Zion Williamson was one of the best players in the NBA last season at only 20 years old. As he entered his third pro season this year, there seemed to be no limit on what he could accomplish. While his New Orleans Pelicans were thought to only have an outside shot at a playoff spot, Williamson had a chance at every individual accolade available: he felt likely to make his second straight All-Star team, should have pushed for All-NBA honors, had a chance to lead the league in scoring, and could even be seen as a darkhorse MVP candidate.
Instead, Williamson suffered a foot injury during the summer, underwent surgery, and still hasn’t made his season debut. The Pelicans have made the injury even more mysterious by not disclosing it until the start of training camp, and then giving multiple timelines for when he could be back. The first quarter of the season is now in the rearview mirror and New Orleans has been one of the league’s worst teams without Zion in the lineup.
Williamson has been pushing closer to playing again, but he suffered another setback this week when soreness in his foot delayed his full return to practice. The star forward showed up to New Orleans’ game against the Houston Rockets on Sunday night anyway, and watched his team lose 118-108. Even when he wasn’t playing, Williamson was still the biggest talking point after the game.
A photo of Williamson walking into the tunnel sparked another discussion about his weight.
The concern about Williamson’s weight predates his college days at Duke. It feels like we get a photo of Zion looking shockingly large at least a few times per year. Before you fret about Williamson’s appearance, remember the following:
1. Zion has always been heavy. When we saw him at USA Basketball junior minicamp back in the fall of 2017, Williamson checked in at 6’6, 272 pounds at the start of his senior year of high school. A year later, Duke listed him at 285 pounds as a true freshman. At the time, only 7’3 center Boban Marjanovic was a heavier NBA player. Zion’s weight didn’t stop him from having a dominant one-and-done season for the Blue Devils to become the no-brainer No. 1 overall pick in the 2019 NBA Draft.
2. Of course Zion is heavy right now. He is still recovering from foot surgery! He’s been unable to do serious cardio work for months at this point as New Orleans takes a cautious approach to his injury. He will get back into playing shape again once he’s allowed to play.
3. Zion’s weight works to his advantage. He was the best finisher in the NBA last year at the rim, making 70 percent of his field goals within three feet. Opposing defenses know Williamson doesn’t have a consistent three-point shot or a developed midrange game, but he’s so good at bullying his way inside partially because no one can match his size and strength. Williamson’s weight is a key factor in his success.
The writer who originally tweeted out the photo of Williamson on Sunday ended up deleting the tweet because of too many negative comments.
I deleted the Zion Williamson tweet. Too many nasty comments, quote tweets, and by it staying up, I was contributing to the problem. Couldn't bear it anymore.— Steve Helwick (@s_helwick) December 6, 2021
At the end of the day he's only 21 years old. Wish him the best as he returns from his foot injury. Bright career ahead.
Don’t worry about Zion’s weight. He’s never looked like a typical basketball player. We think of NBA stars as lanky and skinny, but that’s never been Zion’s physique. There’s a reason we once described him as a “refrigerator with wings.” Williamson is big and burly and powerful, and has a body no one in NBA history can really compare to.
In his second year in the league, Williamson averaged 27 points per game on 60 percent shooting from the field. He’s not a perfect player — injuries are a concern, and his weight holds him back defensively — but he’s really damn good once he’s healthy. Hopefully Zion can get back on the court soon and change the discussion from his weight to the fact that he’s arguably the brightest young star in the NBA when he’s available.