New Orleans Pelicans star Zion Williamson is frustrated with public criticism over his struggles to stay on the court.

“It’s tough. I can’t lie,” Williamson said Tuesday, according to ESPN’s Andrew Lopez. “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 just 114 out of a possible 308 games over his first four NBA seasons. He missed the entire 2021-22 campaign due to a foot injury.

The two-time All-Star featured in just 29 contests this regular season, missing the final 45 games after suffering a hamstring injury on Jan. 2. He dealt with multiple setbacks during his recovery from the ailment.

Pelicans GM David Griffin recently said the “best possible outcome” for Williamson would be to return to practice before or during the first round of the playoffs if the Pelicans make it through the play-in tournament. Williamson says he’s now dealing with mental hurdles in his rehab as he tries to return to action.

“When I go to make certain moves, there is that hesitation,” Williamson said. “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.”

New Orleans will face the Oklahoma City Thunder in a play-in game on Wednesday looking to keep its season alive. If the Pelicans win, they’ll face the loser of Tuesday’s play-in game between the Los Angeles Lakers and Minnesota Timberwolves.

The winner of that additional game, which takes place Friday, will claim the eighth seed in the Western Conference and face the top-seeded Denver Nuggets in the first round.

Williamson averaged 26 points, seven rebounds, and 4.6 assists for the Pelicans this season.

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