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While injuries are a part of professional sports, that doesn’t make dealing with them any easier. The New Orleans Pelicans, for example, entered the season expecting Zion Williamson to be a major part of the roster. The rookie big man, however, is still sidelined after knee surgery.

As for the Pelicans, they have a significant problem on their hands. Even when Zion returns, he won’t be a magic cure for all of their inefficiencies, especially on the defensive end of the floor.

Zion’s road to the NBA

When Zion Williamson arrived at Duke University, he was already one of the biggest names in basketball. From the first time he stepped onto an NCAA court, he lived up to the hype. After some strong preseason outings against Canadian opposition, he burst onto the scene with a 28-point outing against Kentucky.

In February, Williamson suffered an infamous injury when he broke through his Nike sneaker. He missed the rest of the regular season but returned during the ACC Tournament; he stepped back into the action without missing a beat, but Duke still fell short of their ultimate goal. After the season ended, Zion confirmed what everyone knew; he would be making the jump to the pros.

Zion Williamson’s recent surgery

While Zion Williamson looked good during the preseason, things soon took a turn for the worst. The rookie missed the Pelican’s final exhibition game; shortly after, the team announced he had knee surgery to repair a torn meniscus. He was estimated to miss between six and eight weeks of action.

While some blamed the rookie’s injury on poor conditioning, the Pelicans insisted that isn’t the case.  “The notion that this happened because Zion is in poor condition is asinine,” New Orleans’ executive vice president of basketball operations David Griffin said. “He wasn’t in poor condition when he went 12 of 13 last week against Utah. That’s not what it is. He’s just a very unique body type and certainly from a physics perspective.”

The Pelicans’ big problem

Given the fact that they’re playing without Zion Williamson, it would be reasonable for the Pelicans to struggle. That’s exactly what has happened, with the team dropping six of their first seven games. There are issues, however, that go beyond their losing record.

Despite Brandon Ingram’s offensive output, the Pelicans are still floundering. That’s largely due to their defense. The team is posting the second-worst defensive rating in the entire league; they get slaughtered in the paint and from behind the arc virtually every night. While Zion will help out around the rim and move Ingram to a more natural position, he won’t magically fix all of the Pelicans’ problems.

The team simply can’t seem to defend the pick-and-roll properly, which causes a domino effect; the team also rotates a third defender towards the paint, which leaves three-point shooters unguarded.

Even when Zion returns, those are schematic issues. If the Pelicans don’t sort things out on the defensive end of the floor, all of the highlight-reel plays that Williamson can muster won’t help them.