It’s a fun time to be a fan of the New Orleans Pelicans right now. The birds currently sit third in the Western Conference with a 26–17 record, have one of the deepest rosters in the West and are finally witnessing forward Zion Williamson, the first overall pick from the 2019 NBA Draft, play like the player we all expected him to be.
New Orleans, however, suffered a scare in their 120–111 loss to the Philadelphia 76ers the day after New Years Day. During the third quarter, Williamson, who has already compiled various injuries during his three-and-a-half years in the league, suffered a right hamstring injury and would be re-evaluated in three weeks, per the team’s Twitter account.
Although Williamson’s re-evaluation timeline is approaching, it is yet to be determined if the superstar will be able to return to action or have to miss more time. It’s a tough blow to the Pelicans, who are also missing All-Star forward Brandon Ingram due to a toe contusion, as Williamson was playing at an MVP-level and is one of the leading vote-getters for the upcoming NBA All-Star Game on Feb. 19.
While Williamson recovers, New Orleans will have to rely on their veteran leaders and deep roster to keep the ship afloat. It all starts with guard CJ McCollum, who has averaged 29.4 points, 4 rebounds and 5.2 assists per game since Williamson went on the shelf. The team has gone 3–2 in the five games McCollum has been active since Williamson’s injury.
When McCollum was traded to the Pelicans from the Portland Trail Blazers last February, he played all of his games with New Orleans without Williamson, who missed the season with an ankle injury. McCollum averaged 24.3 points, 4.5 rebounds and 5.8 assists per game with the Pelicans last season, per the NBA. He will be familiar with what the game plan is moving forward without Williamson.
Veteran Lithuanian center Jonas Valanciunas also played all of last season with New Orleans without Williamson, where he averaged 17.8 points and 11.4 rebounds per game, per the NBA. In the six games since Williamson’s injury, Valanciunas has put up 21 points and 11.5 rebounds per contest.
Third-year forward Naji Marshall has stepped up tremendously since Williamson went down. Marshall has seen his minutes increase from 22 minutes per game to 33 minutes per game. Since his uptick in playing time, Marshall is shooting 45.9% from the field and is averaging 19.3 points and 5.7 rebounds per game.
New Orleans will also have to rely on other contributors on offense in Williamson’s absence. Sharpshooting second-year forward Trey Murphy III has proven to be lethal on the perimeter at times, having scored 15 or more points 17 times this season. The Pelicans will have to give him more opportunities when available.
When second-year guard Jose Alvarado dropped 38 points in a career night on Dec. 4 against the Denver Nuggets, it wasn’t a sign of a new normal. Instead, it was proof that the undrafted guard can provide a spark to New Orleans’ offense when called upon. You’d be surprised how much momentum a team gains when a fan favorite contributes on the floor.
If these players can continue to step up and take a leap forward along with strong defensive play from guys like forward Herbert Jones, eight-year veteran Larry Nance Jr. and rookie Australian guard Dyson Daniels, New Orleans should have an opportunity to contend in most of their games moving forward.
Williamson’s injury should be re-evaluated sometime around Jan. 23. Should Williamson miss more time than expected, the Pelicans will need to capitalize on their upcoming schedule. Eight of New Orleans’ next 14 matchups are at home in the Smoothie King Center with four being against teams that are .500 or lower.
For the Pelicans to remain among the top teams in the West, they’ll need to take care of business on their home court. It should be considered a huge win if they can manage to go above .500 in Williamson’s absence.
New Orleans locals will also play a part in this team’s success over the next couple of weeks, as they know how to bring the energy when it comes to defending their pro sports teams.