Should Pelicans move on from Zion Williamson?

Coming into the NBA, one of the biggest concerns around Zion Williamson being the No. 1 pick for the New Orleans Pelicans in the 2019 draft was his ability to stay in shape. Over the course of his career – after plenty of injury battles – that stigma has all but left.

New Orleans Pelicans v Los Angeles Lakers: Semifinals - 2023 NBA In-Season Tournament
New Orleans Pelicans v Los Angeles Lakers: Semifinals - 2023 NBA In-Season Tournament / Ethan Miller/GettyImages

The Pelicans have started the new NBA season 12-11 with a loss in the In-Season Tournament semi-finals. They nearly made the championship game, which will feature the Los Angeles Lakers and the Indiana Pacers.

The Pelicans' loss to the Lakers in the tournament was lackluster and showed a total lack of effort or urgency from Williamson and Brandon Ingram was cause for concern. With this, a story regarding Williamsons’ conditioning problem has once again resurfaced.’s Christian Clark wrote that Williamson has begun to disregard conditioning and isn’t making it a focal point.

“Williamson's poor worth ethic has been a source of frustration for the Pelicans since they drafted him No. 1 in 2019. The Pelicans have tried to surround Williamson with veterans who have track records of maximizing their potential. The team signed JJ Redick in 2019. In 2022, they traded for CJ McCollum,” Clark wrote. “None of it has made an impact.”

The teams and franchises have all the resources in the world to ensure these athletes can maximize their potential and truly lead the team to contention, but, at the end of the day, the player controls his own destiny. Williamsons’ inability to focus on condition and make it a focal point has limited the Pelicans’ ceiling as a team.

“The Pelicans have repeatedly stressed to Williamson that his diet and conditioning need to improve. Williamson, multiple team sources have told The Times-Picayune, ‘doesn't listen,’” Clark continued.

This is a huge cause for concern. If Williamson isn’t able to stay in top conditioning, he’s always going to struggle to be healthy or be able to give everything he can for the Pelicans for 48 minutes. When it comes to building a culture – something that should be made easy in a rich culture like New Orleans – a star player has to buy in.

Williamson not making his weight and conditioning a focal point is a poor start to a franchise player helping establish a culture. Having pieces like McCollum and Brandon Ingram around him should incentivize him to do everything possible to try and build a winning culture and team.

There seems to be a limit as to how far this current iteration of the Pelicans core can go. They’ve got the make and mold of a team that could make a deep run in the playoffs. They’ve got the depth and complementary stars, but Williamson has to lock in on becoming the franchise player he was projected to be after a promising first season.

So far this season, Williamson is averaging 22.9 points per game on an average of 31 minutes played per game. While his impact hasn’t been bad, it’s known that he can make much larger contributions to the team.