Zion Williamson played 35 minutes on Tuesday night in a New Orleans Pelicans loss to the Utah Jazz. He was again a physical force, bullying his way to 32 points on 14-of-19 shooting. He's up to 34.1 minutes a game this month, which is pretty high in the Load Management Era, but for old school guys, it's just not enough. Karl Malone was on the Knuckleheads podcast with Quentin Richardson and Darius Miles this week and argued that Zion should be playing a lot more.
In 2021, this is obviously a lot to ask of any player. Especially, when you want to ensure they stay healthy for the next decade, but when you look at Malone's career numbers through the lens of the current era, your eyes may pop out of your head.
Malone only played 34.8 minutes a game during his second season in the NBA, which is right around where Zion might end up by the end of this year, but after that, holy crap. Malone ended up averaging 37.2 minutes a game over 19 seasons. The second-lowest minutes per game he ever played in a season was during his final season when he was 40 and he played 32.7 minutes per game. He ended up playing the second-most minutes in NBA history. The most games he ever missed in a season before his final season was two.
Malone is a problematic figure to say the least, but when it comes to basketball, he really was a machine. He's a Hall of Famer and his numbers speak for themselves. So if anyone can play the "back in my day we didn't rest" card, it's Karl Malone.
It will be interesting to see just how high Zion's minutes grow if he stays healthy. The current NBA minutes leader is Domantas Sabonis who is averaging 37.5 a game. That's the same number Damian Lillard reached when he led the NBA in minutes per game last season. The last player to average 40 minutes a game was Monta Ellis a full decade ago. Even Malone, one of the league's all-time iron men, only hit the 40-minute milestone twice. This is pretty clearly something we will never see again.