There is no precedent in preparing Zion Williamson

There is no precedent in preparing Zion Williamson

DEEP UNDER THE Staples Center basket, cameras are held aloft, each lens moving in unison like starlings in murmuration. Nearly two dozen digital eyes are trained on the vending machine-sized forward warming up, and each time he drives to the hoop, the crowd of onlookers beneath the basket parts to make ample room.

Also looking on before this early January matchup against the Los Angeles Lakers are athletic trainers for the New Orleans Pelicans. They watch the distance between Zion Williamson‘s steps and whether he’s waddling or taking longer strides. They watch to see if he’s moving on the balls of his feet or transferring more force closer to his toes. They prefer the latter in both instances, says one league source close to the team.

The Pelicans watch the positioning of his feet, ankles and knees as he lands after one of his seismic leaps.

And they’re hardly the only ones in the NBA studying young players for flaws.

“By the time you get them, they don’t have any movement patterns that are worth a s—,” says one veteran trainer for a Western Conference team. “It’s unbelievable.”

Says one NBA general manager, “They’re more damaged when they get to us than they ever were before. They’ve got way more trauma to their bodies.”

Dr. Mike Clark, who was formerly the Phoenix Suns‘ physical therapist for 14 seasons, describes younger players today as having powerful Ferrari-like engines, but with the brakes and suspensions of a basic sedan. And one Western Conference NBA general manager says that there might be no player in the league who has a more powerful engine than the team-listed 6-foot-6, 284-pound Williamson. The massively hyped No. 1 pick presents the sort of challenge to NBA trainers that is common among today’s young players, but one that is exaggerated because of a body type far more common on an NFL defensive line than a basketball court.

And as Williamson now engages in practices and is set to debut on Jan. 22 after right knee surgery on Oct. 21, the spotlight is shining on what the Pelicans are doing to care for a prized asset that they hope will become a franchise star.

“Everyone’s going to have their own opinion,” Pelicans forward Josh Hart says. “No one knows him personally. Not a lot of people know his rehab process. They don’t know anything like that.”

So the Pelicans watch. And they preach small details.

“He’s not quick for a big guy,” New Orleans GM David Griffin says. “He’s quick for quick guys. That’s a really big deal when you’re talking about the amount of torque you generate.”

Back on the Staples Center sideline, Griffin watches Williamson. When Zion begins exploding toward the rim and throwing down two-handed slam dunks, fans flock to the Pelicans’ half of the court.

“He’s doing s— from a physics perspective that no one else does,” Griffin says. “It’s fascinating to me. We’ve learned more during this process than we’ve taught him.”

That process is Williamson’s rehabilitation and return-to-play protocol. And while conventional wisdom suggests that the best way to keep Zion injury free is for him to lose weight — to lighten the load on his lower extremities — a new yearslong study suggests that it isn’t quite that simple.

ESPN DAILY PODCAST: Waiting for Zion

ON A HOT August weekend in 2017, three officials from P3 Applied Sports Science wove through 20 miles of Houston’s morning traffic to a cavernous gym where they believed they were going to witness the equivalent of a space shuttle launch in human form. P3, a Santa Barbara, California-based sports performance laboratory, has assessed thousands of athletes and almost 600 NBA players over the past 13 years, but jaw-dropping internet highlights from Williamson, a teenage sensation, had piqued the curiosity of even its longtime staff.

Once there, they affixed him with 22 spherical markers, each the size of a small marble, on his hips, knees and ankles. He stood atop two force plates designed to record ground-reaction forces. Williamson was shirtless, wearing compression tights and sneakers, and he stared up at a vertical leap ladder — the kind used at combines to measure how high players can fly.

Eight high-tech cameras were positioned around Williamson while the officials huddled around a laptop where results would appear in real-time.

Without taking a step, Williamson crouched, preparing for takeoff, then swung his arms high, powering upward.

A chart spiked on the laptop as his tank-like frame continued to rise in the air, ultimately putting 33 inches of space between his sneakers and the floor.

On its own, that figure registered as one of the best standing vertical leaps P3 officials had seen — not far from Andrew Wiggins‘ P3 record of 36 inches.

But Eric Leidersdorf, P3’s director of biomechanics, says that comparison isn’t apt. Williams, he notes, weighs 85 pounds more.

“No one with his body type gets up there,” he says today, rewatching the jump.

Later in the session, Williamson completed what is known as a box jump, in which he jumped down from an 18-inch box before quickly leaping as high as possible. When he did, those force plates recorded that he had created 4,900 Newtons worth of force — about twice the amount needed to crack a brick with a karate punch. It was also the highest such figure the P3 officials had ever seen.

Says Dr. Marcus Elliott, founder of P3: “Zion has the highest peak force of any athlete we’ve ever assessed — and he was still in high school.”

AT THE END of the 2018-19 regular season, P3 completed a five-year study of 481 NBA players they had evaluated in the hope of understanding one thing: What are the biggest factors that can lead to serious knee injuries?

After combing through at least 500 variables, officials were surprised to learn that four stood out as driving the majority of risk — and to learn how different those first three variables were compared to the fourth.

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via – TOP

January 16, 2020 at 04:31AM

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