New Orleans Pelicans rookie Zion Williamson has avoided a severe injury to his right knee but is expected to miss a period of weeks to start the regular season, sources told ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski on Friday.

Williamson did not travel with the team to New York for Friday’s preseason game against the Knicks and instead stayed back in New Orleans for further testing.

The injury puts a damper on what had been an excellent preseason for the No. 1 overall pick. Williamson was averaging 23.3 points and 6.5 rebounds while shooting 71.4 percent overall in the Pelicans’ first four preseason games while averaging 27.3 minutes.

Now, New Orleans heads into the season with its star rookie on the sideline.

The Pelicans figure to be cautious with Williamson regarding his return, but the team is confident Williamson will make a full recovery. The 6-foot-7, 284-pound Williamson missed time in summer league after he banged his left knee in a collision with another player. After just eight minutes, the Pelicans shut Williamson down for the summer, although they said they were just being overly cautious.

Williamson suffered a mild right knee sprain during his only season at Duke. That injury occurred when his sneaker gave out just seconds into a game against North Carolina. He missed three weeks with the injury before returning in the ACC tournament.

Williamson was the prohibitive favorite for the NBA’s Rookie of the Year award, coming in at -250 odds at Caesars Sportsbook.

Without Williamson on the floor, the Pelicans will likely turn to another rookie — albeit a much older one — to fill his minutes. Nicolo Melli, a 28-year-old Italian player, came to New Orleans this summer after a professional career that started in 2007 overseas.

He has played as Williamson’s backup this preseason and has averaged 8.8 points and 6.0 rebounds in 17.0 minutes per game. His rebounding average is second on the team to Williamson’s through four preseason games.

The injury could also open up time for the Pelicans to play Kenrich Williams at the power forward spot. Williams is third on the team with a 4.8 rebounding average in the preseason. It’s also possible the Pelicans could play Brandon Ingram at the 4 spot in spurts.

New Orleans has Derrick Favors slated to start at center, with Jahlil Okafor and Jaxson Hayes backing him up.


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