Year in and year out, the injury bug always seems to find a way to derail the New Orleans Pelicans’ season.
The poster boy for these health issues has been Zion Williamson, the first overall pick of the 2019 NBA Draft, who has played in only 114 out of a possible 328 games in his career so far. Williamson’s inability to stay on the court has not only hindered the Pelicans from chasing after a deep playoff run, but has also held him back from becoming the All-NBA caliber player that he was expected to be coming out of Duke University.
New Orleans’ injury woes go beyond Williamson though and it is unfair to place all of the blame on the 23-year-old power forward. His teammate and fellow Duke alumnus Brandon Ingram has already missed 105 games with various ailments since the Pelicans acquired him in the 2019 offseason as well.
These two NBA All-Stars were expected to form a dynamic one-two punch and kick off the golden era of New Orleans basketball, yet this vision has remained all but a dream since 2019 as they have shared the floor in only 93 games over four years.
Heading into this new season, they both seem to be healthy and the hope is that they can finally play together for, at the very least, the majority of this campaign. The Pelicans kicked off ‘23-’24 on the right note, taking a 111-104 road win against the Memphis Grizzlies that was not as close as the final score suggests. New Orleans led by double digits for most of the second half and saw their lead balloon to a high of 17 midway through the fourth quarter.
Although they were without key reserves Trey Murphy III and Jose Alvarado, New Orleans had the rare privilege of having their starting line-up of Williamson, Ingram, CJ McCollum, Jonas Valanciunas, and Herb Jones all suit up. Each starter scored at least 12 points over the contest, led by McCollum who put up 24 points, four rebounds, six assists, two steals, and a block.
Williamson managed to score 23 points on nine-of-17 field goal shooting and he also collected seven rebounds and three assists despite playing only 31 minutes. Ingram had a strong all-around performance too with 19 points, seven rebounds, six assists, and two steals. Jones and Valanciunas chipped in with 13 and 12 points, respectively, to round out the scoring for the first unit.
McCollum (six), Jones (two), and Valanciunas (two) all hit multiple three-pointers in this win and the Pelicans will need them to continue to hit their shots this season if they are to emerge as contenders. The spacing that their shooting provides opens up the floor and makes up for the awkward fit between the similar ball-dominant styles of Williamson and Ingram.
The 26-year-old Ingram was New Orleans’ primary creator for most of the night and he looked quite comfortable in this role. He handed out a few nifty assists to Williamson and it will be exciting to see how they mature as a duo if their health permits them to share more floor time together.
Williamson and Ingram now have a chance to make a name for themselves as they try to push this Pelicans team to the upper echelon of the Western Conference. New Orleans definitely has the talent to make some noise this season, so some good luck on the injury front is truly the only thing missing for them. This may be that special year that their potential will be more than just a tease and it should be fascinating to see it all play out over the coming months.