Zion Williamson

David Griffin Talks NBA Shutdown, Zion Williamson, More

The NBA continues to be in wait-and-see mode with the coronavirus pandemic forcing the league to halt operations. Pelicans VP of basketball operations David Griffin joined the club’s local broadcast team to talk about the suspended season as well as share some insight about the on-court product in New Orleans, as the team relays on its website.

Griffin said he hopes that the league resumes soon but wouldn’t speculate on a definite timeline, as it’s impossible to accurately predict when the virus will be contained.

“With everything changing so quickly, everything is in a state of flux that I think it would be premature for the NBA to say what it ultimately looks like,” Griffin said. “I do know unequivocally that the league is very mindful of the idea of getting back to playing.

“The idea of canceling a season is not all on their minds, and we’re modeling every possible thing we can for how we can deliver a product to the fans. Quite frankly, we’re all going to need a diversion in the future. (But) until we can get to a point where we think we’ve got containment of (the coronavirus), we’re going to continue to stay locked down. Hopefully we’ll get to a point where we can come back sooner rather than later.”

During the 30-minute segment, Griffin also discussed the Pelicans’ roster, including the fit of Zion Williamson and Lonzo Ball.

“A big part of it is the chemistry you see with Lonzo and Zion. They have a special connection,” Griffin said, while adding that Nicolo Melli has also proven to be a good on-court mate to Williamson.

“I think Nicolo Melli getting more minutes, and him starting to become a key part of the rotation has been essential as well,” the executive added. “Those three guys work incredibly well as a unit. Zion gives us another player who can create vertical thrust in the offense, and Lonzo can pick defenses apart with his passing.”

Injury Updates: Markkanen, Lillard, Hawks, Zion, KD

A pair of former top-10 picks are expected to return to action on Wednesday night after somewhat lengthy injury absences.

One of those players is Bulls forward Lauri Markkanen, who has been sidelined since January 22 due to a stress reaction in his pelvis. According to the team (via Twitter), Markkanen will return to Chicago’s starting lineup tonight in Minnesota, making him the third frontcourt player in the last week to get healthy for the team — Wendell Carter and Otto Porter are also back in action.

More importantly for the playoff race, Trail Blazers star Damian Lillard is being listed as probable for Wednesday’s game against Washington (Twitter link via Casey Holdahl of Blazers.com). Lillard has been out since injuring his groin on February 12. Including that game, Portland has gone just 2-5 since his injury, but the team remains in the postseason hunt, 3.5 games back of Memphis.

Here are a few more injury updates from around the NBA:

  • The Hawks announced today in a press release that big men Clint Capela (foot) and Skal Labissiere (knee) continue to rehab their respective injuries and will be re-evaluated in two weeks. Both players were acquired at the trade deadline, but it remains to be seen whether they’ll see much -if any – action for Atlanta this season.
  • In other Hawks-related injury news, swingman DeAndre’ Bembry, who is dealing with abdominal pain, has been cleared for non-contact work, head coach Lloyd Pierce said today (Twitter link via Sarah K. Spencer of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution). Bembry, a potential restricted free agent this offseason, hasn’t played since January 20.
  • Zion Williamson isn’t currently dealing with an injury, but the Pelicans have played it safe since he returned from knee surgery, opting not to play him in back-to-back sets. That’s expected to change tonight, with the No. 1 overall pick on track to play against Dallas after being active against Minnesota on Tuesday. Andrew Lopez of ESPN has the full story.
  • During TNT’s Tuesday broadcast (video link), Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports cited league sources who say Nets star Kevin Durant is making good progress in his Achilles recovery and is doing some 3-on-3 work. Durant is on track to be ready for training camp in the fall.

Pelicans Notes: Ingram, Holiday, Griffin, Hayes

Brandon Ingram has quickly taken over as the first scoring option and the team leader for the Pelicans, writes Scott Kushner of The New Orleans Times-Picayune. That status was emphasized this week when Ingram was selected as a reserve for the All-Star Game, becoming the team’s only representative.

Ingram’s stardom didn’t appear to be a sure thing when he was acquired from the Lakers as part of the Anthony Davis trade. He was dealing with a blood clot condition and a shaky shooting history that raised questions on whether he would ever reach his full potential.

“He was always tough to guard,” Jrue Holiday said. “He could always score. Here, I feel like when we really started getting to play with him in the beginning, it was obvious he can do everything.”

Holiday deserves much of the credit for allowing Ingram to seize the spotlight, Kushner adds. Coming into the season, the veteran guard was expected to fill the leadership role, with executive vice president David Griffin calling him the team’s “best player” and a dark horse MVP candidate at media day.

