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Zion Williamson expected to make NBA debut Jan. 22 vs. Spurs

Pelicans GM confirms rookie sensation will play his first game next week.

New Orleans Pelicans forward Zion Williamson during warm ups prior to the game against the Detroit Pistons at Little Caesars Arena. Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

New Orleans Pelicans rookie Zion Williamson is expected to make his NBA debut on Jan. 22 against the San Antonio Spurs, GM David Griffin told reporters Wednesday.

It appears the long-awaited debut of Zion is slowly coming to a close. The No. 1 overall pick is planning on playing in his first NBA game next Wednesday vs. the Spurs. Williamson has been working his way back from knee surgery, returning to practice a few weeks ago. His target date was late-January, so this is right in line with that. We also know that Zion isn’t expected to play on back-to-back sets and I imagine he’ll be limited in how many minutes he plays game-to-game.

Fantasy Basketball Analysis: New Orleans Pelicans PF Zion Williamson

Right now, it’s hard to know what to expect out of Zion. He’s an amazing talent and he’ll surely come in and make his presence felt. But we don’t know how much playing time he’ll get initially and how he’ll fit into the Pelicans roster. My guess is Zion fits in at PF more naturally than Brandon Ingram, so moving Ingram to SF makes sense. The optimal starting lineup with everyone healthy would be Lonzo Ball, Jrue Holiday, Ingram, Williamson and Derrick Favors. If that’s the case, the Pelicans could start to creep out of the basement in the West.

At this point, if you have Williamson stashed in season-long, it’s a wait-and-see scenario. I don’t know if I’d roll him out right away — especially on DraftKings depending on his price tag. For now, be patient with Zion and see how he adjusts to the NBA game and the pace given he hasn’t played a live game since preseason.

Rookie of the Year betting advice

Right now on DraftKings Sportsbook, Zion is listed as +1800 to win Rookie of the Year after missing the first half of the season. As I mentioned above, Williamson isn’t expected to play in back-to-back games and could be restricted in most games. With that, it’ll be hard for him to beat out Ja Morant (-500) for ROTY. We saw Joel Embiid only play 31 games in his rookie season, and despite huge numbers, wasn’t able to beat out Malcolm Brogdon in 2016-17. Zion would have to do what Embiid did and then some — lead the Pelicans to the playoffs likely — in order to make his case.