The news of Zion Williamson’s knee injury is a blow to the New Orleans Pelicans and the NBA.
The anticipated centerpiece of the NBA’s tip-off showcase against the champion Toronto Raptors, Williamson will have to wait at least several weeks to make his NBA debut.
The nature of the injury — a mysterious meniscus tear that nobody can pinpoint when exactly it happened — has fed the widely held belief that Williamson’s game isn’t built to last on his 6-7, 285-pound frame and that his body is breaking down before his first NBA game.
David Griffin: ‘Just asinine’
Pelicans general manager David Griffin has heard the speculation, of course. He launched a fiery retort Tuesday in response.
“The notion that this happened because Zion is in poor condition is just asinine," Griffin told reporters. "He wasn't in poor condition when he went 12 of 13 last week against Utah. That's not what it is. He's just a very unique body type and certainly from a physics perspective.”
Williamson went 12 of 13 against the Chicago Bulls. But the point stands. Nobody’s worried about Williamson’s weight when he’s putting his freakish athleticism on display. Griffin railed on the idea that Williamson isn’t in shape.
“I’ve seen the narrative out there about him and this happened because he’s not in shape and he’s too big,” Griffin said ahead of the Raptors game. “That dude is a freak of nature. When he went through his physical, he ran on the treadmill longer than the cardio-stress test people have ever needed to put anybody through a test to get his heart rate up. That happened because he’s touched by the hand of God to do this. He’s in elite condition. He stays in elite condition.”
Zion’s conditioning isn’t the real concern
The problem here is that nobody’s questioning what kind of shape Williamson is in — nobody rational who’s seen him play basketball, at least. It’s clear that Williamson is in excellent shape and perhaps the most impressive physical specimen in the game — a “freak of nature,” as Griffin put it.
The real concern is whether Williamson’s body is built to handle the rigors of the game over the long run when considering his size and athletic style of play. Are human joints meant to withstand the repeated stress of running and jumping like Williamson does at his size?
We don’t know. But his knee injury before playing a regular season game isn’t great.
Mystery around injury lingers
Of course, the injury could be completely unrelated to stress on his knee — it could be a result of contact and just tremendously bad timing. But since we don’t know when it happened, the injury feeds the speculation machine.
“He didn't have any swelling,” Griffin said of the mystery around the injury. “As far as when it happened, nobody really knows because he didn't have any symptoms. It's a fascinating thing.”
Griffin holds tight to the idea that Williamson truly is a one-of-a-kind physical specimen and can train his body to deal with the stresses of the game.
“He can be 274 pounds with 8.5 percent body fat and he can be 280 pounds with 9 percent body fat,” Griffin said. “As we have gone through the process for our medical team, learning how to keep him lean and give him the core strength and stability and control he needs to handle all that torque he generates, typically that means you are going to do things to strengthen those areas.”
For Williamson’s, the Pelicans’ and the NBA’s sake, hopefully Griffin is right.
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