Yesterday brought some unfortunate news for fans of Zion Williamson and the New Orleans Pelicans, as it was reported that the two-time All-Star suffered a setback while rehabbing his hamstring that he injured on January 2nd against the Philadelphia 76ers.
This setback came while he was doing 3-on-3 work and will likely keep him out for multiple weeks past the All-Star break, according to Pelicans Executive Vice President of Basketball Operations David Griffin.
"“I think we’re looking at multiple weeks past the All-Star break that he’ll be back,” Griffin said. “What that looks like in terms of timeline, I really can’t tell you. Much as we have throughout this, we’ll continue to image him, and post-All-Star that will happen.”"
Under normal circumstances, this piece of news would be a crushing blow. However, the impact is only multiplied, given the highly competitive climate of the Western Conference. This latest update could mean that the once soaring Pelicans may be in danger of falling out of the play-in picture entirely.
As it stands, the team sits at seventh in the West with a 29-28 record. They are only 1.5 games behind the fourth seed (the Dallas Mavericks) but also only one game ahead of the twelfth seed (the Portland Trail Blazers).
What’s worse is that the Pelicans are 6-14 since Williamson fell prey to the hamstring strain, which means that regressing down the standings is more likely than ascending upward.
That says nothing of the West’s improved state since the trade deadline. The Phoenix Suns added a megastar in Kevin Durant. The Mavericks added his former co-pilot in Kyrie Irving. The Los Angeles Lakers (who currently sit in the 13th seed) have retooled and appear primed for a playoff push. And the Los Angeles Clippers added some much-needed depth of their own.
The Pelicans also made a move by adding veteran wing Josh Richardson to help solidify their outside shooting and perimeter defense. But he alone can’t fill the massive void left by Williamson’s absence.
Things aren’t all doom and gloom, though. The good news is that the Pelicans have their other All-Star, Brandon Ingram, back at full strength (they didn’t have him for a good chunk of that 6-14 stretch). Plus, per ESPN Analytics, the team had the hardest schedule in the league in the month of January, which, of course, is the month where most of their losing took place.
Moving forward, New Orleans has the easiest remaining strength of schedule in the league (per Tankathon), with two games left against the Houston Rockets, one game against Richardson’s former team, the San Antonio Spurs, and one game left against the lowly Charlotte Hornets.
Hopefully, the softer schedule can help the team hold its place in the standings until their superstar is back in uniform.