NEW YORK — Brooklyn Nets star forward Kevin Durant studies the game and its history as much as any top player in the NBA today. That’s why his praise of New Orleans Pelicans young forward Zion Williamson as a “one of one” type of talent speaks volumes about the kind of ability he believes the 22-year-old possesses.
“You’ve seen guys at that size, 6-7, that can get up and down the floor and move, but not at that level, though,” Durant said after Monday’s practice. “You’ve seen guys like Jason Maxiell, I’m not saying they jump as high as Zion, but they were undersized guys that played bigger. And Zion’s one of those guys. Rodney Rogers — I’m missing so many guys that were that tall at 6-6, Charles Barkley bruiser-type guys but played bigger. But Zion’s athleticism trumps all of theirs by far. And when you add that to the mix, it makes him a one of one.”
The Nets play against Williamson and the Pelicans in their regular-season opener Wednesday night at Barclays Center. Despite the fact that Williamson hasn’t played since May 4, 2021, and sat out the entire 2021-22 season because of a right foot injury, Durant is still expecting Williamson to play at a high level.
“Excitement,” Durant said of Williamson being back on the floor. “Athleticism. Somebody that can put up points pretty fast. It’s a matchup problem for a lot of people, so we got our work cut out [with] him, and then you got two other scorers behind him [in Brandon Ingram and CJ McCollum] that can score from all levels. So we got our work cut out for us, but it’s going to be exciting times when guys get healthy, especially the marquee guys in this league.”
Williamson rolled his left ankle on Wednesday against the Miami Heat but declared following the game that he was fine. The Pelicans held Williamson out of their final preseason game on Friday and limited him in practice on Sunday.
On Monday, Williamson went through a full practice and said, “Oh, I’m playing Wednesday,” when asked about his availability for the season opener.
“I didn’t really get to practice fully [Sunday] because they were taking precautionary measures, but the last two days of practice have been intense,” Williamson said. “I think it’s been great for our team building, and I think we’re ready for the season.”
Monday was one of the few practices the Pelicans have had since training camp opened when the projected starting five — Williamson, Ingram, McCollum, Jonas Valanciunas and Herb Jones — were all a full go.
“I think it was very important for us,” Williamson said. “You don’t wanna just go out in the first game feeling foreign. We got a great practice in. It was intense. I’m just excited for Wednesday.”
To their credit, the Nets had already been preparing as if he’ll play on Wednesday.
“I guess there is some trickiness to it — which Zion do you get?” Nets coach Steve Nash said. “But I think you’d be foolish not to expect an exceptional player. He’s so talented and gifted. He causes problems for everybody, no matter, I think, what state his body and game is in. He’s still such a unique athlete and player. So we got to be prepared. We can’t expect anything less than his best or we’ll be surprised and we’ll be second, and when you’re reactive, you’re in trouble.”
ESPN’s Andrew Lopez contributed to this report.