Zion Williamson

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.”

Zion Williamson Likely To Face Minute Restrictions

Zion Williamson is dunking again. He’s also participating in 5-on-5 drills, which is a major step toward making his debut with the Pelicans, Andrew Lopez of ESPN.com relays.

There remains no exact timetable for the No. 1 pick to make his debut. Coach Alvin Gentry said the team is hoping that it’ll be “soon.” Lopez adds that once Williamson returns, back-to-backs might be out of the question, at least initially, and the big man will likely be under some sort of minute restrictions.

“It’s not worth the gamble of just trying to make this thing something that it’s not right now,” Gentry said. “We want to make sure that everything is in place and we’ll take our time. Obviously he’s not going to come out and be a 30-minute-a-game guy. It’s going to be a slow process to get him to the minutes that everybody wants to see him.”

Williamson will have to participate in more practices before he’s allowed to take the court. New Orleans’ upcoming schedule includes Chicago at home on Wednesday before going to New York (Friday) and Boston (Saturday) over the weekend.

Zion Williamson Practices, Still No Return Date Set

Zion Williamson went through his first full practice today since having meniscus surgery in October, tweets Will Guillory of The Athletic. The Pelicans are hoping the No. 1 pick in this year’s draft will be able to make his NBA debut sometime this month, but coach Alvin Gentry said there’s still no projected date for that to happen (Twitter link).

Gentry told reporters that Williamson definitely won’t play during the team’s current road trip, according to a tweet from the Pelicans. New Orleans has a game tomorrow in Los Angeles against the Lakers and Saturday in Sacramento before returning home Monday.

In a video link from the team, Williamson called it a “great experience” to be back at practice and said he would have started two weeks ago if the decision had been up to him. He added that even he doesn’t have a clear idea of when he might start playing. “It’ll probably be one of those moments, like when it came to my college decision, I’ll (wake) up and I’ll know,” he said.

Not only was Williamson a full participant in today’s practice, he stayed afterward for extra work, according to Andrew Lopez of ESPN (Twitter link). Williamson practiced his free throws with assistant coach Fred Vinson and worked out with assistant Michael Ruffin as well.

Pelicans Targeting January Return For Zion Williamson

The Pelicans are optimistic that Zion Williamson will be ready to make his NBA debut sometime in January, according to Shams Charania of The Athletic (video link from Stadium). The No. 1 pick is due to start practicing shortly after the start of the new year.

The organization has been extremely careful with Williamson since the meniscus injury that required surgery in October. He was originally given a six- to eight-week prognosis to return, but the Pelicans have delayed that as they take precautions to minimize the risk of further injury.

Charania adds that there has been an “education process” for the team and for Williamson to get him physically  ready for the rigors of an NBA schedule. At 6’6″ and 285 pounds, he arrived in the league with a unique body type and Pelicans officials have been working to change his eating habits and the way he moves on the court.

Williamson could provide a huge boost to a New Orleans team that has edged its way back into the playoff race with four straight wins. Entering today, the Pelicans are still in 14th place, but are just 3 1/2 games behind the eighth-place Spurs.

Williamson looked like a potential star in the preseason, averaging 23.3 points and 6.5 rebounds in four games while shooting 71.4% from the field.

Southwest Notes: Hartenstein, Ariza, T. Jones, Zion

Rockets center Isaiah Hartenstein may have moved up in the rotation with a strong performance against the Nets last night, writes Kelly Iko of The Athletic. With Clint Capela sidelined by a heel contusion, veteran Tyson Chandler started Saturday’s game, but Hartenstein saw more than 24 minutes of action. He wound up with nine points, 13 rebounds and a pair of dunks that electrified Houston’s bench.

“It’s a great feeling,” he said. “Especially just waiting for my turn and just being ready. I took the opportunity I got today and made the most of it. … I’m just doing my role. It’s not much out there, just setting screens, rebounding and just play hard. I think I’ve done a good job doing that.”

