Zion Williamson is coming back and a Pelicans playoff berth isn’t totally crazy
Could the New Orleans Pelicans still make the playoffs? It seems unlikely, but it’s actually not out of the realm of possibility. After all, have you seen the bottom half of the Western Conference lately?
Gone are the days where 8-seeds in the West win around 50 games. This year, it stands to reason the No. 8 slot in the West could feature a team with a losing record. Heck, right now, the Memphis Grizzlies are in the eighth spot at 19-22.
And you know who is just four games back? The Pelicans, at 15-26.
Now, here’s the thing: in spite of just being four games out, New Orleans is 14th in the West, so it is going to have to jump a bunch of teams just to have a shot at a playoff spot.
But Zion Williamson is coming back, so maybe he’ll be just the spark the Pelicans need?
Now, to be clear, we have no clue what to expect from Williamson. Not only has he never played an NBA regular-season game in his life, but he is coming off of knee surgery, so he might not be 100 percent, and even if he is fully healthy physically, we don’t know where he is going to be mentally. Remember: the kid has had three knee injuries in less than a year, and that’s scary.
Also, the Pelicans will also surely have him on a minutes restriction (they would be crazy not to), and we can probably expect a heavy dose of load management.
After all, New Orleans is not contending for a title this year, so it’s No. 1 priority should be preserving its future, and its entire future right now is basically Williamson.
But even if the Pels do all of that, there is a chance they can sneak in to the postseason.
The six teams in front of them for the eighth seed are the Grizzlies, San Antonio Spurs, Portland Trail Blazers, Phoenix Suns, Minnesota Timberwolves (without Karl-Anthony Towns) and Sacramento Kings.
Due to their experience, the Blazers should probably be seen as the favorites, but we are now halfway through the season, and they are just 17-24, so maybe they just aren’t very good.
The Spurs? Tim Duncan isn’t walking through that door. The Suns? Come on. The Timberwolves? They’ve stunk for years. The Kings? They’ve had injuries out the wazoo.
Again, I’m not saying it’s likely, but with a roster that includes Williamson, a two-way stud in Jrue Holiday, a budding Brandon Ingram, an improving Lonzo Ball and veterans such as JJ Redick and Derrick Favors, the Pelicans certainly aren’t in Golden State Warriors territory (who would have thought we would be saying that a year ago?), and they are probably at least more talented than Minnesota and Phoenix.
The funny thing is, making the playoffs would probably be counterproductive for New Orleans, as adding another lottery pick would surely be better for the franchise in the long run, but considering how bad the bottom of the West is, the Pels may not be able to help it.