NBA Injury Report: New Orleans Pelicans Star Zion Williamson To Not Play in Season Opener

NBA Injury Report: New Orleans Pelicans Star Zion Williamson To Not Play in Season Opener

Zion won’t be available in Pelicans’ season opener

It has been up in the air for a long time this offseason, but it has now become apparent that New Orleans Pelicans star power forward Zion Williamson will not be ready to suit up in the team’s opening game for the upcoming 2021-22 NBA Season. As per a report made available by The Athletic, it was pointed out by Pelicans vice president of basketball operation David Griffin that Zion will be sitting out at least the opening week of the regular season, and that he is up for re-evaluation after a couple of weeks.

This is indeed an unfortunate turn of events for the Pelicans as they previously announced that Zion will be available to play in the opening game, even after the young star forward broke his fifth metatarsal in his right foot while in the process of working out in the summer. This is not the first time that Zion has sustained an injury that will force him out of the opening of the regular season, as he also missed the start of his rookie year back in 2019.

While it is true that Zion should be able to come back strong from this setback, the Pelicans find themselves in a very tricky situation because there is still no exact timetable as to when their star power forward can return to the court, or be deemed fit and ready to join the team in practice. This is indeed very frustrating for Zion and the whole Pelicans squad especially considering that they are starting a new chapter in their franchise after making several changes in their roster that included the departure of all-around talented point guard Lonzo Ball, who has made his way to the Eastern Conference to join the Chicago Bulls camp.

But as per Pelicans beat writer William Guillory of The Athletic, he pointed out that there is still a way for Zion and the team to establish a long-term partnership that will prove to be fruitful and productive. Guillory mentioned that Zion is still very happy in New Orleans, and that the biggest thing for the young superstar moving forward is how to help his team win more games and finally book a coveted ticket to the NBA Playoffs, something that they failed to do in his first two years with the team.

Zion said at media day that he's happy in New Orleans and he doesn't want to be anywhere else. Now, this isn't the first time we've heard that kind of message from a Pelicans superstar, and we know things can change quickly in this league. The biggest thing for Zion, as it always has been, is winning. If the Pelicans start winning games and fight their way into a crowded Western Conference playoff field, I'm sure he'll be much more optimistic about his future in New Orleans. If not, there will be more rumblings about him being unhappy. It's that simple.
It's playoffs or bust for this franchise in 2021-22. Everyone here is aware of that, even if  they don't admit it publicly. Griffin, Green and Williamson are all facing immense pressure to finally get this program headed in the right direction. After missing out on the postseason in the first two years of the Zion era, falling short again in Year 3 would likely result in some significant changes around the franchise. There's an understanding that Zion is ready to win and wants to feel like the team has put some of the dysfunction from the past few years behind them. The talent on the roster is enough to at least compete for a play-in spot. The question is can they keep their superstar healthy and is Green ready to lead a young squad with such high expectations.

Zion, who just turned 21 years of age last July, is one of the brightest young stars in the league right now. He is coming off a very productive 2020-21 NBA Season in which he put a tremendous stat line of 27.0 points, 7.2 rebounds, 3.7 assists, 0.9 steals, and 0.6 blocks per contest. He was also able to produce a stellar 61% overall clip from the field, although he also averaged lowly clips of 29% from the three-point line and 69% from the free throw line.

That excellent all-around stat line was also enough for Zion to be selected to his first appearance in the All-Star Game. On top of that, he was also able to stay healthy for a relatively significant portion of the season, as he was able to play in 61 of the 75 regular season games that the Pelicans logged last year. That was a far cry from his rookie year during the 2019-20 NBA Season when he only suited up for 24 games, and produced an outstanding stat line of 22.5 points, 6.3 rebounds, 2.1 assists, 0.7 steals, and 0.4 blocks per game.

When he is available and healthy, there is no doubt that even at this early stages of his career, Zion is already one of the most unstoppable forces in the league. In his first two years in the NBA, the young star power forward averaged a stellar 60% overall clip from the field, which means that he was very efficient with his shots. He does not have a consistent outside shot just yet, but his combination of elite athleticism, mobility, and power makes it possible for him to easily get to his spots inside the paint and then score at will.

However, it has been a back-and-forth turn of events for the Pelicans in the past couple of years as they have changed their head coach year after year. They fired Alvin Gentry after Zion’s rookie year, then parted ways with veteran mentor Stan Van Gundy last offseason. The Pelicans front office then installed Willie Green as the team’s new head coach for the upcoming season, something that is still deemed as an experiment considering that this is Green’s first go-around as an NBA head coach. As per a joint column written by Guillory, Shams Charania, and Joe Vardon for The Athletic, it was pointed out that Zion’s family has been somewhat unhappy and uncertain about the direction of the Pelicans’ franchise.

