Zion Williamson moving past injuries, inhibitions in Year 2

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Zion Williamson expects to unleash a version of himself that is healthier, more demonstrative and less restrained in his second NBA season with the New Orleans Pelicans.

“Year 1 was a lot mentally and physically for me, but I needed that experience,” Williamson said Wednesday as the Pelicans underwent preparations for training camp. “It showed me a lot and now I’m getting ready for Year 2.

“There’s a lot of my game I wasn’t able to showcase last year, due to like, just trying to fit in with the team, find my place, and just trying not to be the rookie to mess up,” Williamson added.

There were also injuries, along with concerns about his weight and conditioning that led to a protracted rehabilitation from arthroscopic knee surgery just before the start of the season – and minute restrictions after he made his long-awaited debut in the 44th game of the 2019-20 regular season.

Still, the 6-foot-6, 284-pound Williamson made impressions with both his consistent production and more than a few highlight-reel finishes at the rim. In 24 games, he averaged 22.5 points and 6.3 rebounds per game on 58% shooting.

“Last year, so much happened and I feel like it all happened at once, and there were so many directions I had to look, and things I had to do, that I couldn’t live in the moment,” Williamson said. “But I think this year I have a better understanding of it and will be living in the moment. Because I feel like when I live in the moment, I can cherish it a lot more, and that allows me to have fun and be who I am.”

Williamson said he now feels “great” physically after working out primarily under the direction of his stepfather this offseason and does not expect to be under any restrictions.

“I’m looking forward to that very much,” Williamson said. “No player wants restrictions. I’m hoping Year 2 is going to be lot different.”

It will certainly be that.

For one, he’ll have a new coach in Stan Van Gundy, hired to fill the vacancy created when the Pelicans fired Alvin Gentry.

Williamson said he has spoken with Van Gundy and has gotten a “great” impression of him. Williamson even compared him to his coach at Duke, Mike Krzyzewski.

“He’s a great guy. He’s old school just like my stepfather and just like coach K. I feel like that’s going to be something that I’m going to easily relate with,” Williamson said. “I can see his love and passion for the game … I love stuff like that.”

Williamson also will have a new front-court mate in 7-foot center Steven Adams, who was acquired from Oklahoma City in a trade, and shooting guard Eric Bledsoe, who was acquired from Milwaukee in the same four-team deal that sent guard Jrue Holiday to the Bucks.

Meanwhile, Williamson and another former Duke star, Brandon Ingram, are in position comprise the nucleus of the Pelicans for the next half decade or so. Ingram, a first-time All-Star last season who also was named the NBA’s Most Improved Player, recently signed a five-year extension worth about $158 million.

“I’m glad he’s going to stick around,” Williamson said. “Me and him have a great relationship and honestly we’re just excited to make some moves and try to win.”

When the subject turned to the nature of his offseason workouts or elements of his game on which he worked hardest to develop, Williamson largely deflected, saying, “I can’t go into too much detail because I just don’t like doing that.”

Apologetically, he said he’s keeping public comments about his goals vague.

“The part I’m looking forward to is showing the world me — just being myself and going out there and having fun and showing my competitive nature and trying to win,” Williamson said. “I just want to show the world my love, passion and my competitive spirit.”

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