Zion Is Everything We Hoped For, So Why Aren't The Pelicans?

This image is a derivative of Zion Williamson and Brandon Ingram by Erik Drost (CC BY 2.0)

Zion Williamson entered the league last season as arguably the most hyped NBA prospect since LeBron James.

And yet, somehow, and after just 49 games into his professional career, his extraordinary play already seems to be flying under the radar. 

As of writing, Zion's averaging 24.4 points per game to go along with 6.8 rebounds, which are truly incredible numbers for a player who's yet to enjoy his 21st birthday. 

And he’s doing it on remarkable efficiency too, shooting an astonishing 60.7% from the field, finishing off 62% of his 0-3 feet baskets. 

This places him 6th in the entire league in shooting percentage, while he's averaging significantly more attempts per game than anyone in the top-5, with the next closest to Zion’s 15.5 field goal attempts per game being Utah's Rudy Gobert

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Yet despite Zion's scorching start, his Pelicans have struggled terribly this season under new head coach Stan Van Gundy, marooned at 12-15 and perhaps destined to miss the post-season for an eighth time in the last ten seasons.  

While New Orleans' offence, supported by the scoring of Zion and Brandon Ingram, and facilitated by Lonzo Ball, currently sits comfortably in the league's top-10, their defence has been atrocious, dampening so many of their offensive fireworks. 

The Pels are giving up 115.4 points per 100 possessions, which places them 28th in the league, an obvious and undeniably massive concern for a franchise with immediate playoff aspirations. 

Intriguingly, their struggles appear to be somewhat divorced from Zion’s play. The former Duke star is currently posting a net-rating of +9, while the Pels have an overall net rating of -1, culminating in an on-off rating of +1.6for the 2019 #1 pick. 

If the Pelicans want to make some noise in the playoffs this season and going forward, it might be time for them to look to move some key pieces on the chessboard, and perhaps a strike a deal in the marketplace.

The loss of Jrue Holiday appears to have really hurt them defensively, and a replacement is desperately needed to sure themselves up on that side of the ball. 

While their offence clearly doesn't require any significant upgrades, the Pels could look to move their sharpshooting veteran, JJ Redick, who at this stage of his career is a defensive liability, and perhaps could be exchanged for some badly-needed perimeter help.

While solid, plug-and-play lockdown perimeter players don't grow on trees in the modern NBA, Redick's expiring $13.4m contract could be of interest to teams with championship aspirations, and whom could benefit from a savvy, still laser-like marksmen. 

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Sure, the Pelicans do have significant issues to address with their roster if they want to compete this season, yet should be overjoyed happy with Zion’s development, both in terms of what he's already delivered, coupled with the promise of what he could produce going forward. His ceiling is deliriously exciting.

And it's even more exciting as so many of the concerns surrounding Zion's durability seem to have evaporated, paving the way for the franchise to be even more expansive with his role, as well as the squad they assemble around him.  

The Pelicans' initial extreme caution around their star's conditioning and injury concerns led him to only play 24 of a possible 72 games in his rookie season, averaging just 28 minutes per contest. 

However this season, the training wheels have been ripped away, with Zion so far playing 26 out of a possible 27 games, and has seen a significant uptick in his minutes, hovering around 33 per night. 

Importantly, Zion is demonstrating to both his franchise and the broader NBA community, that he's capable of coping with the workload which is demanded of NBA superstars.

As his body continues to mature and as he learns how to navigate the stress, toil and grind of an NBA regular season, expect to see him continue to improve as his confidence in both his skills and body continues to grow. 

While the Pelicans need to address their issues on the floor in the short-term, Zion's well and truly on the path to NBA superstardom in the long-term.

If you weren’t already paying attention, you should be now. 

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Mitchell Turner

Sports are an all-year-round affair for Mitch as his basketball coaching takes up a weekly slot on a Saturday. Yet it's the Australian summer which most floats his boat, what with the tip-off to the NBA, test cricket and NFL playoffs all taking centre stage.

In between watching sports, Mitch is about to commence his 3rd year Bachelor of Arts at Monash University (majoring in Journalism and International Relations) and is currently undertaking an internship at Stats Insider.

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