could only rely on IQ and my body wasn’t able to do certain things. Now I have both of them again. I think it’s going to be a big difference.”

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