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Should the Pelicans be concerned after Zion's right foot surgery?


"Zion is returning from a foot surgery suffered at the beginning of summer," said David Griffin at Pelicans Media Day. "Well the beginning of summer isn't exactly accurate, but earlier in the offseason prior to summer league. He had a fractured right foot that was repaired surgically."

The Pelicans superstar attributed the injury to "overdoing it in training," after his second straight non-playoff season two years into his NBA career. But a fracture to his fifth metatarsal bone shouldn't keep Zion out for too long, as he's expected to be back for a regular-season opener against the 76ers.

I expect to be back for the first official game.

Zion Williamson, ESPN

Whenever he's back to his full strength, look for the Pelicans to be extra cautious with re-assigning Williamson to his usual minutes on the floor. As of now, the organization seems optimistic Zion will get there sooner than expected, but the injury cloud looming over the 21-year-old will once again force New Orleans to play it safe. And perhaps they should.

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Although shedding light on his injury, Zion's response doesn't answer the more important question -- what exactly happened, and is there a risk of long-term consequences for Williamson? A lot of it depends on whether he suffered an overuse type of injury as opposed to a specific acute traumatic episode where he planted his foot differently and the bone just broke. Dr. Brian Sutterer gave his opinion on the matter.

When I hear Zion's description of his injury, to me it localizes more to zone 3 stress type of pattern.

Brian Sutterer, Brian Sutterer MD

Zone 3 type of metatarsal injuries is usually caused by repetitive microtrauma to the bone that can ultimately become a full-blown stress fracture. Due to a low blood supply to that specific area, these things take months to heal. That's why high-level athletes tend to undergo surgery to speed up the healing process.

There's always a level of concern when you have any athlete who develops a stress injury. This is because there can be intrinsic factors in terms of the athlete's bone density or their genetic makeup, that makes their bone more predisposed to this type of injury. You combine that with a heavier player like Zion and I think there's reason to be a little bit concerned about the risk there.

Brian Sutterer, Brian Sutterer MD

If Zion's injury resulted from normal anatomy but a huge ramp-up in training, that's more reassuring. Then it's on Williamson and the Pelicans' coaching staff to adjust his training process so that they're not overworking his bones. But the key is to figure out which of these two camps Zion falls into and then make the necessary adjustments.

Until then, they should continue to play it safe. Hopefully, not for long.

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