There’s more from New Orleans:

  • It wasn’t long ago that Ingram feared he might have to stop playing because of health concerns, notes William Guillory of The Athletic. The blood clot issue forced him to miss the final 19 games of last season and sometimes left him unable to work out. Doctors assured Ingram that it wouldn’t be a recurring issue, but he feared his career might be cut short. “I came a long way mentally, physically and emotionally. Just continuing to pursue what I’ve been doing,” he said. “I had good help from my teammates, my coaches, from everybody around the organization putting me in this position.”
  • Griffin is relying on his experience with LeBron James as he helps mold Zion Williamson, relays Joe Vardon of The Athletic. Griffin and James were together for three seasons in Cleveland, reaching the NBA Finals each time. “The blessing of having been with LeBron is I learned a lot of what I did wrong,” Griffin said. “Like the time away, I learned a lot of the mistakes we made. And we made a lot of them. And LeBron was so good, he made us win anyway. So it would be a high-class problem that this kid (Williamson) turns out so good that we can make as many mistakes as we did for LeBron and still win.”
  • Jaxson Hayes has apologized for his social media reaction after learning he wasn’t selected for the Rising Stars Challenge, according to Scott Gleeson and Jeff Zillgitt of USA Today. Hayes posted the apology on Instagram, saying he used “extremely poor judgement and inexcusable language.”

Doncic, Young, Zion Headline Rising Stars Rosters

The NBA has officially announced the 20 rookies and sophomores who have been named to the league’s Rising Stars game for All-Star weekend. Those 20 players, selected by assistant coaches from around the league, will be divided into a U.S. Team and a World Team, as follows:

U.S. Team:

World Team:

Williamson’s inclusion is notable since he has appeared in just four games due to injuries. It’s not surprising that the NBA found a way to get him into the game, since he’s one of the most exciting prospects to enter the league in years, but it’s a tough break for youngsters who have been on the court since the fall for contenders, such as Sixers wing Matisse Thybulle. or Nuggets forward Michael Porter Jr.

Snubbed players like Thybulle, Porter, and others could eventually make their way into the Rising Stars game if players have to pull out due to injuries, or if All-Stars like Doncic and Young opt not to play in both events.

The Rising Stars game will take place in Chicago on Friday, February 14.

And-Ones: Dinwiddie, Ross, Rising Stars, Zion

There hasn’t yet been a league-wide push to retire Kobe Bryant‘s No. 8 or No. 24, but some players around the NBA have begun informally retiring those numbers, according to Shams Charania of The Athletic. As Charania tweets, the first of those players is Nets guard Spencer Dinwiddie, who had worn No. 8 and will be switching to No. 26. Magic sharpshooter Terrence Ross is changing from No. 8 back to his old No. 31, Charania adds (via Twitter).

It’s not yet clear which other players will follow suit and make changes of their own. The NBA generally doesn’t allow players to change jersey numbers during the season, but Dinwiddie and Ross were granted permission, a source tells Marc Stein of The New York Times (Twitter link). Given the special circumstances, it seems safe to assume the league would approve similar requests from others. However, Stein hears that they’ll be reviewed on a case-to-case basis (Twitter link).

Here are more odds and ends from around the basketball world:

  • The NBA’s announcement of the rosters for this year’s Rising Stars game has been pushed back to this Friday at noon eastern, the league announced today in a press release. A source tells Marc J. Spears of The Undefeated (Twitter link) that Pelicans forward Zion Williamson would be interested in participating now that he’s healthy, which would certainly add some extra excitement to the All-Star event.
  • Former Trail Blazers and Rockets guard Tim Quarterman has signed a G League contract and has been acquired off waivers by the Sioux Falls Skyforce, per the NBAGL’s transactions log. Quarterman, who appeared in 19 total games for Portland and Houston from 2016-18, spent last season playing in Israel and New Zealand.
  • A pair of former NBA guards have reached deals with international teams, according to reports from Sportando. Emiliano Carchia relays word of ex-Thunder guard Semaj Christon signing with Spanish team Baskonia, while Nicola Lupo has the details on former Pelicans guard Charles Cooke agreeing to sign with Atleticos de San German in Puerto Rico.

Pelicans Ready for Zion Williamson’s Debut

The long wait for Zion Williamson is almost over as the celebrated rookie is set to make his NBA debut tonight. He was projected to miss six to eight weeks after undergoing meniscus surgery in late October, but the actual recovery time turned out to be 13 1/2 weeks as the Pelicans were extremely cautious with their franchise cornerstone. Williamson tells Andrew Lopez of ESPN that the long wait was often difficult for him to accept.

