The New Orleans Pelicans were already viewed as playoff hopefuls and those hopes got even slimmer with Zion Williamson’s surgery on his right knee.
The worst news that could have possibly hit the New Orleans Pelicans right before the season starts was reported on Monday afternoon. The Pelicans announced that Zion had surgery on his injured right knee to repair a torn meniscus and that the superstar rookie will be out 6-8 weeks (h/t ESPN).
It was already reported by ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski that Williamson would miss a period of weeks to start the year with his knee injury. However, this appeared to be something along the lines of 2-3 weeks, not triple that at 6-8 weeks.
This puts Zion out of action until around Christmas time, where he hopefully will be ready for the Christmas Day game against the Denver Nuggets, you know, because of ratings.
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If Zion makes his long-awaited return with a beautifully wrapped bow on his forehead as a present for Pelicans and NBA fans alike then it would mean that he missed 31 games, which is 37.8 percent of the entire season.
That is a tough break for the Pelicans, who are starting a new era of the franchise without Anthony Davis with a collection of promising young players. Zion was at the forefront of that and the people that expected the Pelicans to be a surprise playoff inclusion definitely factored Zion into that equation.
That raises the question: are the New Orleans Pelicans still capable of being a playoff team if Zion only plays 50 games this season?
I think so.
We tallied 13 winnable games prior to Christmas that the New Orleans Pelicans should be favorited in. If the Pelicans can go 10-3 in those 13 games then that is a good start.
That leaves the remaining 18, some of which are closer than others. If the Pelicans are going to be a playoff team, even without Zion, they should at least go .500 in these tough games. That would give the Pelicans a 19-12 record on Christmas Day.
The eighth seed in the Western Conference finished 48-34 last season. That is a fair number to reach towards and that would mean the Pelicans would have to finish the year 31-22 with Zion in the lineup, assuming he can stay healthy.
That is a tough ask in the Western Conference but it definitely is doable, especially considering that they have only nine games against the Eastern Conference prior to Christmas compared to 21 after Christmas.
It is going to take several players stepping up and adopting bigger roles on the team. This could be the injury that creates a pathway for Brandon Ingram to be a higher volume scorer and get over the 20 points-per-game threshold.
This also undoubtedly makes this Jrue Holiday’s team until Zion returns, which could lead to two 20-point scorers in a perfect world.
Derrick Favors is a reliable veteran to have fill in at power forward, which is a much better situation to be in rather than having an experienced rotation piece take over. Jahlil Okafor is going to have a bigger role and needs to contribute, as will rookie Jaxson Hayes and stretch four Nicolo Melli.
The New Orleans Pelicans have the pieces to survive without Zion Williamson. It is just a matter of if they can buckle down and survive, or if the season will start slipping away with no superstar to bring it back.
It does not feel like it will slip away and after all, Zion is just a rookie. If the Pelicans are a true playoff team then they should be able to at least win 60 percent of their games without him anyway.