How many games can the Pelicans afford Williamson and Ingram to miss?

Zion Williamson & Brandon Ingram, New Orleans Pelicans. (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images) (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)
Zion Williamson & Brandon Ingram, New Orleans Pelicans. (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images) (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images) /

How many games can the New Orleans Pelicans play without Zion Williamson and Brandon Ingram before the season goes off the rails again?

Every conversation around the New Orleans Pelicans ends with the same refrain: if they remain healthy, especially Zion Williamson and Brandon Ingram. The next caveat: which games? Five games in February are different than even a few games in May or June.

Williamson has played in 114 games since being drafted in 2019, and Ingram has only played over 65 games in a season once in his seven-year career. Even Larry Nance Jr. and Jose Alvarado ended last season on the shelf due to overuse (according to David Griffin’s exit interview press conference). It’s an untenable situation, and the team knows it. And recent social media posts are starting to highlight the extra sweat equity from the players.

Ingram has only checked into 90 games over the past two seasons. Williamson has sat out entire seasons in the past. And he only played 29 games in 2022-23. So, how many games can the two All-Stars sit on the sidelines before the front office in New Orleans has to ask some serious questions about this season and the future? Five? Ten? Any more than 15? What’s the standard here?

Under the new CBA agreement, the NBA’s new threshold for All-Star, All-NBA, and other individual honors is now 65 games played. Most All-Stars miss at least ten games because of load management plans. If you space that out evenly throughout the season, that’s less than one game every third week. That would seem to be a pretty manageable amount for the team.

Going for a full 82 games played would be foolish, given past history. Ingram and Williamson’s peak is still a year away, after all. Anything between 5-10 games in the middle of the season is practically expected through load management. Something between 11-15 games from both Williamson and Ingram is still something the team can work around, though hopefully not at the same time, but definitely not towards the end of the season when they need to work on chemistry.

Missing 15-17 games still keeps the two All-Stars in contention for individual awards, but it would be surprising if the Pelicans could maintain a top-4 position with that much time missed. CJ McCollum and Jonas Valanciunas can only do so much. And even if Herbert Jones and Trey Murphy III take huge developmental leaps, any more than 20 is pushing the team back into the NBA Play-In Tournament picture.

Most NBA Media personalities are hedging bets on the Pelicans. However, NBA TV Top 10 legend and Turner Sports broadcaster Beau Estes said on the SouthCoast Swish podcast, “I look at a team like the New Orleans Pelicans. If New Orleans is healthy, like really healthy, and they go through a string of [incredible health], what can’t they do.”

Estes continued, “[The general media’s] predictions are based on ‘Well, [Williamson] is going to miss 45 games and Brandon Ingram is going to miss 25 games, but you know…if everybody plays their best and is healthy…I think New Orleans is the best (southern-based) team. I don’t know how much of a cap I’d put on them…If they only miss ten games and get home-court advantage in the playoffs, perfectly healthy throughout the playoffs. Imagine if you set those as the parameters.”

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