They have been unable to put together the right elements to make rising star Zion Williamson and his family happy, and multiple sources have told The Athletic that certain family members want Williamson on another team. For months, sources from all NBA corners have pointed to the Pelicans as a heap of dysfunction. There was a growing unease between Van Gundy and his players, and Van Gundy and the New Orleans front office, which came to a head Wednesday with the veteran coach and organization agreeing to part ways with three years left on his contract. Most of the attention, however, from numerous sources across the league, has centered on Williamson’s family members’ thinly veiled unhappiness with the Pelicans, and whether those feelings seeped into the player’s own   views.
The Pelicans control Williamson’s contract situation for at least three more years after making him the No. 1 overall pick of the 2019 draft. Those who know Williamson well say he just wants to win and compete at the highest level. They say he remains focused on basketball and helping New Orleans win next season. Over his first two seasons, Williamson has already established himself as an All-Star forward whose affable, carefree and passionate style on the court makes him a fan-favorite. A franchise that three seasons ago had to deal with Anthony Davis’ trade demands, which began with grumblings from Davis’ father, the Pelicans know not to misread the tea leaves here. No one as young and as inexperienced as Williamson has tried to force their way out via trade before. Across the league, however, it has become common practice among veteran NBA stars to do just that.

But of course, this team is not just about Zion as they also have a bunch of other players who are proven game-changers. The other All-Star in this Pelicans squad is small forward Brandon Ingram, who already has one All-Star appearance tied to his name. The former Most Improved Player of the Year is coming off another productive season in which he was able to put up a tremendous stat line of 23.8 points, 4.9 rebounds, 4.9 assists, 0.7 steals, and 0.6 blocks per contest. He also produced a decent set of shooting percentages that included a 46% overall clip from the field, a 38% clip from beyond the arc, and an 88% clip from the charity stripe.

Ingram, who played his first three years in the league with the Los Angeles Lakers, has only turned 24 years of age last September. While it is true that he still has a lot of room left to improve, it is also a fact that he is already one of the most versatile scoring forwards out there. He can score from anywhere on the court, and he has improved leaps and bounds in terms of his ability to also create scoring opportunities for his teammates. Ingram is also a good perimeter defender, making him one of the best young two-way players in the league.

The Pelicans may have lost Lonzo in the offseason, but they were also able to bring in a natural point guard in Devonte’ Graham. Graham played the first three years in the league for the Charlotte Hornets, and his performance in the last couple of years make him one of the most underrated point guards out there. Last season, Graham put up a decent stat line of 14.8 points, 2.7 rebounds, 5.4 assists, and 0.9 steals, while producing a decent set of shooting percentages that included a 37% overall clip from the field, a 38% clip from the three-point line, and an 84% clip from the free throw line.

Of course, one of the most important things for the Pelicans to focus on in this upcoming season is how their new head coach can instill a proper and effective system for this young team to be successful on both ends of the floor. Green, who is on his first year as a head coach in the NBA, previously served as player development coach for the Golden State Warriors and as assistant coach for the Phoenix Suns. As per a separate column written by Guillory for The Athletic, Green pointed out how much of an exciting opportunity it is to coach in the league for the first time and do it with the luxury of having the young talented tandem of Zion and Ingram. It will be a tough challenge to get into the playoffs in this stacked Western Conference, but Green and his wards have the arsenal to pull off a pleasant surprise.

“I’m excited because I think we’re right there, and we’re ready to make the next step. This is why I’m here, to help in that process. That’s why our staff is here. I’m learning. I’m growing. There are going to be some mistakes. But I’m very excited about where this team    can go. This is a situation that actually reminds me a lot of Phoenix. Really talented players.  The staff, same thing — high character. People that love to come to work, love to come together. We’re really close to taking the next step. I believe going into next season that’s   our goal, that’s our mindset. That’s what makes us a sleeping giant.
Zion is a special talent. (He’s) quick, fast, (has) athleticism. He can play-make. He can do a lot on the basketball floor. As I get together with our staff and continue to watch film, the thing about him is, the sky is the limit. It really is. That’s what excites me. It was a  discussion that I wanted to be honest about and (Griffin) wanted to be honest about. The important piece that we left the room feeling comfortable with was the fit. Both coaches, really good coaches. But the fit was important. The best coaches are the ones that you know care about you. Connecting with players is no different than just connecting with  people. You quickly realize you have a lot more in common than you don’t. That’s sort of my take and my approach in basketball. It’s easier to get people to reach their max when they know you care about them. That’s my way or our way of connecting with players.”

The Pelicans, who will be without Zion for the first week of the season, will start their new campaign with a very tough battle against Joel Embiid, Tobias Harris, Danny Green, Seth Curry and the Philadelphia 76ers. They will then have a couple of games against Lonzo Ball, DeMar DeRozan, Zach LaVine, Nikola Vucevic and the Chicago Bulls, two more games against Karl-Anthony Towns, D’Angelo Russell, Anthony Edwards and the Minnesota Timberwolves, and a home game against Trae Young, Bogdan Bogdanovic, John Collins, Clint Capela and the Atlanta Hawks.

It remains to be seen if Williamson can return after the opening week of the regular season, but his absence will surely be sorely missed by this young Pelicans squad.

A sports aficionado ever since he first held a basketball, Paul was a student athlete in school and college. Today, he teaches English in university by day and a freelance sportswriter by night.

Read more