Zion: Didn’t want to ‘mess up’ as Pelicans rookie

New Orleans Pelicans forward Zion Williamson did not have the rookie year many expected, in part because of injuries.

A knee injury delayed his debut until January, and then he wasn’t able to be a complete go in the bubble because of a family issue that caused him to be away from the team for almost two weeks. Despite that, Williamson still managed to average 22.5 points and 6.3 rebounds in 24 games on 58.3% shooting.

But even when Williamson was on the court, he told reporters Wednesday, he didn’t feel like he could be his normal self throughout the season.

“I feel like there’s a lot of my game that I wasn’t able to showcase last year due to just trying to fit in with the team and finding my place, just trying not to be the rookie to mess up,” Williamson said. “It was a lot mentally that I was trying to process all at once. Starting off fresh in year two, it’s a new staff and a lot of new things going on around here, so hopefully we can come together quicker with that.”

David Griffin, the Pelicans’ executive vice president of basketball operations, told reporters Monday that the team ultimately envisions Williamson being able to play some minutes at small forward and eventually “play with the ball more, play more as a slasher and less as a post-up presence.”

The person tasked with getting that done is new Pelicans head coach Stan Van Gundy. Williamson said Van Gundy’s “old school” approach is something that reminds him of his stepfather, Lee Anderson, and Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski.

“I feel like that’s going to be something I’ll easily relate with,” Williamson said of Van Gundy. “I’m excited to work with him. I can see his love and passion for the game even when he’s showing me small things within the game. I love stuff like that. I’m very excited to work with him.”

Williamson worked out with Anderson in the offseason as they refined his game. When he returns to the court with his teammates, he said he just wants to be “a basketball player.”

“Once I feel like I know my teammates, know where everybody is going to be at certain points, just being a basketball player will allow me to attack from anywhere on the court, get better shots and facilitate,” Williamson said.

Williamson said he feels better “mentally and physically” after a trying first season wrapped up in what the team dubbed as burst restrictions. While the team hasn’t said definitively if Williamson will be on any sort of restrictions when the season starts — Van Gundy said Monday no one has told him either way — Williamson is looking forward to being healthy from the jump.

“Of course, I’m looking forward to that very much,” Williamson said. “I don’t think no player wants restrictions. I’m hoping year two is going to be a lot different.”

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