METAIRIE, La. — The New Orleans Pelicans opened training camp on Tuesday with two practices, a morning session followed by one in the evening.
By design, the morning session was lighter. The evening session had a scrimmage portion that was going to be the first intense 5-on-5 work for Zion Williamson with the team since May 2020.
One would expect someone to have some rust in that situation, but Williamson isn’t just any someone.
« Z looked amazing, » Pelicans coach Willie Green said on Wednesday afternoon. « His strength, his speed. He dominated the scrimmage pretty much. »
Williamson told reporters on Tuesday that he was excited for the 5-on-5 practice because as much as he could work out during the offseason, he was hard to simulate 5-on-5 work against highly talented players.
« What stood out was his strength more than anything, » Green said. « He got down the floor quickly. When he caught the ball, he made quick decisions. Whether it was scoring, finding a teammate. It was really impressive to see. »
Williamson’s teammates said he took full advantage of the work that he was able to put in.
« He looks like Z, » Pelicans forward Larry Nance said. « Dude hasn’t played basketball for 500-something days. It’s not like none of us are expecting that right away but shoot, I got to be honest with you, dude looks good. It’s going to take time for everybody to adjust to him . It’s going to take him time to adjust to everybody, but it’s hard not to be impressed. »
Nance said he spoke to Williamson in the locker room afterward and asked him if he realized that he didn’t miss a shot. Williamson told him he hadn’t even thought about it.
« He looks like the same wrecking ball we all know and love, » Nance said. « Very pleased to say the least. »
Green said that the Pelicans mostly used their projected starting lineup in scrimmages last night — Williamson, CJ McCollum, Brandon Ingram, Herb Jones and Jonas Valanciunas — but will switch things up some Wednesday night when they return to the floor for their second consecutive set of two-a-days.
While Nance has played against Williamson before and Green has coached against Williamson, the Pelicans have several players who have not had a chance to play with Williamson since he was injured all of last season.
Trey Murphy and Jose Alvarado, part of last year’s rookie class with Jones, got their first real on-court look at Williamson.
« Strong. Very strong. And also ready to play, » Murphy said when asked how Williamson looked. « I will say that. That’s all I have to say. »
Alvarado said he didn’t look like Williamson had missed much time at all.
« I think Z is such a special player, » Alvarado said. « But a player we can adapt to. He doesn’t need the ball right away. He’ll find his way. He adapted really well. It looked like he’s been playing with us for a while. »