“There’s a lot of times when I wanted to punch a wall or kick chairs because it’s frustrating,” Williamson said. “To not be able to move your body the way you want to, not to make any athletic movements; I mean, it’s tough. Especially because I’m 19 and I haven’t even played my first NBA game. It was tough but I battled through it.”

The rehab process included changes to his diet and the way he moves to help reduce the stress on his knees. That includes learning a new way to land after jumping.

“I think it’s not landing straight legs, kind of don’t let all my force go into my legs,” he said. “It’s a lot of technical stuff. I really couldn’t explain it to you, to be honest. I could probably show you on a video better.”

Williamson is aware of the immense expectations surrounding his first regular season game. A sell-out crowd is anticipated, and teammate Brandon Ingram said this week he expects every home game to be sold out for the rest of the season. The Pelicans have played their way back into the playoff race after a 6-22 start, and fans believe Williamson will push them over the top.

He doesn’t mind sharing that enthusiasm.

“We did go through a bad stretch, but things have turned around,” Williamson said. “Everybody’s been playing better. I’m just looking to go join in and have some fun.”

There’s more surrounding the star rookie’s first game:

  • The Pelicans have “really pulled back in trade talks among all their players” in hopes of making a playoff push, ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski said Tuesday on SportsCenter (video link from Tommy Beer of Forbes). The New Orleans front office wants to see how the team does in the seven games before the February 6 trade deadline before making a decision on the availability of Jrue Holiday and J.J. Redick, Woj adds.
  • Williamson’s debut comes with a few concerns, notes Dan Devine of The Ringer. Playing alongside Derrick Favors gives the Pelicans two frontcourt players with limited shooting range, and Zion’s presence might take away shots from Ingram, who is making a bid for the All-Star team. Also there are questions about whether New Orleans’ best small-ball lineup — Williamson, Ingram, Holiday, Redick and Lonzo Ball — can defend well enough to be effective.
  • Williamson has half a season to try to pass Grizzlies guard Ja Morant in the Rookie of the Year race, writes Preston Ellis of Bleacher Report, who observes that nobody has ever won the award while playing fewer than 50 games.

Southwest Notes: Anthony, Zion, Porzingis, Brooks

Carmelo Anthony is downplaying tonight’s return to Houston for the first time since last year’s failed experiment, writes Jonathan Feigen of The Houston Chronicle. Anthony signed with the Rockets last summer, but only played 10 games before being pulled from the rotation. He remained on the roster but away from the team for about two months before being traded to Chicago in January.

Although GM Daryl Morey made several attempts over the years to acquire Anthony, once the Rockets landed him they found his mid-range game wasn’t compatible with their preferred offense.

“I honestly don’t have any feelings about going back,” Anthony said. “I was only there a couple weeks. I don’t really have any type of feelings going back.”

There’s more from the Southwest Division:

  • Now that No. 1 pick Zion Williamson has a target date for his NBA debut, Kevin O’Connor of The Ringer examines how New Orleans will use him during the second half of the season. Despite a dismal start, the Pelicans entered the night just four games out of a playoff spot, and O’Connor notes that 14 of their final 15 games will be against teams with losing records. “I’ve heard the narrative that he shouldn’t play at all, but that would be absurd from where he is,” head of basketball operations David Griffin said. “He’s worked this hard because he intends to play basketball and he wants to lead his guys. He’s going to be an alpha as a vocal presence; you can’t be that when you’re not playing basketball.”
  • After initially being listed as available, Mavericks forward Kristaps Porzingis was a late scratch for tonight’s game at Sacramento, tweets Tim MacMahon of ESPN. It marks the ninth straight game that Porzingis has missed because of soreness in his right knee, combined with an illness that prevented him from working out for a few days. The team is “playing it safe,” MacMahon adds (Twitter link). Dallas is 4-4 so far without him.
  • Dillon Brooks met the starter criteria by starting his 41st game of the season for the Grizzlies last night, tweets Bobby Marks of ESPN. As a result, his qualifying offer will increase from $2MM to $3.1MM, which will also be the amount of his free agent cap hold.

Griffin: Zion Williamson On Track For January 22 Debut

Pelicans rookie Zion Williamson is expected to make his NBA regular season debut on January 22 against the Spurs, head of basketball operations David Griffin said today (Twitter link via Scott Kushner of The Advocate).

