Zion Williamson is back in a Pelicans uniform. Will he stay there?

It’s been more than 10 months since we last saw Zion Williamson in game action in a New Orleans Pelicans uniform.

On Tuesday, he made his return to the court after missing 53 games last season, most of them with a hamstring injury that had sidelined him since Jan. 2. Williamson’s Pelicans took on the Orlando Magic in the preseason debut for both teams.

He didn’t quite look ready for prime time on defense, getting juked by fellow former Blue Devil Paolo Banchero on a drive and dunk in the first quarter.

Then he looked very much like himself on a rim-rocking dunk from the baseline later in the quarter.

He showed off his court vision on a crosscourt pass that set up a Jordan Hawkins 3-pointer.

It was an expected mixed bag for Williamson, who struggled to match up with Banchero, the reigning Rookie of the Year who holds a 4-inch height advantage. But he finished with a strong stat line, posting 12 points, five rebounds and five assists while shooting 4 of 8 from the field in 16 minutes of play.

Zion Williamson sent home a signature dunk in his return to the court. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

Zion Williamson sent home a signature dunk in his return to the court. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert) (ASSOCIATED PRESS)

For the most part, Williamson’s return was simply a welcome sight in New Orleans for Pelicans fans anxious to see their superstar actually playing basketball. Williamson’s missed more regular games (214) than he’s played (144) since joining the NBA in 2019. His season ended prematurely in 2022-23 on the heels of continued criticism of his diet and conditioning. He missed the entire 2021-22 season with a foot injury.

Williamson acknowledged his critics this summer and vowed that he was taking steps to improve his conditioning. At this point, fans will believe it when they see it. And seeing it means a lot more than 15 minutes in a preseason game.

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