When it comes to basketball in New Orleans, everything revolves around Zion Williamson. The Duke product is one of the league’s most hyped-up prospects since LeBron James and one quick look at his past will tell you why.
The kid is strong, athletic, and a natural leader both on and off the court. In 24 games in the NBA, Williamson has averaged 22.5 points, 6.3 rebounds, and 2.1 assists on 58% shooting.
He single-handedly led the charge that put the Pels in position to take the West’s eighth and final seed.
Unfortunately, he may also be part of the reason for their meltdown after the NBA restart. He looked pretty rough in the bubble and, as detailed in a piece by ESPN’s Zach Lowe, he actively made the team worse when he was on the floor.
Williamson was awful in the bubble — lead-footed, lacking any urgency. Given the circumstances — the long hiatus, Williamson leaving and returning — he should probably get a mulligan.
New Orleans was an unthinkable minus-58 in 104 bubble minutes with Williamson on the floor. They allowed almost 130 points per 100 possessions — not quite the level where you’d be better off fouling the worst opposing free throw shooter, but not all that far away. It appears New Orleans’ improvement on defense with Williamson on the floor in February and March was part illusion — built on (among other things) random bricky 3-point shooting from meh opponents.
The Pelicans were hot right before the hiatus, so there was reason to believe they’d be a threat to make the playoffs once things started rolling again.
But whether because the run was a fluke, or the effects on the bubble were too much, they were unable to capitalize on the opportunity.
So where do they go from here? Obviously, they will continue to work and build around Zion. He’s their guy and no matter how much he may be struggling, they’re going to be rolling with him for the foreseeable future.
But, for their sake, they better hope he pans out to be the player everyone expects him to be.