Hartenstein had been stuck on the end of the Rockets’ bench, seeing brief minutes in just two games this month prior to Saturday. Houston tends to employ a smaller lineup when Capela rests and often uses P.J. Tucker at center. Hartenstein will get another chance to change that philosophy tonight with Capela unavailable again.

There’s more from the Southwest Division:

  • The Rockets are well into their second season without Trevor Ariza and still haven’t found a reliable replacement for the versatile forward, Iko observes in a separate story. Ariza signed with the Suns last summer, then joined the Kings in July. “He’s more than just a three-and-D guy, although he’s really good at that,” Houston coach Mike D’Antoni said. “That’s probably what we need more than anything, but I think he can do a little bit of everything.”
  • After a slow start, Tyus Jones is looking like the player the Grizzlies expected when they gave him a three-year, $26MM contract this summer, notes David Cobb of The Memphis Commercial Appeal. Jones had eight points and seven assists off the bench yesterday in Denver, continuing a string of strong December performances.
  • Pelicans fans don’t know when they’ll see No. 1 pick Zion Williamson in action, but he put on a show last night in warmups, relays William Guillory of The Athletic. Williamson excited the crowd by throwing down a few signature dunks, although he constantly jumped off his left leg, taking it easy on the right one that is still recovering from meniscus surgery in October.

Charania’s Latest: Holiday, Zion, Nuggets, Knicks

Earlier today, we passed along Shams Charania’s report of Dewayne Dedmon wanting out of Sacramento. The big man hasn’t played in eight of the last 10 games for the Kings and both sides believe that the situation is unsalvagable.

Charania also passed along other tidbits from around the league in his latest piece on The Athletic. Here are the highlights:

  • One of Jrue Holiday‘s priorities is being in a winning situation, a source tells Charania, and that’s not something the Pelicans are currently providing him. Rival teams believe that Holiday is the type of piece who would help lift a team to a new level. The Nuggets and Heat are believed to be possible destinations should David Griffin trade the point guard, Charania notes.
  • Zion Williamson is expected to begin contract drills and practices within the next week or two and the Pelicans want the No. 1 overall pick to continue to get leaner prior to his return. The franchise has focused on refining his eating habits as well. Charania adds the Pelicans “fully anticipate” Williamson playing this season.
  • The Nuggets are open to dealing Juan Hernangomez and Malik Beasley, though both players have high asking prices. Some rival executives expect the team to move both Hernangomez and Beasley, as each restricted free agent is expected to garner a lucrative deal in free agency.
  • The Heat have not closed the door on Dion Waiters playing for the team again. Pat Riley recently met with Waiters and James Johnson, making it clear to each that Miami would like to reintegrate both players into team activities.
  • Rival teams believe Dennis Smith Jr. would prefer a trade from the Knicks and several clubs have inquired about the point guard.
  • We’ve seen several G-League call ups this season and James Palmer Jr., who is playing for the Agua Caliente Clippers, could be next, Charania writes.

Zion Williamson “Trusts” Pelicans’ Plan

Zion Williamson continues to make progress as he recovers from surgery on his right knee and his rehab process has been about more than just the recovery. The Pelicans are working with Williamson to alter his walking and running style, focusing with the big man on the kinetic chain of his body, Andrew Lopez of ESPN.com relays.

While that doesn’t sound great, Williamson insists he “trusts the organization” when it comes to the Pelicans’ decision-making and plan for him.

Williamson has performed individual shooting drills and group drills but hasn’t yet participated in 5-on-5 or 3-on-3 type drills. The franchise would like Williamson to undergo two or three full practices before he plays in a game. The Pelicans are targeting the very beginning of the 2020 calendar year for those practices to take place.

“He is making progress. He is in rehab,” coach Alvin Gentry said of Williamson. “He is doing everything that he’s supposed to do and he’s moving forward toward playing,”