After rampant speculation on whether or not Zion Williamson would make his rookie debut with the New Orleans Pelicans on Thursday, team officials noted that Williamson will return and play in his first game next Wednesday during a home game against the San Antonio Spurs.

Zion Williamson New Orleans Pelicans rookie debut return
Rookie Zion Williamson, forward for the New Orleans Pelicans, during a preseason game in October 2019. (Image: Porter Lambert/Getty)

Zion missed 12 weeks of the regular season while recovering from surgery to repair a torn meniscus in his right knee. Zion injured his knee at the end of preseason during a game against the San Antonio Spurs. Initial reports suggested he would miss only six to eight weeks. Optimistic fans hoped that he’d be ready to play by December.

The NBA and its network partners anticipated Zion Mania would be in full force during his rookie season. The Pelicans were awarded 20 prime time and televised games on ABC, ESPN, and TNT this season.

Zion, the #1 pick by the Pelicans in the 2019 NBA Draft out of Duke, averaged 23.3 points and 6.5 rebounds per game in the preseason. He also knocked down over 71 percent of his shots, which is enough to make analytics nerds drool all over themselves.

Zion Rumors: This Week?

On Monday, word got out that Zion would return as early as Thursday for his Pelicans’ debut. However, a report in The Athletic surfaced refuting the notion.

David Griffin, the executive vice president of basketball operations for the Pelicans, wanted Zion to play in two more full practices, including intensive 5-on-5 scrimmages, before he made his rookie debut. Those practices are slated for Friday and Sunday.

“This process has been one that’s been really, really good,” said Griffin. “We’ve learned a lot more than we’ve probably taught him, frankly. He’s getting to the point where we actually think he’s as ready as he believes he is. Everything’s moving in the right direction.”

The Pelicans mentioned January 22, 2020 as the date of Zion’s NBA debut. The Pelicans (15-26) host the San Antonio Spurs (17-21) in New Orleans that evening.

Zion told reporters, “If it were up to me, I would have played two weeks ago.”

The Pelicans are still picking up the shattered pieces after the Anthony Davis trade. The Pels recently snapped a 13-game losing streak in mid-December. Since then, they went 9-4 over their next 13 games including an impressive victory over James Harden and the Houston Rockets.

Without Zion, the Pelicans struggled to find a secondary scorer other than Brandon Ingram. Ingram averages 25.1 points per game and ranked #11 overall in scoring in the NBA.