Injuries continue to ground Pelicans season

Max Meyerhardt, Contributing Reporter

New Orleans pelicans
Jada Roth

After the NBA All-Star break, the New Orleans Pelicans look to resume their up-and-down season in the absence of star forward, Zion Williamson. 

The Pelicans began the 2022-23 NBA season with the franchise’s best start, 18-8, good for the No. 1 spot in the Western Conference. Williamson was an early MVP candidate and the Pels showed strong promise for the season with the help of Brandon Ingram, averaging 22.9 points per game, and CJ McCollum, averaging 21.0 points per game. 

Two and half months later, the Pelicans are 10th in the West sitting at a near .500, 31-30 record. The reason for this sudden shift in momentum — injuries. 

Ingram was the first to go down with a toe injury on Nov. 25, which sidelined him until Jan. 25.

By the time Ingram returned to the lineup, the Pelicans sat at 26-23 on the season.

Williamson played well in Ingram’s absence, averaging over 29 points per game, until he injured his hamstring in early January. Since his injury, the Pelicans have gone 6-14, including a 10-game losing streak

Williamson is expected to miss several weeks for his injury, which prevented him from playing in his second All-Star Game on Feb. 19 where he was named a starter for the first time in his young, three-season career. 

Since the All-Star Game in Utah last week, the Pelicans have lost to the New York Knicks, 128-106, the Toronto Raptors, 115-110 and the Orlando Magic, 101-93. 

With Ingram and McCollum leading the way, the Pelicans had to rely on some of their younger and veteran players to fill Williamson’s crucial impact on the team. 

Second-year Alabama product, Herb Jones, found his way into the starting lineup, playing 34 minutes against the Raptors and starting again against the Knicks. With forward Larry Nance Jr. also out with injury, Jones seems to be the Pelicans best option for a power forward until Williamson returns.

Trey Murphy III has also assumed a greater role, upping his minutes this season to 29.1 with 12.7 points per game after playing only 13.9 minutes a game last year in his rookie season. 

Center Jonas Valanciunas is steadily contributing this season, averaging 14.2 points per game and 9.7 rebounds per game. He, too, picks up a significant amount of Williamson’s load due to Jones’s inexperience as a big man and backup center, Jaxson Hayes’ limited minutes. Hayes has failed to play big minutes after suffering a torn ulnar collateral ligament tear in mid-October. 

At 10th in the West at the time of this article, the New Orleans Pelicans are poised to play Golden State in the Play-In Tournament to fight for a spot in the playoffs. With Williamson’s unpredictable and unpromising timetable on his return, the Pelicans will need to continue to rely on their scorers — Ingram and McCollum — while also putting greater responsibility on their young players. 

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