Griffin explained today to reporters that the Pelicans want Williamson to participate in two more practices on Friday and Sunday before giving him the go-ahead, as Andrew Lopez of ESPN tweets. There was an expectation that Zion’s first game could happen earlier, but the team is being extra cautious and Griffin admitted that getting in practices has been an issue due to the schedule (Twitter link via Lopez).

The No. 1 overall pick in the 2019 draft, Williamson was one of the NBA’s most-hyped prospects in years, and looked dominant in the preseason when he averaged 23.3 PPG on 71.4% shooting in four games (27.2 MPG).

However, a knee injury forced the former Duke star to undergo meniscus surgery on the eve of the regular season opener. At the time, the Pelicans estimated that he’d be sidelined for six-to-eight weeks, but the team’s careful approach with its future franchise player resulted in what will ultimately be a 13-week absence.

Still, having Williamson sit out all season was never under consideration, Griffin said today (Twitter link via Will Guillory of The Athletic). The Pelicans’ executive also said the 19-year-old is radically improved physical version of himself.

While there was a belief that Williamson would face a minutes restriction upon his return, New Orleans has no “hard number” in mind, according to Griffin (Twitter link via Kushner). The rookie’s playing time will be determined by how he looks on the court. Griffin did admit that Williamson may not play in back-to-backs, but the club’s next back-to-back won’t happen until March (Twitter link via Guillory).

The Pelicans endured a disappointing first half and currently rank 14th in the Western Conference with a 15-26 record. However, they’re only four games behind the eighth-seeded Grizzlies, so if Williamson’s return can help fuel a second-half run, a push for a playoff spot isn’t outside the realm of possibility.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Injury Updates: Holiday, Zion, George, Towns

Reinforcements are on the way soon for the Pelicans, who have been without their most talented backcourt player (Jrue Holiday) for the last four games and their most talented frontcourt player (Zion Williamson) for the entire season.

According to Christian Clark of NOLA.com (Twitter link), Holiday isn’t expected to play on Monday night in Detroit, but Pelicans head coach Alvin Gentry sounded optimistic that the veteran guard will be ready to go on Thursday against Utah.

Meanwhile, Williamson – who was playing 3-on-3 after shootaround this morning with Holiday and Pelicans staffers – is inching closer to making his NBA debut. According to veteran NBA writer Mitch Lawrence (Twitter link), there’s a chance that could happen as early as Thursday, depending on how practice goes this week for Zion.

As we wait for an update from New Orleans on the season’s most-anticipated debut, let’s round up a few more injury-related items…

  • Paul George, who has missed the Clippers‘ last two games due to a hamstring injury, is expected to be re-evaluated early this week, per Andrew Greif of The Los Angeles Times. George aggravated the left hamstring issue in a practice last Wednesday.
  • Timberwolves star Karl-Anthony Towns won’t be back to action on Monday night, but it sounds like that’s more a result of an illness than his knee injury, tweets Jon Krawczynski of The Athletic. A return appears imminent for Towns, who hasn’t played since December 13.
  • After being sidelined for nearly a month with a broken finger, Celtics center Vincent Poirier is available to play on Monday night, tweets Marc D’Amico of Celtics.com.

Zion Williamson Says He Nearly Returned To Duke Instead Of Turning Pro

Despite a standout rookie campaign at Duke that put Zion Williamson at the forefront of NBA Draft discussions, he still gave serious consideration to returning to school for his sophomore campaign.

Speaking to his Pelicans teammate J.J. Redick on The Ringer’s JJ Redick Podcast, Williamson said his goal was returning to school but after extensive talks with friends and family, he declared for the NBA Draft at the deadline.

“Me, I wanted to go back. Nobody ever believes me,” he said (via NBC Sports). “They think I’m just saying that. But no, I genuinely wanted to go back. I felt like the NBA wasn’t going anywhere. The money thing, that’s money. I don’t play this for money. I play it, because I genuinely love the game. I just loved my experience at Duke that much, where I wanted to stay.”

Williamson, 19, has yet to make his NBA debut after undergoing knee surgery during the preseason. He is back practicing with New Orleans and is expected to make his much-anticipated debut at some point this month. However, if he had his way, Williamson might still be at Duke playing for coach Mike Krzyzewski.

“It was one of those situations where Coach K is not going to let me come back, because he wants me to do what’s best for the family,” Williamson said. “My teammates were saying, ‘That would be dope if you come back.’ But at the same time, they’re telling me I would be leaving too much. I didn’t work this long to get to that. It was tough.”