In 2019, the Pelicans picked Zion Williamson first overall in the hopes that he would become the next big thing in the NBA. However, after a dismal performance last week, fans are starting to wonder if the 22-year-old has reached his peak yet.
Williamson took a lot of heat for his underwhelming performance in last Thursday’s surprise 44-point loss to the Lakers in the NBA in-season tournament quarterfinals. He scored just 13 points and grabbed two rebounds, drawing harsh criticism from both the media and fans.
Not at all what one would anticipate from a player who is being touted as a future league ambassador and franchise pillar entering the NBA. Rather, Williamson’s lacklustre performance had many questioning whether his greatest days are behind him.
Pundits Scrutinize Forward’s Shortcomings
In their postgame analysis, a number of prominent commentators criticized Williamson for his poor performance. Charles Barkley and Shaquille O’Neal, two of the NBA’s insiders, criticized the third-year player for his team’s slump and his lack of offensive productivity.
Stephen A. Smith of ESPN, meanwhile, praised Williamson for his physical health and size, saying that he saw “a belly” on the 22-year-old. On Monday morning’s First Take, Smith reiterated his scathing remarks, saying that Williamson’s famous hunger has become very notorious in New Orleans dining circles.
I feel ashamed of it. In New Orleans, I have chefs. “I’m telling you the truth,” Smith maintained. “I am paraphrasing others. Even in New Orleans, he has the adoration of the cooks. They want to find him. Everyone in the culinary industry is eager to see him since they anticipate his visits to their establishments. Word on the street is that Zion Williamson will chow down.
Smith could not say who exactly spread these rumors about Williamson’s incredible calorie adventures, but it does show that the story surrounding the once-coveted prospect is becoming more negative.
Injuries and Conditioning Issues Plague Young Star
The biggest question is whether Williamson can play to his strengths and live up to the high expectations set for him when he joined the league, given his present level of physical condition.
Williamson has been asked about his ability to maintain NBA conditioning for a full season, a concern that dates back to his time at Duke, due to his substantial build for his height (official records put him at 6-foot-6, 284 pounds). The fact that his availability as a professional has been severely limited so far owing to injury difficulties has only made those anxieties worse.
Williamson missed the whole 2018 season due to a broken foot, following two seasons in which he appeared in 85 of 154 games. When fit, the dynamic forward has played in 19 of the Pelicans’ 23 games this season, showcasing his one-of-a-kind scoring abilities.
Reporters in New Orleans found out after Williamson’s terrible semifinal performance that he had ignored advice to monitor his weight and stay in condition. Going forward, the combination of those evident attitude concerns and existing injury red flags is quite concerning.
Pelicans Face Critical Playoff Push
The Pelicans are currently in last place in the Western Conference with a 12-11 record following Thursday’s humiliating loss. They are looking to be on a winning streak and move up the standings, so they play the 17-4 Timberwolves on Monday night.
Williamson must play like a franchise centerpiece because New Orleans spent a lot of money on him in the draft and in a five-year, $193 million rookie agreement he signed last summer.
The onus is on Williamson to take the lead now that Brandon Ingram is out for a while. The once-becoming superstar may reach his peak sooner than anticipated if he is unable to step up and guide the Pelicans on a playoff run, months after inking a substantial max contract.
More than ever before, the success of the club depends on Williamson being able to turn his tremendous talent into consistent superstar output. As long as he clings to unrealistic expectations, people will wonder if his greatest work is still in the past.