Zion Williamson’s conditioning no issue for Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry: ‘He’s 19 years old. He’ll be fine’

New Orleans Pelicans rookie Zion Williamson has received rave reviews since he made his NBA debut earlier this season as his combination of size and athleticism is something that basketball fans haven’t seen before. While Williamson has lived up to — and maybe even exceeded — the enormous amount of hype that surrounded him entering the league, one common concern about his game has been his conditioning relative to his size. Many pundits have said the 19-year-old needs to lose weight in order to reach his ceiling and avoid injury issues. 

“I don’t think he can play at that weight long, extended periods of time at [his weight],” TNT NBA analyst Charles Barkley said prior to Williamson’s debut. “I just don’t believe that. I don’t know what his perfect weight is, but he’s going to have to bring in some professionals, get weighed … He needs to get a personal trainer to say what’s the optimal weight for him, because he doesn’t look fat at all.”

After seeing Williamson play a few games against professional competition, former NBA player Stephen Jackson also agreed with Barkley’s assessment. 

“He’s athletic, but he’s overweight still. Eighty-two games as high as he jumps, he’s not gonna make it. He’s a big guy. He has to work on his body, lose some weight. He’s gonna be a great player, but he has to lose weight, though.” 

Well, Pelicans head coach Alvin Gentry has heard all of the chatter, and says that the basketball world is making entirely too much out of the situation. 

“I think he’s fine,” Gentry said of Williamson after the rookie completed his first set of back-to-back games in the NBA on Wednesday night, via ESPN. “We worry about him too freakin’ much, OK? He’s fine. He’s 19 years old. He’ll be fine.”  

This seems to be the organization-wide consensus regarding Williamson’s current condition. Pelicans general manager David Griffin also shut down the idea that Williamson is “too big,” or that he needs to lose weight before the season even started. 

“I’ve seen the narrative out there about him and this happened because he’s not in shape and he’s too big,” Griffin said. “That dude is a freak of nature. When he went through his physical, he ran on the treadmill longer than the cardio-stress test people have ever needed to put anybody through a test to get his heart rate up. That happened because he’s touched by the hand of God to do this. He’s in elite condition. He stays in elite condition.”

Williamson has also heard the chatter, but he thinks it’s just the result of people not quite understanding his uniqueness. 

“I’m just unique. I’m one of one,” Williamson said in January. “There’s really no comparison to me. I try to add every level to my game. My body is just built different. Some people try to look at it as a weakness, but I look at it as a blessing. People aren’t used to guarding this kind of size and I’m able to add a little finesse to my game so it has flavor and I’m a playmaker so I can create for my teammates and when I have to finish I’m gonna finish.” 

As is often the case, the truth here is likely somewhere in the middle. Williamson is a unique specimen, unlike anything that the league has seen before, and at his current size he’s capable of absolutely dominating a game. Could he be in better shape in order to maximize his longevity in the league? Probably, but that will come. Williamson has played in fewer than 20 NBA games, and is still getting a feel for things on a professional level after a long layoff to start the season. He will only benefit from consistent play, and as a result, he’ll likely continue to get in better shape as his career continues on. 

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