Handful of injuries, dominating Valanciunas: Pros, cons of Pelicans’ season

Benny Greenspan , Contributing Reporter

The New Orleans Pelicans’ start to the 2021-2022 season could not be more upside down, as injuries and poor play have led them to a 2-12 record, which is the second worst in the NBA. With the team hoping to improve on its record in order to get into the playoff hunt, let’s take a look at the few pros and many cons of the Pelicans’ season so far: 

Pro: Willie Green 

Despite the poor record, newly hired head coach Willie Green has been able to capture the trust of both the organization and the players. After serving as an assistant coach to both the championship Golden State Warriors teams as well as the runner-up Phoenix Suns in the previous season, Green has embraced the opportunity of coaching this young Pelicans team. 

After a recent win against the Memphis Grizzlies, Josh Hart praised Green’s trust for his players, which has helped this young team: “Willie has the ultimate trust in me to go out there and play my game and play with confidence.” Green’s fundamental approach as well as his positive mindset of “calling up” his players as opposed to “calling out” show that there is hope for future success this season and beyond.

Pro: Jonas Valanciunas

After being traded for Steven Adams and Eric Bledsoe early in the offseason, the veteran center has proven his worth for the Pelicans so far. Averaging 19.6 points as well as 13.5 rebounds per game, Valanciunas has been one of the few consistent positives on the team, showcasing his ability to be dominant in the paint on both ends, as well as a solid outside shooter. 

Valanciunas’ play has also put him on track to make history as the first center to be in the 50-40-90 club of field goal percentage, three-point percentage and free throw percentage, with his 57.7% three-point average being the best in the league. Whenever Zion Williamson returns, Valanciunas’ offensive game as well as his dominance on the glass should be a great compliment. 

Con: Injuries

Now let’s get into the main reason behind the Pelicans’ disappointing season so far. The injury woes for the Pelicans started before the season even began, when star forward Williamson suffered a broken foot as the summer league was beginning. This foot injury has caused Williamson to miss all 14 games so far, and his return is continuously being pushed back, with ESPN’s Brian Windhorst saying that he is still “weeks away” despite his estimated return in the upcoming week.

The injuries did not stop with Williamson, however, as Brandon Ingram, who averages a team leading 24.1 points per game, has missed seven out of the first 14 games. The absence of Ingram and Williamson have proven to be a big blow to the Pelican’s offense, in part due to their lack of depth, which is the next con. 

Con: Bench Production

Injuries to both Ingram and Williamson certainly had an effect on the Pelican’s depth. The Pelicans’ bench has been the worst in the NBA in scoring, with only 24.9 points per game. When Ingram is off the court, the offense often comes to a standstill. This was on full display in the loss against the Mavericks, when the two-point deficit increased to 20 as soon as substitutions started to be made. The lack of bench production has also led to Green being forced to overplay his starters, which results in fourth quarter collapses in games against the Suns and Atlanta Hawks

There is some hope for the Pelicans’ bench, however, as rookie Herb Jones has continuously improved throughout the season, putting up a career high 17 points in the win against the Grizzlies. 

Con: Zion’s Current Shape

This injury has not been the only troubling news that has surrounded Williamson, as his weight has also been a topic of concern for the team. Bleacher Report’s Jake Fischer reported that Williamson has reached a weight north of 300 pounds over the offseason, with Charles Barkley jokingly saying “it looks like me and Shaq had a baby” when describing Williamson on TNT’s “Inside the NBA.” Williamson’s weight has also shown to be bad for both his recovery and his health in the long term, which is troubling for a Pelicans team that needs him on the court as soon as possible. 

Looking Forward: 

With Ingram’s recent return from injury against the Grizzlies as well as Williamson’s impending return, the Pelicans certainly have hope for the rest of the season under their trusted head coach, Green. That being said, there is a lot of improvement to be had, and the Pelicans will have to fix their bench and depth issue in order to get back into the playoff hunt.