Zion Williamson is out indefinitely with a fractured left ring finger, the New Orleans Pelicans announced on Friday. Williamson, who played only 24 games as a rookie due to various injuries, has been remarkably durable in his second NBA season. Prior to this injury, he had played in 61 of New Orleans' 66 games this season, and as a result, has posted historic offensive numbers. Williamson made his first All-Star appearance this season and is averaging 27 points on 61.1 percent shooting.
Shortly after the team officially announced the injury, Pelicans executive vice president of basketball operations David Griffin met with the media and made it clear why he felt the league and its officials were responsible for Williamson's injury, which Griffin described as a "fairly significant situation" for Zion given he is left-handed.
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"I'm really frustrated because this was avoidable. We told the NBA through every means available to us, through sending in film, through speaking to everybody in the officials department and everybody in basketball operations, that the way they were officiating Zion was going to get him injured.
"Quite frankly, he's injured now because of the open season there's been on Zion Williamson in the paint. He's been absolutely mauled in the paint on a regular basis, to the point that other players have said to him, 'I'm going to keep doing this to you because they don't call it.' There's more violence encouraged in the paint against Zion Williamson than any player I've seen since Shaq. It was egregious and horrific then, and the same is true now."
But Williamson isn't the only Pelican dealing with a significant injury. Brandon Ingram is also out indefinitely with a left ankle inversion sprain. With only six games left on the schedule, there just isn't much time for them to get healthy. On Friday alone, they will be without Williamson, Ingram, Josh Hart, Steven Adams and Nickeil Alexander-Walker.
With Williamson and Ingram now out, New Orleans' already slim playoff hopes are on life support. The Pelicans currently sit 1.5 games below the No. 10-seeded San Antonio Spurs in the standings. At full strength, they might have been able to mount a comeback and earn the Western Conference's final play-in spot. However, with the NBA's seventh-hardest remaining schedule and neither of their stars, it appears as though the Pelicans are headed back to the lottery.
Such an outcome would be a disappointment in light of Williamson's success. The Pelicans hired coach Stan Van Gundy and traded for veterans like Adams and Eric Bledsoe in the hopes of contending for the playoffs right away. But their 25th-ranked defense and a string of disappointing late-game losses dashed those hopes. Now, the Pelicans have some difficult questions to answer this offseason.
Lonzo Ball will be a restricted free agent, and while his improvement as a shooter and chemistry with Williamson seemingly warrants a new deal, New Orleans considered dealing him at the trade to avoid paying him market value. The defense still needs to be overhauled as the Pelicans search for a scheme and supporting pieces that work around Williamson's flaws, and there is still the matter of those veterans, whose contracts are limiting New Orleans' flexibility.
Now, those questions are front and center. The Pelicans stayed alive this long because their transcendent second-year superstar was good enough to keep them afloat. Now he's out, and New Orleans is heading towards one of the most important offseasons in franchise history.