Community Shootaround: New Orleans Pelicans

After finishing last season strong without star forward Zion Williamson available, the pelicans enjoyed the best of both worlds in the first half of 2022/23. Williamson appeared in 29 of New Orleans’ first 37 games and played at an All-Star level, while the team also performed well in the games he didn’t play, winning six of eight.

When Williamson went down with a right hamstring strain in early January, the Pelicans looked like they were still in pretty good shape. They’d gotten off to a 23-14 start and – with Brandon Ingram set to return later in the month from a toe injury – there was reason to believe they’d remain competitive even without Zion in the lineup.

That’s not how it’s played out, however. Since January 4, the Pelicans have gone just 10-23 and have cratered offensively, posting a 111.3 offensive rating — only the bottom four teams in the NBA’s standings (the Rockets, Pistons, Spurs, and Hornets) have been less productive offensively during that time. Prior to Williamson’s injury, New Orleans had the league’s eighth-best offensive rating (114.7).

With Williamson still sidelined, having suffered a setback in his rehab process, New Orleans’ months-long slump has caused the team to plummet from a top-three seed to potentially missing the play-in tournament entirely. Heading into Sunday’s games, the Pelicans’ 33-37 record places them 12th in the Western Conference, one game behind the No. 10 Jazz.

Friday’s contest in Houston was supposed to be the start of the softest part of the Pelicans’ rest-of-season schedule. A 4-0 run against the tanking Rockets (twice; on Friday and Sunday), Spurs (Tuesday), and Hornets (Thursday) would’ve helped right the ship in New Orleans and likely allowed the club to reclaim its place in the West’s top 10 entering the season’s home stretch.

Instead, the Pelicans dropped the first of those four favorable matchups, falling 114-112 in Houston.

New Orleans will have a chance to avenge that loss to the Rockets later today, but time is running out for the Pelicans to turn things around. Even if they capture a play-in berth, they don’t look like a great bet to earn a playoff spot, given how they’re playing as of late.

This was supposed to be the year that the Pelicans evolved from exciting young upstarts to genuine contenders — there were comparisons to the 2020/21 Suns, who made the NBA Finals a year after narrowly missing the postseason despite winning all eight games they played in the Disney World Bubbles. New Orleans followed that blueprint in the early part of the season, but have fallen apart without Williamson in the second half.

The Pelicans have continued to express optimism that the former No. 1 overall pick will return before the end of the season, but that’s hardly a lock. And whether or not he returns this spring, another injury-plagued year for Williamson has raised serious questions about how heavily New Orleans can rely on him going forward.

Williamson’s maximum-salary rookie scale extension will go into effect in 2023/24, so he’s ostensibly the cornerstone the franchise is building around, but he has made just 114 appearances since entering the NBA in 2019.

We want to get your thoughts on both the current and future versions of the Pelicans.

Will this year’s team earn a playoff spot, be eliminated in the play-in tournament, or miss out on the play-in altogether? If the Pels don’t start to climb back up the standings soon, does it even make sense to bring back Williamson this season?

And what about the seasons beyond this one? Do the Pelicans just have to hope for the best regarding Zion’s health or is it time to start getting more serious about potential contingency plans?

Take to the comment section below to let us know what you think!

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