The NBA will be back this month. What a sentence to type out. The whole endeavor is fraught with risk and great concern, but if everything goes as planned, basketball will be played and everyone will be safe in the process.
This means, among many other things, that we will see Zion Williamson dunk many basketballs. The very-much still yoked young star will undoubtedly be raring to go after playing only 19 games before the season was postponed. But how often will the New Orleans Pelicans let him loose? Jay Williams said on Get Up this morning that head coach Alvin Gentry ought to be mighty careful when it comes to Zion's minutes. He was quick to object to the accusation he was saying they should load-manage him, but stood strong behind his greater point: they need to be cautious.
While Zion's case must be approached with particular care after he missed most of his first season recovering from knee surgery, this is the dilemma all coaches will face during the restart. The players want to play as much as possible. Everyone missed basketball and the vast majority of them will be as healthy as can be expected after a three-month layoff. Coaches will probably need their best players on the court most of the time, given how rusty everyone will be. Backups and bench support don't have the talent to fall back on that the starters do when their touch is off.
Conditioning is the obvious first obstacle, but that will be overcome with time. The biggest reason coaches and players will have to resist the temptation to rack up big minutes is injury. That is also rather obvious, but this year injuries come with more severe consequences. If a player suffers a muscle or ligament tear that sidelines them for a few months, it leaks into next year. Kevin Durant's Achilles tear is an extreme example, but because he tore in June, he was all but assured to miss all of this season. If Zion, for example, suffers another meniscus tear (which kept him out from October to January), he could miss all of the restart and still be recovering when the 2020-21 season begins in December.
It's all about the risk-reward balance, and hopefully nobody suffers something as serious as an ACL tear that would completely eliminate them from participating next season. But it's the reality coaches and players are going to face. Zion will dunk basketballs, but Gentry will be careful to monitor just how many.