CHICAGO — The Zion Williamson Show is officially back. Even if it was just for the pre-season.
The New Orleans Pelicans forward returned to the court Tuesday night, scoring 13 points in a 15-minute performance at the United Center in a 129-125 win over the Chicago Bulls.
Earlier Tuesday, Williamson told ESPN he would be treating this like another preseason game, but he admitted it was difficult to ignore the messages that blew up his phone and appeared on social media over the year that he had missed.
Williamson showed flashes of his old self during the competition. He drove the baseline on Bulls forward Patrick Williams for a slam. He had what some on the Pelicans bench thought should have been a chase just a minute earlier in the first quarter against Williams, who was classified as a goalkeeper. Nonetheless, he displayed the skills that made him a household name.
After Tuesday’s game, he said he’s most looking forward to playing the game he loves. That didn’t mean fans got to see all of the things the Pelicans have been working on with Williamson back in the flock.
“Couldn’t show them everything,” Williamson said after the win. “But just sort of getting a feel for it again. Finding spots. Picking and choosing where I want to attack. But I’ve got a new team since the last time I played. I’m still learning some of the guys. Today we could click. I think if we can do that for the rest of these preseason games we’re going to be in pretty good shape.”
The Pelicans have just five players left since Williamson last played on May 4, 2021, and two of those players — Brandon Ingram and Kira Lewis Jr. — missed Tuesday’s preseason game with injuries.
New Orleans revamped its roster to include Williamson, Ingram and guard CJ McCollum, who the Pelicans traded 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 settled into a bench role this edition of the Pelicans, something he did against the Bulls with a team-high 21 points and made up five assists off the bench.
He said he noticed a difference with Williamson on the ground while teams grabbed the paint to try and stop him.
“I thought he was good looking, too,” Graham said. “I know he was looking forward to being out there. I know it felt good for him to hear his name on the starting line-up and stuff like that. It’s just the beginning.”
This was also Willie Green’s first chance to coach Williamson after Green was brought in before last season. It’s Green’s job to try and get Williamson, who averaged 27.0 points and 7.2 rebounds per game with 61.1% shooting in 2020-21, back on offense that has been joined by Ingram, McCollum and Jonas Valanciunas has a lot of firepower.
“He looked good and he’s getting better,” said Green. “That’s what we know about Z. He’s working on 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 kind of work he does on the floor.”
https://www.espn.com/nba/story/_/id/34729801/zion-williamson-makes-return-new-orleans-pelicans-preseason-win Zion Williamson makes return in New Orleans Pelicans’ preseason win