Zion Williamson scored just 13 points and grabbed a season-low two rebounds in 26 minutes of action during the Pelicans‘ blowout loss to the Lakers in Thursday’s in-season tournament semifinal. New Orleans was outscored by 33 points when he was on the court and ended up losing the game by 44.
After the game, TNT’s panel of analysts called out Williamson’s conditioning and effort level, with former star center Shaquille O’Neal suggesting he was “just like” Zion during his early years in the NBA in the 1990s.
“(He) does not run hard,” O’Neal said (Twitter video link). “It’s not a diss. It’s going to be a lesson from one great big man to another guy that can be a great big. Does not run hard. I had the same problem my first, second year. I thought I was running hard.”
Williamson’s poor conditioning was “painfully apparent” in Thursday’s loss, according to Christian Clark of The Times-Picayune, who suggests that the former No. 1 overall pick was carrying too much weight at the start of the season and hasn’t played himself into better shape. If anything, Clark says, Williamson’s conditioning has gotten worse since the season began.
As Clark details, Williamson’s poor work ethic has frustrated the Pelicans for years, with the club repeatedly encouraging the forward to improve his diet and his conditioning. Zion “doesn’t listen,” multiple team sources tell the Times-Picayune.
Williamson’s conditioning level this fall is particularly disappointing because Pelicans head of basketball operations David Griffin suggested multiple times ahead of the season that the former Duke star had made a concerted effort to improve in that area.
“The thing I think is important is CJ (McCollum) and Brandon (Ingram), throughout their careers, have always employed people to take care of their body, to take care of their nutrition,” Griffin told reporters at the team’s media day in October. “They are really invested in their profession. This was the first summer where we’ve seen Zion take his profession seriously like that and invest in it off the court on his own in a way that I think is meaningful.”
Griffin also said in September that Williamson had spent more time in the Pelicans’ gym this summer than he ever had before.
Williamson’s 22.2 points and 5.6 rebounds per game certainly aren’t bad numbers, but they would be career lows for him. He spoke on Thursday night about wanting to give the team more and needing to bring more energy to the floor.
“I gotta be more aggressive finding my shot. I gotta do more things to get my team going. I think I was too laid back tonight, and I can’t do that,” Williamson said, per Jake Fischer of Yahoo Sports. “… I have a problem where I literally just try to hunt the best shot possible every time. But I just gotta trust my game.”