Pelicans Struggling Early Through NBA Season

The New Orleans Pelicans” by is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

If you are a fan of the New Orleans Pelicans, well, you have our condolences. Although the last three postseasons have seen the Pelicans on the outside looking in, this season could be historically disastrous. After 13 games, the team has 12 losses and is mired in the muck of the Western Conference with no hope in sight.

Perhaps what’s even more troubling is not only that they continue to lose but the games aren’t even close. This is not a plucky, gritty team that has been victimized by bad luck, poor officiating, and a series of unfortunate bounces of the ball. No, this team just flat out stinks and they are doing nothing to improve their plight. They are not a team but rather a collection of individuals operating in their own orbit, unwilling to allow others to gravitate in or around their protected space.

If you are a betting man or woman, and you have been blindly backing the Pelicans at the pari-mutuel windows, you would know that the results have not been kind either. The NBA betting lines routinely install New Orleans as the underdog – no surprise there – and despite getting big head starts from the oddsmakers they are still 5-8 against the spread. In other words, the bookies have to give the betting public plenty of incentive to wager on the Pelicans but even with that, they are still not covering because there have been blowouts aplenty.

So, what is the problem with the Pels? Well, for starters they play the matador defense, you can almost hear “ole’” being yelled every time an opponent drives to the basket. New Orleans is ranked 28th of 30 teams in points allowed and opponents’ field goal percentage, while offensively they are ranked 27th in scoring and 29th in field goal percentage. Usually, if a team can’t score, they buckle down on defense but such is not the case here.

To be fair, Brandon Ingram, an NBA All-Star last year and one of the team’s most talented players, has been sidelined for several weeks with a right hip contusion and his status remains tenuous. And while Ingram’s healthy return will be instrumental in determining whether the Pelicans can conjure a Lazarus-like return to respectability this season, it doesn’t address the pink elephant in the room – Zion Williamson. 

Erik Drost on Flickr, CC BY 2.0 

What’s Wrong with Zion?

Zion Williamson was supposed to be the franchise savior, much the same as Anthony Davis was when he was drafted by the Pelicans. But as good as one player is, he is not greater than the sum of the parts. And New Orleans has found this out the hard way as they continue to be among the dregs of the league, despite the lone superstar they were able to pluck as the No. 1 pick in the 2012 NBA Draft back and again in 2019. 

The details of Williamson’s absence have been murky, with the team announcing he had surgery to repair a fractured right foot in the offseason. Pelicans’ lead executive, David Griffin, stated at a presser in September, “His timeline should get him back on the court in time for the regular season. That would be our hope and our view, and we’re very optimistic about what that looks like.”

It was stunning news to the fans but Griffin tried to spin it as something the team had been dealing with throughout the offseason. If that was the case then why didn’t anyone hear a peep when it happened? 

If Williamson kept this from the team and went to his own doctor to correct the injury, that would put a big chill on the relationship between the superstar and the struggling team. But then again, the Pelicans are doing everything in their power to keep Williamson on the team instead of seeing him opt-out after his rookie contract expires. Taking the nonchalant approach on the outside while screaming expletives on the inside could explain why Griffin’s stunning news was delivered so casually. 

Jake Fischer of Bleacher Report reported earlier this season, “There’s a strong belief in league circles that the Pelicans were unaware of that procedure until Williamson reported to New Orleans ahead of media day, although one team source contacted by B/R maintained the Pelicans and Williamson were aligned on the injury’s timeline.”

But the more pressing issue is Williamson’s weight. At 6’6” he is an athletic marvel and one who can jump out of the gym when asked. But he has already had his fair share of injuries and much of that could be caused by excessive weight on a frame that might not be long enough to bear any extra poundage. 

Before a home loss on October 30th to the Knicks, Charles Barkley commented on footage he had seen of Williamson rehabbing on the court during his “Inside the NBA” episode, “It look[s] like me and Shaq had a baby!”

Shaquille O’Neal joked back, “I quit!” 

Barkley got serious and noted the former Duke star had already suffered a torn right meniscus and knee injury and now recently divulged he had surgery on his foot, “He’s going to have to learn, even when you’re hurt, you’re going to have to control your eating. When guys get hurt and they come back, you’re trying to get in shape. And if you’re putting all that stress on your knees and feet, you’re just going to keep getting hurt… I know he’s got a lot of power… but you’re not going to win if he’s always hurt.”

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