Fans will have to wait to see Zion Williamson make his professional debut at Madison Square Garden.
Williamson, who has put up excellent numbers in the preseason, will not be with New Orleans against the Knicks on Friday night. The Pelicans tweeted Thursday afternoon that the rookie extraordinaire will miss their final preseason game because of soreness in his right knee.
Friday night’s game at Madison Square Garden had been hyped as a must-see matchup between Williamson, the player the Knicks had hoped to get in the draft, and RJ Barrett, the consolation prize they ended up with when they dropped to No. 3 in the draft despite finishing the season with a league-worst 17-65 mark.
Williamson put up some jaw-dropping numbers in his first four preseason games. He has averaged 23 points and six rebounds in 27 minutes and shot 71 percent from the field.
“He’s a monster,” Knicks coach David Fizdale said after practice Thursday before it became known that Williamson wouldn’t be playing Friday night. “It’s exactly what I think everybody thought he was going to be. He’s a beast. He’s just going to continue to get better and better. We understand that kid is a heck of a player.”
Fizdale isn’t alone in his thinking. In the annual survey of general managers, Williamson was by far the favorite to win rookie of the year, receiving 68 percent of the vote. No. 2 pick Ja Morant of the Grizzlies came in second with 29 percent and Cavaliers point guard Darius Garland was No. 3 with 4 percent. Barrett, who has played well in the preseason but has struggled with his outside shot, did not receive a vote.
Williamson did not make the trip with the team to New York and is being evaluated, according to a statement from the team. He missed the final six games of the Duke regular season after spraining his knee in a game against North Carolina.
Barrett and Williamson were roommates for a while at Duke and remain good friends. Barrett, who was unaware of Williamson’s status when he talked with the media after practice Thursday, said he is not surprised by the dominating preseason that his former teammate is having.
“He’s too big, too strong,” Barrett said. “He’s going to continue to do that hopefully over his whole career.”