Zion Williamson has yet to suit up for the New Orleans Pelicans this season. He does not appear very close to doing so, either, as the 2018 No. 1 pick suffered a setback in his recovery from a foot injury. That means it’s time for the Pels to shut him down.
The Pelicans are one of the worst teams in the NBA and will not get any closer to playoff contention. Rushing Williamson back to action needlessly risks re-injury in a lost season and could ruin the franchise’s future in the process.
Zion Williamson is surrounded by questions about his health and physique
The New Orleans Pelicans had a bit of a surprise in store during training camp when they announced Zion Williamson underwent foot surgery in the offseason.
Initial reports suggested the Pelicans chose not to immediately disclose the information out of respect for Zion’s privacy. Both the team and Williamson himself believed he’d be able to return shortly after the start of the season, if not on opening night.
Instead, the former Duke star remains sidelined and continues to be scrutinized for his physique, with Charles Barkley among those to express concern amid reports Zion weighs over 300 pounds during his recovery.
Still, Williamson made at least some progress and participated in workouts. He ramped up his activity for a potential return and got clearance to participate in full 5-on-5 work, only to sustain the aforementioned setback.
Although Zion does not have a timetable for return, New Orleans still feels he will take the floor at some point during the 2021-22 season.
The Pelicans still feel Williamson can return to action
At 8-21, the Pelicans have the worst record in the Western Conference. They are already four games out of the final play-in spot and seven games away from the No. 8 seed.
Can a healthy Zion really help New Orleans make up such ground? The Pels appear to hope that’s the case.
Andrew Lopez of ESPN reported on “NBA Today” that New Orleans is likely to take more scans of Williamson’s foot in “3-to-4 weeks.” However, while that elongates the timeline for return, Lopez said the Pelicans do not consider shutting Zion down a “likely” option.
Maybe the Pelicans can tread water and stay in the hunt as Williamson tries to get back on track. New Orleans would probably like to reintegrate him if it stands a chance of reaching the play-in.
But it’s unlikely New Orleans can play winning basketball. The Pels’ issues are too widespread. What’s more, rushing Williamson back could have drastic consequences for the future.
Time to shut it down
The Pelicans need to face the reality that Zion Williamson cannot save their season.
New Orleans has a wealth of problems, starting with a backcourt that consistently underperforms. Nickeil Alexander-Walker has taken a step back after a strong sophomore campaign, while Devonte’ Graham is averaging under 12 points and shooting below 37% since the start of November. To make matters worse, the Pels lost young guard Kira Lewis Jr. — whom they hoped could be the point guard of the future — for the season with a knee injury.
Both NAW and Graham look like volume scorers and less like lead guards capable of orchestrating the offense, which is hardly the best sign given their shooting inefficiencies. Meanwhile, Garrett Temple and Tomas Satoransky, acquired from the Chicago Bulls in the Lonzo Ball sign-and-trade, are detrimental offensive players.
What’s more, the Pelicans bleed points. They rank 26th in defensive rating, with opponents shooting over 47% from the field against them.
Zion is a generational player. He cannot fix an inept backcourt, even if he showed upside as a point forward toward the end of the season. Additionally, what happens if Williamson suffers re-injury?
The 21-year-old is vital to the future of the organization. New Orleans cannot jeopardize his future health in a season when it doesn’t have enough to win. Perhaps the Pels should heed Kendrick Perkins’ advice in getting Zion to prioritize his individual health first.
Stats courtesy of Basketball Reference.