Pelicans find themselves in crucial moment as Zion returns

January 24, 2020

As All-Star weekend approaches, one team in particular finds themselves entering into the most crucial stretch of the season: the New Orleans Pelicans. After a 13-game losing streak left them at an abominable 6-22, the Pelicans have since rallied, going 11-5 over their last 16 games, just three games out of the 8th seed in the Western Conference. Despite being the 12 seed, FiveThirtyEight is giving the Pelicans a 60 percent chance at making the playoffs, due in large part to the return and NBA debut of prized rookie Zion Williamson. Williamson, the 6’7” forward out of Duke University, was the number one pick in the 2019 NBA Draft after an outstanding freshman season. Williamson absolutely dominated the NBA pre-season, averaging 23.3 points, 6.5 rebounds and 2.3 assists, with a 73.7 True Shooting Percentage in just 27.3 minutes per game. Questions have emerged about Williamson’s weight however. At 6’7”, Williamson weighs a colossal 285 pounds. His incredibly athletic and vertical playstyle has raised concerns about his long-term health and if his playstyle is sustainable. These questions intensified after Williamson tore his meniscus last October. After Williamson received surgery to repair the torn meniscus, the Pelicans have been extremely cautious while re-integrating Williamson into the lineup. 

After growing frustrated with the speculation around Williamson’s return, New Orleans General Manager David Griffin commented on Williamson’s progress, according to Forbes.com.

“This process has been one that’s been really really good,” Griffin said to reporters. “We’ve learned a lot more than we’ve probably taught him, frankly, but we’re getting to the point where we actually think he’s as ready as he feels he is. So everything’s moving in the right direction.”

Zion has expressed frustration about his return though. “It was a lot of times when I wanted to just punch a wall or kick chairs,” he said to The New York Times, “because it’s frustrating to not be able to move your body the way you want to.”

It is unclear how Williamson will perform through the early stages of his return but his immediate performance is not absolutely necessary to the Pelicans. The Pelicans have enjoyed the breakout performance of fourth-year forward Brandon Ingram. Ingram, the second pick in the 2016 NBA Draft, struggled early in his career with his jumpshot and thin frame, but in his fourth year has come into his own. Ingram is averaging 25.6 points, 6.7 rebounds, 4.4 assists and now finds himself jockeying for a spot on the NBA All Star team. 

All Star talk intensified for Ingram after a 49-point outing against the Utah Jazz. Coach Alvin Gentry was quoted after the game: “To be honest with you, it doesn’t surprise me that much,” Gentry said, via The Athletic. “I just think that the way he works and the way he’s gotten better and worked on his craft, sooner or later he was going to have a game like this. I thought he did everything we asked him to do. … He just played a terrific game.”

As Brandon Ingram continues his breakout season and Zion Williamson looks posed to return, the Pelicans now find themselves at the most important moment of their season thus far. 

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