The New Orleans Pelicans’ 106-104 loss to the Utah Jazz still has some people talking – not exactly because of the game itself, but rather the strange playing time that star rookie Zion Williamson got.
Williamson only played 15 minutes and sat out the final 7:19, all despite the game being close and crucial for the team’s playoff hopes. He squeezed in 13 points in that short period and shot 6-for-8 from the floor.
With fans and pundits confused as to what the Pels are doing, GM David Griffin was asked to address the issue. Here’s what he told reporters (via Andrew Lopez of ESPN):
“The reason they are taking place as they are at the beginning is just that the medical team wants to make sure he’s warm and loose before he gets on the court … Everything that they are doing is predicated on that. The players have a very clear routine. His routine is to get loose at a certain time. We don’t want him to get loose and then sit on the side and wait, because that’s not conducive to him playing his best.”
It did appear that Williamson was able to be warm, loose, and have that rhythm that he wants. All of his points yesterday were in the paint, and there was a great variety – one in the post, two alley-oop dunks, one bruising drive that drew a foul, and one where he drove and freed himself through a spin move.
Griffin then clarified that the approach is not exclusive on Zion, and that everyone on the team has a different system:
“And every member of the team got to go through that plan … That plan included scrimmage minutes that many of the team got to play. Many of our players were held to 15 minutes or 12 minutes or whatever. Not because there is a fixed minutes number, but because there was a fixed approach to how they were going to play the game.”
Later, he pointed out that leaving the bubble also led to some changes in the overall preparation. Zion, as you may remember, was not with the team from July 16-24 because of a family emergency. He was quarantined after re-entering the Disney’s premises.
While he was out, Brandon Ingram, Jrue Holiday, JJ Redick, Lonzo Ball, Josh Hart, and Derrick Favors all got the minute restrictions, as they were limited to under 20 minutes in the first two scrimmage games – some even sat out the second game.
“Everybody got to do that over the course of the scrimmages. Zion didn’t get that opportunity … It was a very legitimate reason to leave. But unfortunately, he’s 13 days removed from the group in terms of following that plan after not playing basketball for what amounts to four months.”
“He didn’t get the benefit of anything that his teammates got for those 13 days. This is going to take some time, and I think it’s going to take time for him [to find his rhythm].”
But, of course, the most pressing question is why are they doing this during a playoff push, especially since no one is apparently injured? Shouldn’t they be all out? Griffin addressed that too, and he shut it down.
“I realize that it’s really detrimental to doing what we’re attempting to do, which is make the playoffs, but if we’re going to have him at full strength coming through these games, he’s got to go through this process … There is no alternative. There wouldn’t be for any other player.”
The Pelicans (28-37) return to the court tomorrow against the LA Clippers (44-21). It’s yet another tough challenge as they have lost two of the three meetings this season.
New Orleans is allowing an eye-popping 131.1 PPG in the season series.