Success Is A Journey: Pelicans’ Summer League Week 1

Zion Williamson coming into Summer League out of shape isn’t what you want from the future of your franchise. Zion Williamson was just one half into his pro career when he exited the highly-anticipated NBA Summer League matchup against RJ Barrett after bruising his knee when he made contact with an opposing player. 

The main attraction of the night sat out the entire second half of a game that was postponed in the fourth quarter because of an earthquake.

Even at 6.9, the tremors shook less than the curiosity that infected the minds of fans wondering if Zion was OK. 

“He’s fine,” Pelicans GM David Griffin told Rachel Nichols after the game. “He came to us… he wasn’t in great condition and from a cardio perspective it wasn’t a great situation, to begin with. So when he took that shot I thought it was more cautious than anything else to shut him down at that point, because there’s no reason to push him when he’s in the situation he was in.”

Basketball legends Paul Pierce and Vince Carter nodded in agreement with Griffin about Zion not being in shape. 

Two things are troubling about Griffin’s response. We know Zion hasn’t played a meaningful game since the NCAA Tourney and he’s been on a whirlwind media and marketing campaign, setting up his bag for the future. However, you’d think that the No. 1 pick in the NBA Draft and a guy who has been so compelling, captivating and hyped, would come to the Summer League hungry and ready to demolish cats. 

 Griffin shut him down because he didn’t like what he saw out there on the court. Zion had a couple of dunks but he was breathing heavily after just a few minutes and he wasn’t the defensive presence you’d like to see with a motor that’s unprecedented for a guy his size.  

His jump shot looked shaky too. Despite all of the hyperbole describing Zion as a “generational talent,” there were basketball folks who had some reservations about his conditioning, his size, and his outside shooting prowess. 

The sneaker explosion heard around the sports world also hinted that Zion is prone to having freakish injuries. That might be overblown, but his air of invincibility was weakened. The physicality of the NBA — especially in the Summer League where guys are fighting for their NBA lives — will certainly test that theory. 

Zion isn’t one of those guys fighting for a job, but he has entered the league as one of its celebrity players before ever stepping on the court. You’d think he would have been working out like a maniac and ready for a Summer League debut that cost some fans up to $1500 per ticket. 

Everybody wants to take a crack at the champ. He should have known this. 

With all of the talk about Zion’s maturity, coming into Summer League play out of shape doesn’t seem like a shrewd decision. 

The Pelicans have to be disappointed at the very least. Shutting him down for the remainder of the Summer League and letting him get in proper condition for the season was the best thing to do. The fans don’t like it. ESPN and its extensive slate of Summer League games will suffer for it, but the Pelicans can’t afford to risk it. 

It’s remarkable how quickly sure shots become risks in the NBA.  

None of the concerns about Zion were addressed on Saturday night in Las Vegas. Is weight going to be an issue for Zion? Is he going to be able to physically dominate his opponent as he did in college? Is his body built to endure a bunch of nagging injuries?

Just more questions. 

JR Gamble joined The Shadow League in 2012. The General Manager of Content & Social Media is in his 25th year of covering sports and culture professionally. He has covered a wide variety of major sports and entertainment topics across different mediums, including radio, newspapers, magazines and national TV. His passion is baseball, the culturing of baseball and preserving and documenting the historically-impactful accomplishments and contributions of African-Americans in baseball.