Stop me if you've heard this before: Zion Williamson's weight and fitness level are a concern for the New Orleans Pelicans, who were blown out by the Los Angeles Lakers in the In-Season Tournament semifinals on Thursday as Williamson, in a slow-motion state of unapologetic apathy for most of the night, put up 13 listless points on eight shots.
Zion, who actually looked pretty cut up to start the season, again looks out of shape to the eye. He's too heavy, plain and simple. Being out of shape doesn't help matters. Everyone knows this. Most of all the Pelicans, who gave Zion a five-year, potential $231 million contract extension despite his only having played in 85 games over the first three years of his career are expecting, or hoping for, a proper return on their investment.
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.
None of it has made an impact.
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."
It's worth pointing out that when New Orleans gave Williamson the aforementioned max contract after an extremely small sample size, it included a weight clause, according to Clark, who reported that Williamson would have periodic weigh-ins throughout the course of the deal, and if his weight plus body fat percentage were to go above 295, he could lose money.
Whether the Pelicans have had to enforce this clause, or if they ever actually would, is unknown. But it's not going in the right direction. Again, Zion started out the season in clear shape.
"This was the first summer where we've seen Zion take his profession seriously like that and invest in it off the court on his own in a way that I think is meaningful," Pelicans president David Griffin said in September.
That Williamson didn't start taking his profession seriously, in the eyes of his employer, until the start of his fifth season is an obvious red flag, but at least he looked like he was finally starting to do so.
Not three months later, his weight has yo-yo'd back up and his conditioning and energy level back down. The X account "Pro Pels Talk" rattled off a bunch of examples that speak for themselves.
Jonas gets doubled. Zion Williamson has the entire lane to himself, all he would have to do is sprint to the open spot or just simply seal Reddish for an easy lay up.— Pro Pels Talk (@ProPelsTalk) December 8, 2023
He just stands in the corner.
These are just simple easy plays that take a little bit of effort. pic.twitter.com/vJAIragd3p
This wasn't just one game. This has been a theme for much of the season, even if Zion's numbers look decent: 22.2 PPG, 5.6 REB, 4.8 AST on 57% shooting. For a guy with Williamson's power and athletic advantage, those are bare minimum numbers. The rebounds are bordering on pathetic.
The TNT guys criticized Zion for not running hard, and it's true. You will almost never see him actually sprint, which even lazy guys will at least usually do on the offensive end in search of a bucket. But Zion doesn't even do that.
Shaquille O'Neal was poignant in his message about "not running hard" to Zion. O'Neal said he was the same way early in his career when he thought he was running hard but actually wasn't. Williamson may believe he's playing, for the most part, with full effort, but the tape doesn't lie.
Shaq on Zion Williamson's play on the court:— Hoops on 𝕏 (@Digits3Hoops) December 8, 2023
🗣"This is not a diss, this gonna be a lesson from one great big man to another guy... He doesn't have that look... Tiger Woods had that look. Jack Nicholson had that look... I was just like him."pic.twitter.com/w7tUv8PjmM
Redick, who, as mentioned, played with Zion in New Orleans and has been critical of him on multiple occasions through the prism of his not maximizing his tremendous potential, expressed similar disappointment in Zion's commitment to his profession on Friday.
Shaq's point is the right one. Zion is going to put up All-Star-level numbers on talent alone. But he has an opportunity to be a lot more than that. Only he can decide if he's willing to commit to the grind of making that a reality.