Karl Malone Calls out Zion Williamson: 'Your A** Shouldn't Get Tired'

Karl Malone has warned New Orleans Pelicans star Zion Williamson may never fulfil his potential unless he gets into peak physical shape.

Having recovered from a serious knee injury that delayed the start of his rookie season, Williamson has hit the ground running in the NBA but Malone suggested his conditioning could hold him back.

Official NBA figures list the 20-year-old as 6 foot 7 inches and 284 pounds, while the former Utah Jazz star was listed at 6 foot 9 inches and 250 pounds for most of his 19 seasons in the NBA.

"I love Zion Williamson," Malone, a two-time MVP and 14-time All Star, told The Players' Tribune Knuckleheads podcast. "Zion needs to get into shape. If he don't get in shape, we might not ever know his full potential.

The first overall pick of the 2019 NBA Draft, Williamson missed the first three months of a rookie campaign after undergoing surgery in October last year to repair a damaged right lateral meniscus. The former Duke star eventually made his NBA debut in January, only for the coronavirus pandemic to halt the regular season barely two months later.

The Pelicans were among the teams invited in the bio-secure bubble in Orlando, Florida, where the NBA season resumed in July but played only eight further games as they were eliminated from the playoffs. In his truncated debut season, Williamson played 24 games—starting in each of them—and averaged 22.5 points, 6.3 rebounds and 2.1 assists in 27.8 minutes on the court.

Mindful of the risks of rushing Williamson back, the Pelicans carefully managed his usage last season.

"I'm still waiting on him to play the whole damn season. News flash: We still waiting," Malone said.

"And he needs to be averaging 40 minutes a game. Look here, you're a 21-, 22-year-old kid—your a** shouldn't get tired."

Williamson's usage has increased through the first 11 games of the current regular season, when he's been on the court for an average of 32.6 minutes per game. His averages in terms of points and rebounds have also increased to 23.4 and 8 respectively, but his assist average has dipped to 1.8 per game.

According to figures from Basketball Reference, Williamson' 28.8 usage percentage—a metric which measures the amount of plays a selected player was involved in during his time on the court, provided the play ends either in a field-goal attempt, free throw attempt or turnover—ranks 24th in the league among qualified players.

On Tuesday, Williamson finished with 32 points, five rebounds and three assists in 35 minutes on the court as the Pelicans lost 118-102 on the road against the Utah Jazz and slipped to 5-8 for the season.

The game marked the first time Williamson has scored at least 30 points in back-to-back games, but the Pelicans couldn't stop the Jazz's barrage of three-pointers.

Utah hit 21 shots from beyond the arc, the fourth time in the last six games they have drained at least 20 three-pointers.

"We couldn't stop them on anything [...] they also didn't have any trouble getting to the rim," New Orleans coach Stan Van Gundy told ESPN.

"So, you know, they got whatever they wanted we didn't take anything away from them."

Zion Williamson of the New Orleans Pelicans
Zion Williamson #1 of the New Orleans Pelicans shoots a free throw against the Sacramento Kings at Golden 1 Center on January 17 in Sacramento, California. Ezra Shaw/Getty