• The Pelicans enjoyed regular season success amidst the health of their star Zion Williamson. But yet another late-season injury held him out of the playoffs, resulting in a lifeless sweep. The Pelicans now may be looking at some drastic shake-ups in an attempt to take the roster from “good” to “great.”

    How’d It Go?

    The Pelicans received fairly healthy seasons from Zion Williamson and Brandon Ingram, leading to a strong 49-33 record. While that was a seven win improvement from the previous season, a more competitive Western Conference meant the Pelicans still had to go through the Play-In games to reach the playoffs. Once reaching the playoffs, they were thoroughly swept by a superior OKC Thunder team, where questions arose as to the ceiling of a Brandon Ingram-led team (more on that later). Without Zion Williamson, Ingram was tasked with the bulk of the offensive creation load, where he faltered and stuttered to a lackluster series.

    The next step for the Pelicans is figuring out how to make the jump from a good team to a great team. They do have some young players like Trey Murphy III, Dyson Daniels, and Jordan Hawkins who have some room for growth but not at the level where they would drastically change the team’s future. The solution then appears to be external, and the Pelicans are sure to explore trade avenues involving their future assets and current contracts on the book. The Pelicans have been able to manage injuries in the past due to their depth, but it may be time for them to trade some of that depth for talent upgrades.

    In addition, the team-building conundrum still remains as has been always present since Williamson has been on the roster. Jonas Valanciunas is a pending unrestricted free agent, whose role has typically been marginalized in closing lineups in favor of Williamson-focused groups. Finding a player that can both protect the rim while spacing the court for Williamson is a narrow band and may be out of the Pelicans’ ability to acquire. Will the Pelicans find a more creative solution, or will they opt to re-sign Valanciunas as a band-aid solution? It will be one of the offseason stories to track for the Pelicans.

    Coaching

    Head coach Willie Green entered his third season with the Pelicans, successfully finding the right buttons to push. With the number of options available to him, he generally has found the right match of players and lineup configurations to be competitive in a strong Western Conference. The strengths and weaknesses of his main players (namely Williamson, Ingram, and C.J. McCollum) are not a seamless fit, but he has implemented schemes to accentuate their positives while minimizing their negatives.

    This namely shows itself in how he dictates the rotations, most evident in key games. During the hard-fought play-in loss to the Lakers, Green played Jonas Valanciunas only 20 minutes to optimize the court around Williamson, who feasted with shooters around him. He also strove to keep Ingram and Williamson separated for a decent portion of their minutes to allow each to flex their self-creation abilities. Per Cleaning the Glass, Ingram played 2001 possessions without Williamson compared to 2239 possession with Williamson. For Williamson, he played 2306 possessions without Ingram. This is a starker split when compared to the other big-name player C.J. McCollum, and it speaks to Green’s recognition of his players’ talents.

    Now Green must prove he can take the team to the next level. That may partly depend on the tools that are given to him in his tool chest (aka players on the roster), but it will be up to Green to utilize them properly. Based on his history as a coach, we have faith that he can find the right deployments to be successful in the regular season and playoffs. Sam Amick of The Athletic reported that Green received an undisclosed contract extension late in the 2022-23 season, so he should have some job security. But if the Pelicans fail to advance out of the first round again, that could spell trouble for him. Green could be on the hot seat in that scenario, even if that failure would be more an indictment on the roster rather than his coaching ability.

    The Players

    Zion Williamson
    PF, New Orleans Pelicans
    SeasonTeamGPGSMPG FGMFGAFG% FTMFTAFT% 3PTM3PTA3PT% PTSREBAST STLBLKTO
    23-24 NO 70 70 31.5 8.9 15.6 57.0 5.0 7.1 70.2 0.1 0.3 33.3 22.9 5.8 5.0 1.1 0.7 2.8
    22-23 NO 29 29 33.0 9.8 16.2 60.8 6.1 8.6 71.4 0.2 0.7 36.8 26.0 7.0 4.6 1.1 0.6 3.4
    21-22 NO 0 0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0

    ADP: 35/54 (ESPN/Yahoo) | Total Value: 71/95 (8/9-cat) | Per-Game Value: 74/111 (8/9-cat)

    The good news? Zion Williamson stayed relatively healthy until the playoffs, playing in 71 games in the regular season. The bad news? His efficiency, scoring, and rebounds all dipped from previous seasons, leading to a three-year worst performance in per-game value. Williamson had flashes of the relentless, rim-driving presence we were accustomed to seeing play, but his overall effectiveness was not the same. Per Cleaning The Glass, Williamson’s rim frequency was down to 69%, his lowest in his career. And his two-point FG% dipped to 57.2%, also a career-low. Those are still solid marks, but not evidence of the same rim-dominant force we’ve seen in past seasons.

    Perhaps Williamson has just lost some of the explosive athleticism, but he flashed some of that later in the year, notably in the Play-In game versus the Lakers where he dominated. Alas another hamstring injury cut that performance short, and we were left wondering “what-if” yet again.

    This doesn’t foreclose to Williamson putting the whole picture together and bouncing back to previous highs. But with injury concerns and some glaring warts in his fantasy profile with his lack of threes and FT% woes, he is a situation-dependent redraft selection who requires the right team build for maximum output. There are not only the injury risk-rewards aspect to consider, but also if the highs are as strong as we have seen in the past.

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