With just eight seeding games to put themselves in position to knock off the Grizzlies for West’s final playoff spot, the Pelicans let the first one get away on Thursday, falling to Utah in a 106-104 nail-biter. After the game, as Jeff Duncan of The Athletic writes, the team faced questions about its usage of Zion Williamson, who was limited to 15 minutes and didn’t play during crunch time.
“I was told the minutes he could play and that’s what I did,” said head coach Alvin Gentry, indicating that the Pelicans’ medical staff came up with the plan and minutes restriction for Williamson. “I don’t know what the numbers are or anything. That would be something that you would have to ask the medical team.”
Pelicans executive VP of basketball operations David Griffin spoke to reporters on Friday in an effort to provide additional clarity, pointing out that every Pelican player started out at around 15 minutes in the team’s first scrimmage before eventually ramping up (Twitter link via Andrew Lopez of ESPN).
According to Griffin, New Orleans’ practice schedule in Orlando has made it difficult to quickly get Williamson up to full speed and improve his conditioning, but the young forward has been putting in extra work on the side to accelerate that process (Twitter link via Will Guillory of The Athletic).
Griffin added that the former No. 1 overall pick isn’t expected to play “significant minutes” on Saturday against the Clippers and may not on Monday against the Grizzlies either (Twitter link via Lopez).
With every game on the schedule of the utmost importance, Griffin’s update may frustrate Pelicans fans. However, it’s worth noting that the team may have a point about Williamson’s conditioning — although he scored 13 minutes in his 15 minutes on Thursday, he didn’t grab a single rebound, and the team had an atrocious 164.3 defensive rating when he was on the court, having been outscored by 16 points.
Those numbers weren’t all Williamson’s fault, but they suggest he wasn’t having the sort of elite impact on the game he normally would. In his 19 games prior to the hiatus, the Pelicans had a +10.4 net rating in Zion’s minutes. That number was -60.8 on Thursday.