The New Orleans Pelicans will be getting Zion Williamson back, which will have a ripple effect on the entire team.
It will push Jaxson Hayes out of the starting lineup, and will create a logjam of forwards on the bench who are all fighting for minutes. This is a “good problem to have” and that depth should protect the Pelicans more from potential injuries.
Zion’s return will also have an effect on center Jonas Valanciunas, who had arguably his best season as a pro last year for the Pelicans, scoring 17.8 points and adding 11.4 rebounds and making his case as one of the best centers in the NBA.
Zion Williamson is certainly going to eat into those stats, as there won’t be as many shots available for Valanciunas, but we’ve already seen a glimpse of how these two can fit together by the way Jonas is changing his game.
Pelicans: Fewer points and more rebounds for Jonas Valanciunas once Zion Williamson returns
Jonas is still going to get his buckets as a big man who is very efficient around the rim and can step out and hit a jumper, but it’s hard to imagine him getting as many attempts once Zion returns.
But what he should be able to do is clean up on the boards, especially on the offensive end, Where Zion is going to draw a ton of attention and defenders in the paint, leaving Jonas free to clean up the offensive glass.
Jonas was already one of the league leaders in offensive rebounds last season and those could tick up even more with Zion’s gravity sucking in all of the opposing defense.
Jonas Valanciunas as a stretch-five
Jonas gave us a preview of how he can fit with Zion Williamson last season, when he launched more 3-point shots (by far) than he ever had in his career.
His 3-point attempts last season more than tripled his career average, and Jonas had two games where he made five or more shots from beyond the arc.
For him to work with Zion, he’s going to have to do more of this, as we know having a lane-clogging center is not the way to best maximize Zion’s historic efficiency and dominance at the rim.
If Jonas can tick up his attempts to closer to four a game (up from 2.1), he will be able to draw the other team’s center away from the rim, which will give Zion more room to operate and make double teaming much more difficult.
Valanciunas has shown he can knock them down, as he has hit better than 36 percent from long range in each of the last two seasons and at one point even led the NBA in 3-point percentage for a brief span.
Jonas’ evolving game has given us a preview of what he will look like aside Zion, as he will be playing more on the perimeter and probably getting fewer touches in the post.