It’s the same smile Williamson has worn since he was drafted, seemingly going about his business with such a care-free and stress-free attitude. And by the sound of what Pelicans executives, coaches and players had to say on Monday, they will try to keep as much of the stress out of Williamson’s life as he adapts to his first season of professional basketball.
“He’s not here to save our franchise,” Pelicans head coach Alvin Gentry said. “He’s here to be a part of something that’s going to be what (Pelicans executive vice president of basketball operations David Griffin) refers to as sustainable winning. He’s going to be a guy that contributes. But we’re not going to ask him to put on a cape and fly in and save our franchise.”
Williamson averaged nearly 23 points and nine rebounds per game at Duke last season and is expected by many to produce at a high level as a rookie in the NBA. In ESPN’s NBARank, Williamson clocked in at No. 42.
But his teammates repeatedly said they aren’t trying to put too much on Williamson too early.
“We’re playing a game. It’s basketball, there’s no expectations on him,” Pelicans guard Josh Hart said. “Go out there and play hard and do what you do. No one is sitting here saying he has to average 25 and 15 as a rookie. Go out there and play the game how you want to play the game and everything else will come.”
Since the NBA lottery in May, Williamson has been on a whirlwind tour with media responsibilities and endorsement meetings all while trying to fit in preparing for the upcoming season.
Throughout it all, Williamson says he’s been enjoying the process.
“It’s been crazy and fun,” Williamson said. “Always on the move but having fun. A few people would look and say it’s stressful. But I’m having fun. But all these meetings, meeting my new teammates, trying to gel with them, it’s a fun process.”
Williamson has been in New Orleans since July with fellow rookies Nickeil Alexander-Walker and Jaxson Hayes but he’s had a chance to get to know his other teammates in recent weeks during offseason workouts.
For several of them, it was their first hands-on experience with Williamson after watching him through social media and while at Duke.
“You can tell that he loves the game of basketball. I mean, he’s a mutant,” Pelicans guard Jrue Holiday said.
“You have mutants coming out the woodwork with 40 and 45-inch verticals just dunking everywhere. His athletic ability is out of this world. I do think he has a lot to learn. I think we’ll do a good job of bringing him along.”
And while a lot of the talk centered on Williamson, there were other developments around the team.
Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram and Josh Hart — the three players acquired in the Anthony Davis trade with the Los Angeles Lakers – are all healthy from injuries and ailments that sidelined them a year ago.
Ball and Hart are fully recovered from ankle and knee injuries respectively while Ingram is 100 percent after having to miss time with deep vein thrombosis.
Ingram said it was “scary” at the beginning but once he was told his blood clotting didn’t have to do with his blood but more with his body structure, he eased up.
“I don’t think it was uncertain. It was scary at the beginning finding out I hjad a blood clot. But it was nothing to do with my blood. It was kind of how my body is structured.
“My spirits kind of stayed high,” Ingram said. “I had good insight from the doctors and good insight from my family. The process wasn’t easy. Sometimes I had trouble breathing. I had chest and back pain a little bit. But everything I went through, I knew I could get through. I always just kept my head high and did whatever the doctors told me to do.”
Ingram added there was “no more medications” and he expects to have zero issues moving forward.