Things have not been going well for the New Orleans Pelicans. After starting the season 4-1 the team has now rattled off five consecutive losses, the most recent being a 136-124 loss to the Dallas Mavericks where New Orleans fell behind by as many as 29 points. Zion Williamson had 18 points on 7 of 11 from the field, but after the game the 2019 No. 1 overall pick talked candidly about his role during this difficult stretch of games New Orleans is going through.
"Last year, we had a team meeting," Williamson said. "We brought up some things I could do better. Especially with buying into the program. It's tough right now. I'm taking a little back seat right now. And I'm trusting the process. I'm trying my best to buy in right now."
This isn't the first time Williamson has talked about trying to fit into a different role this season. After a loss against the Rockets last Friday, Williamson specified how he's had to adjust this season.
"Last year, I was able to facilitate a lot more," Williamson said. "This year, it's kind of like taking a back seat a little bit and letting everybody else get in their rhythm and being unselfish."
The Pelicans are playing at a faster pace than they did last season, ranking 10th in the league currently. Last year they ranked 16th in that category, and it's been a point of emphasis for third-year head coach Willie Green. So has ball movement, as the team is trying to move away from guys like CJ McCollum and Brandon Ingram dominating posesessions.
However, despite trying to implement a new system, New Orleans hasn't managed to score or stop anyone on the other end. Context does matter, though, as New Orleans has been without McCollum for the last four games as he's still recovering from a collapsed lung. Herbert Jones has also been out for three games with a bruised right fibula. Those are two guys who are integral to the Pelicans success. Not having McCollum's scoring and veteran presence is going to have an impact, so too is being without Jones who is one of the Pelicans' best defenders.
Since McCollum and Jones have been out, the Pelicans have the fifth-worst offense in the league, as well as the fourth-worst defense. For Williamson specifically, despite averaging around the same shot attempts as he did last season before he went down with injury, he's averaging a career-low 21.6 points on 51.5% shooting from the field. Those would be standout numbers for most players in the league, but given Williamson has averaged as high as 27 points on 61.1% shooting from the floor, his production this season has been a step down in comparison.
While it's fair for Williamson to be frustrated with the losses New Orleans is piling up, to publicly say he's having a tough time buying into the Pelicans system can't be great for team morale. Perhaps this is just a case of momentary frustration, because as we've seen countless times in sports winning cures most things. But if Williamson is genuinely concerned with how he's being used on offense, it could be a problem for Green's job security going forward. Green's coaching tenure has been stifled by injuries to guys like Williamson and Ingram, and even now being without several important guys. But still, if the franchise star isn't satisfied with how the team is using him on offense, it could put Green on the hot seat if New Orleans can't turn things around.