The New Orleans Pelicans are fighting for a potential playoff spot in Orlando, but they have been doing so with limited contributions from rookie sensation Zion Williamson. Their rookie star had to leave the NBA bubble for an extended period of time to deal with a family matter before game action got underway, and played just 29 total minutes during the Pelicans' first two seeding games. They lost both of those games, and for Williamson it's been hard to watch his team struggle while not being able to contribute as much as he would like to. It's also been tough for Williamson to get into a rhythm while playing in such short bursts.
"It's very tough, to be honest, because as soon as I start to break that sweat, I look over and that horn is for me and I have to come out the game," Williamson said of his limited playing time, via ESPN. "Also, when I do catch the flow of the game, like I said, that horn goes off and it's for me."
Williamson is trying his best not to get frustrated because it won't "help the situation." He is accustomed to playing under a minutes restriction with the Pelicans, as the same approach was used when he first debuted in January after an extended recovery from a knee injury. While Williamson is still enjoying himself out on the floor, his limited play has sapped some of the fun out of the game for him, as he would obviously prefer to be spending more time actually on the floor, and less time stuck on the sideline.
"It is still fun but not to the full extent you are all used to seeing [from me]," Williamson said. "I am a competitor and I want to stay on the court. When I come out of the game, my competitive side is telling me, 'I just want to stay in.' I guess that affects the fun a little bit, but not too much."
Last week Pelicans president David Griffin explained the rationale behind the organization's decision to limit Williamson's playing time, and he made it clear that they weren't going to play him an exorbitant amount of time, even with a playoff spot hanging in the balance.
"I just want to make a statement regarding Zion Williamson," Griffin said. "I know there's a lot of consternation about the fact that he didn't play more, and I wanted to try and make this make sense for everyone. When we got here, our performance team had a very clear plan laid out for every member of the team. Every member of the team got to go through that plan, and that plan included scrimmage minutes that many of the team got to play. Many of our players were held to 15 minutes or 12 minutes or whatever. Not because there's a fixed minute number, but because there's a fixed approach to how they were going to play the game. Everybody got to do that throughout the course of the scrimmages.
"Zion didn't get that opportunity. Unfortunately because of the situation with his family, he was called away. It was a very legitimate reason to leave. But unfortunately, he's 13 days removed from the group in terms of following that plan, after not playing basketball for what amounts to four months. So I appreciate the fact that everybody wants him to play 40 minutes tomorrow night. I can promise you he's not going to ... I realize it's really detrimental to actually doing what we're attempting to do which is make the playoffs, but if we're going to have him at full strength coming through these games he has got to go through this process. There is no alternative and there wouldn't be for any other player."
For the Pelicans, Williamson is the future of the franchise, so it's understandable that the organization is being overly cautious with him. The team has clearly decided that protecting Williamson's long-term health is more important than a postseason berth this season, although a playoff appearance still isn't out of the picture for New Orleans. With six seeding games remaining, they sit 3 1/2 games behind the eighth-seeded Grizzlies, who they will square off against on Monday night.