Pro Sports

What Zion’s return means for the New Orleans Pelicans

Williamson shooting over San Antonio forward Trey Lyles in a preseason game.
(mysanantonio.com) photo: Ronald Cortes

First overall pick of the 2019 draft, Zion Williamson is to make his NBA regular season debut this Wednesday against the Spurs. During the preseason, the star forward suffered a torn meniscus and later underwent knee surgery. The initial timetable for his return was 6 to 8 weeks, but at the time of his return it will have been just over three months. 

Being the biggest name out of this year’s draft and already one of the league’s most popular players, Williamson’s return is highly anticipated by most fans. Yet some have discussed whether he should return due to the risk of reinjury, and the Pelicans’ current record. 

The Pelicans currently sit at the 12 seed in a loaded Western Conference, with a 16-27 record. They are currently 4.5 games behind the 8 seed Memphis Grizzlies led by rookie sensation Ja Morant. Though sneaking into the playoffs seems highly unlikely, Zion’s return seems to be what’s best for this New Orleans team. 

Ingram is having a career year, and is expected to make the All Star game this year. (bleacherreport.com)

The Pels got off to a rough start this season, dealing with an injury bug that has plagued their roster until recent weeks. The team has found a silver lining for this season though, with the breakout of forward Brandon Ingram, a potential all-star for this year. Ingram was part of the trade package that sent Anthony Davis to the Lakers, and is putting up 25.6 points, 6.8 rebounds and 4.3 assists on the season. 

Following the Anthony Davis trade, many expected Zion, the players from the package, and veteran acquisitions like J.J Redick to lead New Orleans back to the playoffs. Though that is very unlikely for this season, the Pelicans have followed up their rough start with great play in recent weeks. The Pels have been on a roll since center Derrick Favors return, and the addition of Zion would take pressure off of Ingram and Redick. 

Williamson has started to participate in full practice. (nbcsports.com)

Even fully healthy, the Pelicans aren’t a playoff team, but having all their main players out on the floor will help their chemistry if they are able to make a run next season. Chemistry has been an issue with this young, injury-prone roster leading coach Alvin Gentry to play many 3 guard rotations. With Williamson inside the paint, the spacing on the floor will be improved and may provide a glimpse of what this Pelicans team’s ceiling is next year. 

(L to R) Williamson, Ball, Holliday, Ingram (nba.com)

Figuring out what this team is with their new franchise player will give them experience needed when they are really competing for playoff position. Learning to best utilize both of their star forwards during this season will be vital to how they start out the next. The Pels have put themselves in a great position for next year, making the most of the potentially devastating Davis situation. With the potential of another high lottery pick in this year’s draft, New Orleans can play the rest of this season out knowing next year’s will go much better. 

Patrick O’Toole is a senior member of the Multimedia Journalism class.