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If NBA can pull off restart, trio of young stars will get their chance at spotlight

Dan Woikestaff Writer, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Basketball

LOS ANGELES -- JJ Redick, a veteran guard for the New Orleans Pelicans, saw the photo.

With NBA teams starting to slowly fill their practice facilities, Pelicans rookie sensation Zion Williamson was back at work, mask on, sleeves off, his muscles exploding out of his hoodie. Williamson was always big. But in this photo, he looked like a bulldozer sculpted down into a Humvee.

"The key for him is his body and just being in shape. As you saw yesterday, it was all over my timeline," Redick said with a laugh. "He looks fantastic."

Before the season shut down March 11 because of the coronavirus, Williamson was dominating. In his first 19 games, Williamson averaged 23.6 points and 6.8 rebounds and had New Orleans playing better than .500 ball and pushing for a playoff spot.

Assuming the NBA can withstand the strains put on the league and its plan by COVID-19 and resume play July 30, Williamson will be one of the prominent stars on the court near Orlando, Fla., even though he turns just 20 on Monday.

While the resumption of action will reunite fans with familiar faces -- LeBron James, Kawhi Leonard, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Paul George and Anthony Davis -- it also will showcase a trio of young players all fighting to make their postseason debuts from inside the NBA's bubble in Orlando, Fla.

 

"With Zion, Luka (Doncic) and Ja Morant, those are great players that are going to be the faces of this league in a couple of years," Milwaukee Bucks All-Star Khris Middleton said. "To have those guys all in one city competing for their first playoff experience, it's going to be fun to see, I think. Exciting times. Hopefully, those guys are in shape and ready to play and put on a show."

It appears all three are.

Morant, in an offseason tradition of players around the league, used his time to put on a dozen pounds of muscle. And Doncic, who was rumored to be out of shape, clarified that his trainer in Slovenia was mistranslated. He's feeling great.

All three players are in position to make the Western Conference playoffs, with Morant's Memphis Grizzlies and Williamson's Pelicans possibly headed for a showdown in the NBA's first play-in tournament for the No. 8 seed.

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