Why Zion Williamson’s return is a game changer for the New Orleans Pelicans

New Orleans Pelicans star Zion Williamson missed all of last season recovering from a foot injury but is expected to be ready to play by the start of next season. The fourth-year player has struggled with injuries thus far in his career but could be in for a big comeback season.

Adding a healthy Williamson to a team that made the playoffs last season and already has two stars in Brandon Ingram and C.J McCollum could make the New Orleans Pelicans far more dangerous. After all, few playoff teams have a player of his caliber waiting in the wings.

Williamson gives the New Orleans Pelicans an unstoppable scoring threat

Williamson is an unorthodox player who, at 6’6 and 284 pounds, has the height of a small forward and the frame of a center but he actually plays power forward.  He isn’t a stretch four, however. Instead, he gets most of his points in the paint by scoring off of cuts, drives, post-ups, and alley-oops.

Moreover, Williamson’s rare combination of outrageous athleticism and brute strength makes him a nightmare to defend. He’s too strong for most wings and too explosive for traditional bigs, allowing him to exploit mismatches.

If that wasn’t enough, the Pelicans found success by putting the ball in his hands and letting him attack off the dribble. Once he got a full head of steam, it was almost impossible for opposing players to stop him.

The results were impressive: Williamson averaged 27 points while shooting a blistering 61.1% from the field. Combine that with McCollum, who averaged 24.3 points after being traded to the Pelicans, and Ingram, who averaged 22.7 points, and they suddenly have a big three.

Without Williamson last season, the team ranked only 19th in offense but should be much improved now that they have a balanced scoring attack. Teams don’t usually have a player as good as McCollum as their third option, which should raise the Pelicans’ floor, while Williamson raises the team’s offensive ceiling, possibly resulting in them having a top 10 offense.

Actually, Williamson has plenty of room for improvement, particularly as a shooter. In the 2020-21 season, he attempted just 34 threes and hit only 29.4% of those shots. He made up for that by averaging 8.7 free throws per game, third best in the NBA, but shot just 70% from the line.

To maximize his offensive potential, he’ll need to take a lot more threes and shoot around 35%, as well as hit 80% of his free throws. If he can, Williamson could average 30 points per game in the NBA.

All in all, with Williamson back and a significantly improved offense, the Pelicans should win far more than 36 games next season, and potentially go further in the playoffs.