When Zion Williamson told reporters he had no restrictions this season, he was happy. The smile on her face was clear and her joy was clear in last week’s video conversation.
After the loss of the New Orleans Pelicans to the Miami Heat 114-92 in their pre-season opener Monday night, it was clear that any restrictions were a thing of the past.
It was great to be there for long periods of time, said Williamson, who last season dealt with what the team called ‘broken shackles’. It was great to relive it.
Williamson played 33 minutes and 13 seconds against the Heat, the third most minutes in an NBA game – pre-season or not.
It was a different feeling. I can’t even lie, Mr. Williamson. I’m sure it was a different feeling. I think I only finished three, maybe four times last year. But it was a great feeling. When the clock was at zero, I almost thought: Wow, it’s been a while.
Williamson actually finished 11 of last season’s 24 games, but forgive him if his memory is a little blurry because the Pelicans only won three of last season’s 11 games. However, he rarely played for a long time. Monday everything changed. He played 10:19 in the first quarter, more than any other first quarter of last season, according to ESPN statistics and information. In fact, last season he played at least 10 for 19 in just three quarters of an hour.
Williamson regained his old face on the field, finishing with 26 points and 11 rebounds. Last season, he made only two double-doubles in 24 regular season games (he had one in the preseason), and his 11 rebounds would certainly have been worthy of his career.
Pelican coach Stan Van Gundy said he was impressed with Williamson’s effort on the defensive glass, where he also hit the eight most important rebounds of his career.
Honestly, he didn’t do much of that in practice, and it wasn’t a force last year, Van Gundy said. The fact that he could bounce the ball like he did in the defense was a good thing.
Van Gundy was also impressed by Williamson’s percentage of free throws, as he beat 10 out of 11 free throws off the line. The only time Williamson, a 64% free-throw shooter, hit over 90% last season was in his only attempt against Utah and in 28th place overall. February against Cleveland, where he failed on both occasions.
Free throws, I feel like I’m getting hit a lot, Williamson said. It’s free money. I have to do this.
Williamson worked with Pelican assistant coach Fred Vinson in the off-season to help Lonzo Ball and Brandon Ingram improve their shooting.
Coach Vinson and I work hard every day at practice, free throws, working on jumps, working on everything related to my shooting, Williamson said. He’s been very helpful so far.
Williamson put the ball in play in the 26th minute. He was out for the first 6:38 when he left the field after the third quarter, but he came back to play the last 6:38 for Van Gundy, who said he wanted his tee times around 30.
Williamson talked about how difficult it was to play under restrictions last season. He said it was hard to find a rhythm, so reaching the 33-minute mark on Monday was something he thought was right.
That’s why I play basketball, Williamson said, to play a lot of minutes and help my team win.
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