Zion Williamson is out for the first 6-8 weeks of the NBA season and to NBA fans the sky is falling. Dustin takes a look at 5 Pelicans players who will have to step up in Zion’s absence to keep the team trending upward.
Just one day before he was set to make his NBA debut, #1 overall pick and viral phenomenon Zion Williamson underwent surgery to repair a torn right meniscus. The Pelicans, previous keeping details of Zion’s health under wraps, announced that the procedure was a success and that he is likely to return in 6-8 weeks. While the news is devastating for NBA fans and especially Pelicans fans, there are still high hopes for the team going forward. These are the 5 players on the Pelicans roster that are most likely going to have to step up to keep the team in the playoff picture in a crowded Western Conference.
Fellow rookie Jaxson Hayes had an impressive showing in Las Vegas during the NBA Summer League, specifically, filling in for an injured Zion. Hayes has plenty of size and athleticism to keep up with the Pelicans’ hopes for length on the defensive end. Throughout Summer League and the preseason, he’s attacked the rim coming off the pick and roll and defended well when playing. While any scoring contributions will be an added bonus, the team is going to rely on him even more to crash the glass and play strong defense.
Who would’ve thought Jahlil Okafor is just 23 years old? The 3rd overall pick in 2015, Okafor never found his footing in Philadelphia and had bounced around the league a bit until he impressed on the Pelicans last season. Whether he was backing up an LA-bound Anthony Davis or starting once Davis sat out, Okafor provided the playmaking and disruption on defense that so many expected when he first came out of college. He was already likely to see big minutes but with Zion out, the Pelicans are going to likely be trying all sorts of combinations in the front court and Okafor.
Likely the first person that fans will think of after hearing the Zion news is Brandon Ingram. Frustratingly inconsistent during his time with the Lakers, Ingram is still full of endless potential should it ever be unleashed. Ingram is a much better player when he has the ball in his hands as his unique size and athleticism (the popular comp is Kevin Durant-lite for a reason) help him to create more opportunities for himself and his teammates. With Zion out, it’s safe to assume the offense is going to run through Ingram a lot of the time. Couple that with Ingram being a RFA next summer and it’s safe to say that he’s going to be looking to produce consistent results and finally shake the inconsistent label that’s followed him so far in his career.
Based on Summer League and preseason alone, there’s no way the Pelicans would get lucky enough to land Alexander-Walker at 17th again. Playing way above his draft position, Alexander-Walker has looked pretty polished compared to most rookies. Many expected Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry to have to get creative to find him more minutes anyways but losing Williamson will open up the options of playing 3 guard lineups for an extended period of time with some combination of Hayes, Okafor, and Favors in the front court. Walker has flashed too much natural talent and potential to ride the bench and his role is certainly now going to expand sooner rather than later.
There are a few other players like Lonzo Ball or Josh Hart that could see the team lean on them more but lastly, we’re going with J.J. As the elder statesman on the team, Reddick is no stranger to riding the preseason hype train and he’s also no stranger to unfortunate injuries hampering an otherwise extremely promising team. Reddick’s role will stay extremely consistent whether he’s a starter or coming off the bench but he’s going to need to step up even more from a leadership position. It feels odd to say that a player will need to step up from an off-court standpoint but for the team to maintain composure and weather the early adversity, they’re going to need the veteran presence of Reddick to steady the course.
The Pelicans season starts Tuesday, 10/22 in Toronto against the defending champion Raptors. Here’s to hoping that Zion Williamson can recover quickly and return to the court as scheduled because he’s too exciting and there’s too much potential for this team to not see them at full strength.