Zion Williamson

Zion Williamson's injury is devastating news for NBA fans of every allegiance, but there is a silver lining for Bulls fans

Zion Williamson's injury is devastating news for NBA fans of every allegiance, but there is a silver lining for Bulls fans

Monday afternoon, news broke that Pelicans rookie, awe-inspiring phenom and the subject of numerous long-forgotten basketball prophecies, Zion Williamson, will miss the first 6-8 weeks of the NBA season after undergoing surgery to repair a torn right meniscus. No reaction to this news is complete or legitimate without first acknowledging that this is a devastating development for anyone who loves this league and, of course, for Zion himself (human to human, injuries are brutal and we wish him the best). On a basketball note, Williamson looked every bit as exceptional as advertised this preseason, and the Pelicans are primed to be one of the most fun young teams the NBA has seen in a long while — a League Pass must-watch of the highest caliber.

But, unfortunately, the show will have to go on in New Orleans without their No. 1 overall pick, at least for the time being. In the wake of the initial report, NBA Twitter was ablaze with reactions, as one might expect. Among the highlights…

Historical comparisons were pondered:

 

 

 

Meniscuses (menisci?) were offered up:

 

Odds swung:

 

(Hi, Coby) 

Bandwagons tipped:

 

There is a silver lining for Bulls fans in all of this, though. Right now, barring a highly improbable (to put it lightly) NBA Finals matchup, the Bulls and Pelicans are slated to face off twice in the regular season, the first meeting of which will be on January 8 in New Orleans. According to the reported 6-8 week recovery timetable for Williamson, he should be set to return some time in between late November and mid-December. That means there’s a good chance Williamson will suit up for both games against the Bulls this season — unless, of course, nagging injuries plague his rookie campaign (please no). 

The city of Chicago got a taste of the legend of Zion this preseason, when the Pelicans visited the United Center on October 9. Williamson was exquisite in that contest, tallying 29 points on 12-of-13 shooting in 27 minutes of game action, accumulating a number of highlight-reel plays along the way:

Now, let us all come together and pray to the basketball gods for a speedy recovery and a long and healthy career for the Duke product. No matter your allegiances, there’s no doubt the NBA is better and more exciting league with him in it.

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Bulls' ball movement stands out in loss to Zion Williamson's Pelicans

Bulls' ball movement stands out in loss to Zion Williamson's Pelicans

Zion Williamson lived up to the hype. The Bulls’ offense created some.

On a night Williamson drew oohs and aahs from the United Center crowd while scoring 29 points on just one missed shot, the Bulls’ ball movement proved sublime. They posted 38 assists on 49 field goals in a 127-125 preseason loss to the Pelicans.

The Bulls’ reserves blew a 23-point, fourth-quarter lead as the Pelicans outscored them 41-18 in the fourth. But for the second straight game, the Bulls attempted at least 37 3-pointers and looked like a well-oiled machine while the regulars played.

Zach LaVine’s 28 points in 24 minutes led the way, while Otto Porter Jr. posted 16 points, eight assists and seven rebounds.

But this game went beyond numbers and into nuance. Twice, including when Luke Kornet started the second half for Cristiano Felicio, coach Jim Boylen sent five shooters to the floor.

The other stint came in the second quarter when Tomas Satoransky, Coby White, LaVine, Lauri Markkanen and Kornet scored 20 points in 5 minutes. To say this is a luxury for Boylen---and a departure from last season---would be like saying Williamson can dunk.

“I thought at moments we looked like a team,” Boylen said. “We looked like how we want to look.”

As expected, Satoransky drew the start at point guard after Kris Dunn got that assignment in Monday’s preseason opener against the Bucks. After an initial turnover-filled stint, Satoransky finished with 11 points, eight assists, five rebounds and two steals, repeatedly moving the ball quickly and accurately.

For the first time, Boylen said he won’t take all preseason to name his starting point guard. Given how well the ball moved with Satoransky starting, he likely is the leader in the clubhouse.

“I had some quick turnovers early. I’m still learning some situations. I’m learning that Zach is quick so you have to give him the pass early,” Satoransky said. “But I think we did a good job of moving the ball. I think we showed how we want to play in the season---moving the ball well, having open shooters and play with pace.”

The assists were more than the Bulls posted all season. And having so much shooting on the floor should do wonders for LaVine, who consistently drew double teams or got blitzed by defenses in pick-and-roll situations last season.

Boylen called LaVine “a special cat” who is “locked in” this preseason.

“When I do drive, defenses are either going to have to stay at home or if they bring help, we have five shooters,” LaVine said. “It definitely opens the floor up.

“The more we play together, I feel the ball is going to pop around the perimeter a little better. (Satoransky) pushes the pace. Even a couple of the turnovers that he had were the right play. He was going to feel out some lobs and backdoors. It’s going to be fun for somebody like me who can get in transition. It helps me move without the ball a lot better.”

