Zion Williamson recovering from foot surgery, expects to play in regular season opener

A highly motivated NBA player is often described as having a "chip" on their shoulder, but after two non-playoff seasons to begin his career, Zion Williamson described his Monday as a “boulder.” Unfortunately for the 21-year-old forward, Williamson believes his internal drive may have led to an injury that will keep him off the court for a few more weeks.

The Pelicans announced at Monday’s Media Day that 2019’s No. 1 overall draft pick suffered a broken right foot while playing basketball this offseason. As a result, the Duke University product is not expected to play in any of New Orleans’ four preseason games, but he believes he’ll be available for the Oct. 20 regular season opener vs. Philadelphia.

“I expect to be back for the first official game,” Williamson said Monday.

Williamson explained that after a disappointing 2020-21 season, he wanted to get back to work immediately in order to improve individually and help the Pelicans this fall. He indicated that the break of the fifth metatarsal bone may have come from overuse.

“If you know me, I want to win,” he said of what motivated him this offseason. “Not making the playoffs two years in a row, I’ve got to go do something about it. So I was in the lab, honing my craft, getting after it.”

In an NBA where even marginally relevant player news gets reported instantly by national media members, word of Williamson’s injury was a surprise across the league, but the Pelicans had been aware of it since prior to summer league. Pelicans first-year head coach Willie Green described the injury as a setback for New Orleans, but one that will create preseason opportunities for the team’s large group of young players.

“Injuries are always tough to deal with, but they’re a part of the game,” Green said. “We’ve been navigating this since before summer league, understanding what we were going to have to do. You’ve just got to make adjustments until we can get him healthy and back on the floor. It’s absolutely a tough blow for us. But we like where his progression is and it’s an opportunity for some guys to step up until we can get him back.”

Although Williamson will not be able to participate in practices and games for now, Green is looking forward to the two-year veteran’s presence and personality at all team activities.

“He’ll be at practice every day and with his teammates,” Green said. “That’s who he is. He’s a fun guy to be around and he’ll be in the huddles and still be talking, doing all of the things he normally does. It will just take him a little while to actually be on the court and impact in that way. But his leadership responsibilities won’t change. He’ll still have a lot of say-so. We want to hear him. (His role) will really be supporting his teammates.”

Williamson will spend the next three-plus weeks continuing to progress from the injury and foot surgery. He noted Monday that he was initially very discouraged by the injury, but he’s now looking ahead to 2021-22 and trying to help New Orleans achieve its primary goal of returning to the NBA postseason.

“Initially when it first happened, it sucked, but it’s part of the game,” Williamson said of the injury. “I think I was overdoing it when I was training, because I feel like I had this huge chip on my shoulder, a huge boulder. I was just getting after it, overly (so) every day. It just happened. But the process through healing has been great. I’ve been working with the team and a trainer every day. So it’s been good.”