METAIRIE, The. — The New Orleans Pelicans opened training camp on Tuesday with two practices, a morning session followed by one in the evening.
By design, the morning session was lighter. The evening session had a handball part which will be the first intense 5-on-5 work for Zion Williamson with the team since May 2020.
One would expect someone to have some rust in that situation, but Williamson is not just anyone.
“Z looked awesome,” Pelicans coach Willie Green said Wednesday afternoon. “His strength, his speed. He dominated the melee pretty much.”
Williamson told reporters Tuesday that he was excited for the 5-on-5 practice because as much as he was able to practice during the offseason, it was difficult to simulate 5-on-5 work against very talented players.
“What stood out was his strength more than anything,” Green said. “He got down the floor fast. When he caught the ball, he made quick decisions. Whether it was scoring, finding a teammate. It was really impressive to see.”
Williamson’s teammates said he took full advantage of the work he was able to put in.
“He looks more like Z,” Pelicans forward Larry Nance said. “Dude hasn’t played basketball in 500-something days. It’s not like any of us expect it right away but shoot, I’ve got to be honest with you, dude looks good. It’s going to take time for everybody to adjust to him. . It’s going to take time for him to adjust to everyone, but it’s hard not to be impressed.”
Nance said he spoke to Williamson in the locker room afterward and asked him if he realized he didn’t miss a shot. Williamson told him he hadn’t even thought about it.
“He looks like the same wrecking ball we all know and love,” Nance said. “Very pleasing to say the least.”
Green said the Pelicans mostly used their projected starting lineup in scrimmages last night — Williamson, CJ McCollum, Brandon IngramHerb Jones and Jonas Valančiūnas — but things will change one Wednesday night when they return to the floor for their second consecutive two-day set.
While Nance has played against Williamson before and Green has coached against Williamson, the Pelicans have several players who didn’t get a chance to play with Williamson because he was injured all of last season.
Trey Murphy and Jose Alvaradopart of last year’s rookie class with Jones, got his first real on-court look at Williamson.
“Strong. Very strong. And ready to play, too,” Murphy said when asked how Williamson looked. “I’ll say that. That’s all I have to say.”
Alvarado said it didn’t look like Williamson missed much time at all.
“I think Z is such a special player,” Alvarado said. “But a player we can adapt to. He doesn’t need the ball right away. He’ll find his way. He’s adapted really well. It’s looked like he’s been playing with us for a while.”