The United Center will host the All-Star game in February. Williamson and LaVine would make for a juicy dunk contest.

“I wanted to see what it was like first-hand. I’m a competitive guy,” LaVine said of their respective dunks. “He’s the truth.”

Indeed, the postgame praise flowed for the No. 1 overall pick, who consistently got to the rim.

“I was amazed at his body control for a guy that big,” Boylen said of Williamson. “There were moments where it looked like he wasn’t going to get to the rim and he did.”

The Bulls only shot 17 free throws but consistently had open looks because of their ball movement. Kornet, who finished with nine points and four assists in his debut, added an element the Bulls didn’t previously have.

“It’s good to have Kornet out there,” Boylen said. “He’s a good player. He understands how to play the game.

“We have a chance to be a good team because of the shooting and versatility and different combinations. We did a better job of getting into some combinations we wanted to see. One was Markkanen and Kornet.

“We’ve added experience and intelligence to this team with Satoransky and Kornet and Thad. When you don’t have an agenda and just play the game, it’s really fun and freeing.”

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Zion Williamson is focused on the Bulls and his improvement, not the hype

Zion Williamson is focused on the Bulls and his improvement, not the hype

As Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry addressed a huge throng of reporters covering Monday’s morning shootaround at the United Center, Zion Williamson left the court and headed towards the tunnel to the locker rooms.

“He’s not leaving,” Gentry said, laughing. “I promise you.”

Nevertheless, several reporters left Gentry to follow Williamson, who later talked outside the Pelicans’ locker room.

“At least I know where I stand,” Gentry cracked, again laughing.

Yes, welcome to Zion Zaniness, which will ensue at NBA arenas across the country. Williamson gets it.

“I don’t think it’s overwhelming doing something I love,” Williamson said. “I’m living my dream.”

Gentry is the perfect coach to help handle the hype surrounding Williamson, who will play “probably 20” minutes Monday night against the Bulls. The veteran NBA coach has seen a little bit of everything during his close to three decades in the league.

“We’re not downgrading his talent. We’re just not going to compare him to anyone,” Gentry said. “We want him to be the best Zion he can be... I just think it’s important we understand what we’re dealing with here and try not to jump the gun on anything. It’s a process. It’s not anything that is going to happen overnight. I think we all know that. Our goal is to make sure he’s better every single day. His goal is to make sure he’s better every single day. As long as we’re on that path, I think we’ll be fine.”

Williamson did nothing to quell the hype in his preseason debut against the Hawks, throwing down highlight-reel dunks and displaying the freakish athleticism that made him the No. 1 pick in last June’s draft and one of the most hyped rookies in recent history.

Williamson isn’t focused on the hype.

“I just have to work on trusting my game,” he said. “I’m not going to change who I am. Because I remember there was a time when I didn’t have all this (hype) and I was the same person. So never going to change.”

Williamson smiled his way through questions about Coby White, the history of the United Center and whether he and Zach LaVine on the same court could be a preview of the dunk contest at the February All-Star Game in Chicago.

“I knew that question was coming,” Williamson said. “It’s a basketball game, and if we dunk it’s whatever. I don’t think we’ll be doing nothing crazy out there.’’

On White, who he played against in the vaunted Duke-North Carolina rivalry: “I remember (Duke) Coach (Mike Krzyzewski) is like, ‘If we score it doesn’t matter. Coby is pushing it,’” Williamson said. “Man, for my second game back that was a fast-tempo game. I was kind of tired like in the first three minutes, but I battled through it and it was a tough win.’’

On the United Center’s history with Michael Jordan: “This building is obviously special because this man won six rings here – not all six of them here – but he won six banners. Proud to be part of the Jordan family, so it’s an honor to be able to play on this court.’’

Williamson signed an endorsement deal with Jordan Brand. And he’s appreciative of Gentry helping him through this process.

“I think sometimes people can run with unrealistic expectations,” Williamson said. “So with them just helping me gain confidence in being myself it helps a lot.’’

Gentry said fans lined up at noon for a 6 p.m. open practice in New Orleans. The hype will exist, and Gentry is confident Williamson’s greatness will come. He’s just trying to help handle it all.

“Obviously, it’s good for our franchise. We get a lot of notoriety,” Gentry said. “He’s such a great kid, hard worker. He understands he has a lot of work to do. He’s willing to put in the work. But he’s going to be fine.

“We’re just going to make sure it’s done properly and there’s no timetable for him to dominate the league. He’s going to continue to work. He’ll arrive there. . . . He’s a very coachable guy, but that’s not really a surprise. Smart guy. Very smart. Knows the game. And he’s a willing worker who wants to get better. He doesn’t mind you sitting down with him showing the weaknesses that he has to work on and he’ll go right back out and do anything he can to improve in those areas.”