Two months ago, the New Orleans Pelicans (30-28) were one of the hottest teams in the NBA and everyone seemed to be singing their praises. They had gone 12-3 over a 15-game stretch and built up an impressive 7-game winning streak.
It also helped that they were the only team in the NBA to have a top 6 offensive rating as well as a top 3 defensive rating. This made them shock contenders for the title like the Grizzlies, Warriors, and Nuggets.
Zion Williamson’s Health
Zion Williamson’s MVP-level play is a big reason for the New Orleans Pelicans’ rise up the NBA pecking order. During their winning streak, he averaged 30 points per game on an impressive 66% shooting, as well as 9.1 rebounds and 5.3 assists. He leads turns what was predicted to be playoff contenders at best, into a legitimate championship threat.
The New Orleans Pelicans have seen their hot streak come to an abrupt end as Zion Williamson has been forced to sit out due to a hamstring injury. On January 3rd, the 22-year-old experienced the issue on a fast break play against the Philadelphia 76ers. As expected, he was shut down for at least three weeks and was to be re-evaluated at that point for further instructions.
An update on his recovery was also issued recently, confirming he is healing appropriately and will be checked on again in two weeks. However, it seems like it will take more time before Zion can get back into action. As per Wojnarowski:
“The timeline for his return is very open-ended. After the All-Star break when he’s re-evaluated again, they’ll have a better view of just exactly how long it might be but these hamstring injuries are tricky.”
Effects of Zion Being Sidelined
Life without Zion Williamson has been far from easy. Since Zion was sidelined (again), the Pelicans have gone seven and fourteen, causing them to fall from third in the Western Conference to seventh.
As if that wasn’t bad enough, their offensive, defensive, and net rating dive during this time have been incredibly poor. This moves them to twenty-second, seventeenth, and twenty-fifth in the league, respectively. From being one of the favorites in Fanduel Louisiana, the Pelicans are now +6000 to win the NBA championship and +3000 to prevail in the Western Conference.
Even if their superstar, Zion Williamson, makes it back before the start of the postseason, it’ll likely take some time for him to make a full recovery and get back to pre-injury form. In addition, other Western teams such as the Clippers, Mavericks, Suns, and Nuggets made key moves at the trade deadline to improve the talent on their respective rosters.
Having Zion back will be relieving for the Pels but it doesn’t mean that they can easily be on top again.
Will New Orleans’ Investment Payoff?
The New Orleans Pelicans have put a massive investment into rookie phenom Zion Williamson, handing the former Duke Blue Devil a $307m deal. With his injury history, it could turn out to be a gamble that doesn’t pay off.
So far, Williamson has only managed to play in 59.9% of NBA games and Eddie Johnson recently stated that he doesn’t expect this figure is likely to rise any time soon. While the Pelicans are no doubt eager to secure their franchise’s future with the talent of Williamson, they must also be mindful of his health if they want him to contribute long-term.
“I’ve said this even before he got drafted. We’ve never seen a body this big, this explosive play this game. He puts so much torque on his body. His body is not built to play this game. It’s not. But he is very good at this game. And that’s why he plays it,” Johnson added.