Zion Williamson was back in full force on Thursday night against the Syracuse Orange. The freshman phenom returned to the court for the first time since blowing out his shoe on February 20 against the North Carolina Tar Heels. And the only question remains- why didn’t he return to the court sooner?

Williamson led the Blue Devils with 29 points, 14 rebounds and 5 steals. He also shot a perfect 13 of 13 from the field. Despite the six-game layoff, Williamson also only committed two turnovers. Once again, he struggled from the foul line, going 2 of 9. However, that kind of proves my point from weeks ago. He wasn’t just standing at the free throw line working on his shooting form.

Williamson was never injured. In a different world, he would have returned moments after the shoe fiasco. However, other factors forced Williamson to miss 39 minutes of the first Carolina game. Those same factors pressured Duke basketball into not playing him for the rest of the regular season. Keep in mind, there was more talk about Williamson avoiding an injury and protecting his draft stock than there was about an actual knee injury. Do you know why? Because he wasn’t hurt.

Williamson even admitted he could have returned to game action a few days ago. His first postgame interview was telling. His first few moments on the court were even more proof of his greatness. Williamson scored on a quick duck in on the left block. The explosive drop step was only the beginning. However, there were two other plays that signified Williamson’s return to action.

Williamson started on the high post against Syracuse’s 2-3 zone. They tried to get the ball into the middle of the zone. The defense immediately collapsed on the pass and it looked like a certain steal. Williamson immediately dislodged the ball on a deflection and the scrum led to a held ball. The moment signaled his reaction time was on point.

A few moments later, Williamson darted into the passing lane to get 1 of his 5 steals. The play led to his first dunk in a month.

These plays may seem like little things on the court. However, Williamson is the most gifted college basketball player in the awareness category. Williamson is a great outlet passer and that led to plenty of transition points for Duke. He was cutting through the zone with perfect timing. Yet, if you don’t recognize these things, you’ll just notice the jumping ability. By the way, that’s impressive as well.

Now, Williamson will have a short turnaround. We may finally get to see him against the Tar Heels. However, it might not be the wisest thing to play in back to back games after missing so much time. Then again, this may be his last chance to face the Tar Heels unless they meet in the Final Four.