Ashley Landis / Associated Press
Still, their season is tied to the man who wore “Peace” on the back of his T-shirt on Thursday night.
In those 580 minutes that Zion played, New Orleans was a plus-104 (he was actually a minus-16 in the 106-104 loss to Jazz from Utah). In 2,570 minutes Zion did not play, the pelicans are minus 159.
In stark contrast to the important message he chose to show above his number, that of Zion game is anything but peaceful. He plays with a force that several players in the history of the league could generate, and the attention he commands opens things up for his teammates.
This makes limiting the minutes in the eight games to last season much more than an inconvenience.
After leaving the “bubble” that put Zion in the quarantine protocol until Wednesday, ESPN’s Malika Andrews tweeted shortly before a typographer that the 20-year-old rookie would “play in short bursts “during reopening.
After the loss, Pelicans head coach Alvin Gentry revealed that there is more to it than that.
“We would like to be able to play Zion Down,” Gentry told Andrew Lopez of ESPN. “But he had used the minutes we were given. That’s right. We wouldn’t have put him back there. Our medical team said we played for us to play him.”
This explanation does not only lead to additional questions.
Is there an injury we don’t know about? Is this just a condition problem? Wasn’t the team in Zion’s digital ear about conditioning throughout the hiatus? How or why did the break lead to steps back in his timeline?
Perhaps most importantly: Why not save a few of those 15 minutes until the end of the game?
If there is a hard and fast rule that limits Zion to 15 minutes, New Orleans coaching staff must expand that to include the potential for a time of crisis.
If the Pelicans want to make a playoff, each of these matches is extremely important. They must be in ninth place (at worst) and within four games of the eighth seed to force the situation to play.
Part of the four games on this equation isn’t a huge deal. Even after Thursday’s loss, they are just four behind the Memphis Grizzlies with the league’s easiest remaining schedule. The problem is that there are already two teams between New Orleans and Memphis, one of which has Damian Lillard and finally a solid front court. Oh, and the San Antonio Spurs already have a smaller loss.
The battle for the ninth will be reduced to the wire, similar to the game on Thursday night. Then the pelicans needed Zion and will need it to move forward.
Ashley Landis / Associated Press
New Orleans may have been beaten in the minutes he played against Utah, but he is the team’s most spectacular player this season. He has to be there in the big moments.
In his limited action Thursday, he showed up to rust, which does not come out of quarantine.
He came out 6-of-8 off the field and made his only attempt at a free throw. In his first bucket, he essentially passed through the typically sturdy Royce O’Neale on his way to the ultimate in traffic and at near full speed. He scored in the traditional post after Georges Niang. He later punished the same defender for sending him 15 feet from the rim by turning him down an alley.
He even showed a little sense with the back of the man who usually finds himself adjusting it:
Bleaching report @Bleach report
ZION IS AFTER THE RIGHTS. https://t.co/250L1OvQRA
All the physical instruments were on display, but the intangible aspects of his game are even more important. Williamson feels like a veteran of the game. He knows when to attack and when to delay. His anticipation and operation of cutting and driving angles can be just as important as his athleticism in generating an open look.
There is still growth on Zion’s path, especially at the defensive end, but he is more than ready to have a positive impact on the playoff team. If he is detained until this minute limit for much longer (or if he is driving as he was on Thursday), he may not get a chance to do so.
When Zion was eliminated for the last time with 7:19 left in the fourth quarter, New Orleans rose 93-89 (giving it a 73.7% chance of winning). For the rest of the game, Utah center Rudy Robert had four points, including free throws and four rebounds. The big men of New Orleans combined for zero points and two fights in this section.
Whether the pelicans are able to increase Zion’s minutes soon, they cannot afford to be put in that position again.
This season is for the rookie with superstar potential on the floor and a desire for peace from him. And this is especially true for each of the next seven games.