METAIRIE, La. -- New Orleans Pelicans forward Zion Williamson said Tuesday that he is feeling fine physically and will return to the court "when I feel like Zion," acknowledging the mental hurdle of rejoining the team as it embarks on a postseason run.
Williamson, who has been out since Jan. 2 while recovering from a right hamstring strain, spoke to reporters Tuesday ahead of the Pelicans' play-in matchup with the Oklahoma City Thunder on Wednesday.
"It's been frustrating," Williamson said. "Not going to lie to you. It's been very frustrating. Not being able to play sucks. But I mean, things have gotten better. Things have gotten a lot better."
Asked how close he is to feeling ready to play, Williamson replied, "Physically I'm fine, now it's just a matter of when I feel like Zion. I know the atmosphere I'd be entering based off like the playoff experience. So now it's just a matter of when I feel like Zion."
What exactly does that look like?
"I don't feel like there are any specific benchmarks for being Zion," Williamson said. "It's just a matter of like, you know, when I feel like myself. Just feeling like myself and knowing that I can go out there and have a big impact for my team."
Williamson did not play at all last season because of a broken right foot and was in the same position this past April as the Pelicans made it through the play-in tournament and earned the No. 8 seed. This season, the Pelicans also must win two games in the play-in tournament in order to secure a first-round matchup against the No. 1-seeded Denver Nuggets.
When explaining the mental hurdles of returning to game action, Williamson pointed to not wanting to negatively impact the team when he's on the court because of any lingering hesitation.
"It's a little bit of a mental battle, because you know when I reaggravated [the injury] back in February, it was tough," Williamson said. "So when I go to make certain moves, there is that hesitation. Sometimes there's not and sometimes there is. And I understand the magnitude of these games coming up and I don't want to be out there hesitating or doing something that may affect my team in a bad way."
Williamson added that he knows he "would be in my head" when trying to get out there to play.
If the Pelicans beat the Thunder on Wednesday, they would advance to face the loser of Tuesday's game between the Los Angeles Lakers and Minnesota Timberwolves.
Williamson will not play in either of those two games, but when asked if he could play in a first-round series against the Nuggets, Zion said, "If I feel like Zion, I'll be out there."
Williamson called it a "collective decision" between himself and the team about when he's able to make his return.
"When I go to make certain moves, there is that hesitation. Sometimes there's not and sometimes there is. And I understand the magnitude of these games coming up and I don't want to be out there hesitating or doing something that may affect my team in a bad way."Zion Williamson
Williamson also said he has tried his best to block out the online noise and instead focus on the big picture.
"It's tough. I can't lie," Williamson said. "From my perspective, I just want to play basketball. I want to hoop, I want to play the game I love. But the reality of it is whether I check my phone, whether I'm just watching TV, no matter what it is, I can't really escape what the world thinks, what people's opinions are. So, it's frustrating."
Williamson played in 29 games this season, missing the final 45 because of the hamstring injury. He averaged 26 points and 7 rebounds while shooting 60.8% from the field. He was named an All-Star starter, although the injury kept him out of the game.
He has been engaged on the sidelines watching his team as it tries to make it back to the playoffs for a second consecutive year, but it hasn't made the situation any easier.
"I mean, this s--- sucks," Williamson said. "I don't know how else to say it. It just sucks. I love this game. I say it over and over. For those people that think that I just want to sit on the sideline just to sit over there, I don't know why people think that, but nah, it sucks. I want to be playing basketball for real."