During his time at Duke, Zion Williamson was a phenom who was considered to be the second coming of LeBron James. It had been a very long time since a player had elicited this kind of hype going into his draft year, and it was well deserved. Zion was pulling off 360-degree dunks all while jumping out of the gym just to block shots. His athleticism was unlike anything fans had ever seen before, especially for a guy of his size. At 6-6 and 284 pounds, Zion was considered to be a freak athlete that could dominate the NBA if put into the right position.
When Zion was eventually drafted by the New Orleans Pelicans in 2019, the conventional wisdom was that Zion would be the perfect replacement for the freshly traded Anthony Davis. The Pelicans needed a superstar, and Zion was going to be their guy. Unfortunately, during the 2019 Summer League, issues involving Zion began to arise. After a minor leg injury, Zion was forced to sit out the vast majority of Summer League games, which ultimately put a limit on his development. With his size, injuries are always a looming concern, and the Summer League drama had fans worried about Zion’s long-time viability. In the preseason, however, Zion was able to show up and show out, which had fans breathing a sigh of relief…until he got injured all over again.
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A knee issue kept Zion out of the lineup to start the regular season, and it wasn’t until early 2020 that we saw Zion make his highly-anticipated debut. As expected, Zion was simply incredible in the games that he did play. He averaged 22.5 points per game across 24 outings, and his highlight-reel plays were enough to make up for the lost time from the beginning of the season. Despite this solid play, there was one thing that fans were noticing, and it was certainly a hefty concern, no pun intended. Zion appeared to be a lot bigger than he was when he got drafted. This physical appearance led to some conditioning issues on the court, as Williamson could be seen huffing and puffing during games in the Orlando Bubble. These games were held months after the break caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, and it was becoming clear that Zion was having trouble keeping up with his fitness regimen. At the time, it felt like this was something Zion could fix, although a year and a half later, the Pelicans star has only regressed when it comes to his ability to stay in shape.
During the offseason, Zion underwent surgery on his foot, and he has been out of the Pelicans lineup ever since. Typically, this would be a surgery that is fairly easy to recover from. Prior to the season, it was believed that Zion would, indeed, be starting alongside his teammates. Now, however, we are 15 games into the season and there is no sign of Zion’s return to be found. In a report from Shams Charania of The Athletic, it was even revealed that Zion was “not close” to returning and that no one within the Pelicans organization can say when he’ll be back on the floor.
This was all made worse thanks to a video that went viral on social media, which showed Williamson participating in drills. The Pelicans star looked way heavier than we’re used to, and his lack of speed was quite evident. In many ways, the clip was quite shocking and it had fans concerned that Zion isn’t taking his health, nor his status as a professional NBA player, seriously. In order to play at the highest level, you need to be able to remain in shape, and Zion has failed at that on the most basic of levels. Not to mention, the extra weight is only increasing the load on his ailing foot, which is now struggling to recover. Simply put, his weight is only exacerbating his injuries.
With fans ridiculing the Pelicans’ star’s size, there are some who are trying to claim it’s not that big of a deal. Actual former NBA players, however, would beg to differ. The entire case of Inside The NBA has commented on the story, with Charles Barkley jokingly saying that Zion looks as though he and Shaq had a child. Chuck and Shaq are two players who also struggled with their weight, and they both agree that this is a huge issue, moving forward. Kenny Smith also talked about the problem, stating that Zion needs to start eating less.
While speaking to ESPN, Zion’s former teammate JJ Redick also spoke out about the star’s appearance, saying “Zion has to be in better shape.” The Pelicans themselves are also concerned about this, with one anonymous source from the team claiming that Williamson is over 300 pounds right now. This should be a huge wake-up call for the star, as he needs to get his weight down, otherwise, he is in jeopardy of becoming the next Greg Oden.
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The Pelicans are a mess as it is right now, and the Zion drama has only made things worse. While Zion is certainly to blame here, you also have to look at the Pelicans training staff, who have failed to reel Zion in and give him the proper tools to get back on track. With the Pelicans falling to the bottom of the NBA standings, this ordeal is going to need to get handled sooner rather than later.