The decision to restrict Williamson’s minutes at the end of quarters is by design, according to Pelicans executive vice president of basketball operations David Griffin, who said in a news conference Friday that the current ramp-up plan is a matter of keeping the forward in his typical game pattern.
“The reason they are taking place as they are at the beginning is just that the medical team wants to make sure he’s warm and loose before he gets on the court,” Griffin said. “Everything that they are doing is predicated on that. The players have a very clear routine. His routine is to get loose at a certain time. We don’t want him to get loose and then sit on the side and wait, because that’s not conducive to him playing his best.”
Williamson said after the game that he didn’t feel like the Pelicans were holding him back but he wanted to be on the floor in crunchtime. The 20-year-old estimated that it may take a couple games for him to re-adapt.
“It’s just getting my flow to the game back,” Williamson said. “This is the NBA. These are the best players in the world. I want to feel comfortable. I don’t want to hurt my team more than I helped them.”
Griffin said New Orleans’s performance team has a “very clear plan” for re-acclimating to the pace of the NBA after more than four months off.
“And every member of the team got to go through that plan,” Griffin said. “That plan included scrimmage minutes that many of the team got to play. Many of our players were held to 15 minutes or 12 minutes or whatever. Not because there’s a fixed minute number but because there was a fixed approach to how they were going to play the game.
“Everybody got to do that during the course of the scrimmages. Zion didn’t get that opportunity. And unfortunately, because of the situation with his family, he was called away. And it was a very legitimate reason to leave. But unfortunately he’s 13 days removed from the group in terms of following that plan after not playing basketball for what amounts to four months.”
Williamson left the NBA bubble in Disney World on July 16 for what the Pelicans called “an urgent family medical matter.” He returned last Friday, completed the mandatory four-day quarantine Tuesday and took part in portions of practice Tuesday and Wednesday.
Griffin said Williamson will not log significant time in Saturday’s game against the Los Angeles Clippers or Monday’s contest against the Memphis Grizzlies.
“This is all about the ramp-up time,” Griffin said. “He didn’t get the benefit of anything that his teammates got for those 13 days. This is going to take some time.”
Griffin added that, with the way the new game and practice schedules work in the bubble, Williamson is denied the five-on-five work the team wants him to go through, leaving games as his only avenue to build up his stamina.
“I realize that it’s really detrimental to actually doing what we’re attempting to do, which is make the playoffs, but if we’re going to have him at full strength coming through these games, he’s got to go through this process,” Griffin said. “There is no alternative, and there wouldn’t be for any other player.”
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