CHICAGO — The Zion Williamson Show is officially back. Even if it was just for a preseason viewing.
The New Orleans Pelicans forward made his return to the court on Tuesday night, scoring 13 points in a quick, 15-minute performance at the United Center in a 129-125 win over the Chicago Bulls.
Earlier on Tuesday, Williamson had told ESPN his mindset was to treat this like just another preseason game, but he admitted it was hard to ignore the messages blowing up his phone and appearing on social media about the year-plus he missed.
Williamson showed flashes of his old self during the contest. He drove baseline on Bulls forward Patrick Williams for a slam. He had what some on the Pelicans bench thought should have been a chase-down block just a minute earlier in the first quarter on Williams that was ruled a goaltend. Still, he was flashing the athleticism that made him a household name.
After Tuesday’s game, he said he was most excited about just getting to play the game he loves. That didn’t mean fans got to see everything the Pelicans have been working on with Williamson back in the fold.
« Couldn’t show them everything, » Williamson said following the victory. « But just kind of getting a feel for it again. Find spots. Picking and choosing where I want to attack. But, I got a new team since the last time I played. I’m still learning some of the guys. Today we were able to click. I feel like if we can do that for the rest of these preseason games, I feel we’ll be in pretty good shape. »
The Pelicans have only five players remaining from when Williamson last suited up on May 4, 2021, and two of those players — Brandon Ingram and Kira Lewis Jr. — missed Tuesday’s preseason game with injuries.
New Orleans has reshaped its roster around Williamson, Ingram and guard CJ McCollum, whom the Pelicans dealt for at last year’s trade deadline.
The Pelicans brought in guard Devonte’ Graham to play alongside Williamson’s « Point Zion » iteration but instead Graham has settled into a bench role with this edition of the Pelicans, something he did well against the Bulls with a team-high 21 points and five assists off the bench.
He said he noticed a difference when Williamson is on the floor as teams pack the paint to try to stop him.
« I thought he looked good too, » Graham said. « I know he was excited to be out there. I know it felt good for him to hear his name in the starting lineup and stuff like that again. It’s just the beginning. »
This was also Willie Green’s first chance to coach Williamson after Green was brought in prior to last season. It’s Green’s task to try to fit Williamson, who averaged 27.0 points and 7.2 rebounds per game with 61.1% shooting in 2020-21, back into an offense that has a lot of firepower with Ingram, McCollum and Jonas Valanciunas.
« He looked good and he’s just going to continue to get better, » Green said. « That’s what we know about Z. He works at it. He’s a competitor. And you know it doesn’t look like it but he had 13 points, four rebounds in 15 minutes. That’s the type of work he puts in on the floor . »