METAIRIE, La. — Pelicans basketball operations chief David Griffin expressed confidence Friday in the team personnel responsible for managing player health after star forward Zion Williamson missed 48 games or more for the third time in four NBA seasons.
“We’ve got some incredibly good people doing it,” Griffin said when asked how much of his confidence remained in the team’s training and medical staff. “We need to do a better job of translating these things into availability.”
The Pelicans’ season ended Wednesday night with a loss to Oklahoma City in a Western Conference playoff that was also Williamson’s 46th straight game missed since suffering a hamstring injury. -right legs on January 2.
The day before the game, Williamson said he was no longer injured but added that he wasn’t ready to play because he “didn’t feel like Zion. ”
He was dropped from training for Wednesday’s play-off. Still, he did some on-court work during pre-game warm-ups, ending with a windmill dunk that only raised more questions about why he couldn’t have been. activated.
Griffin sought to answer those questions as he summed up the recently completed season.
“He wasn’t physically cleared to play,” Griffin said. “He was playing one-on-one. He went up and the windmill dived before the game. It’s not the skill set that makes you capable of playing 5-on-5 basketball. He was never allowed to play five-on-five basketball. So for people to say now, “He chose not to play basketball,” that’s nonsense.
“He was never allowed to play three-on-three all-court,” Griffin added.
In three of Williamson’s four NBA seasons, he didn’t play until 30 games. It was only in his second season that he played as many as 61 games. He didn’t play at all in the 2021-22 season due to a foot injury.
Still, the Pelicans signed him to a five-year extension worth between $193 million and $231 million, depending on the incentives, which takes effect next season. New Orleans is banking on the potential Williamson has shown in the 114 games he has played, averaging nearly 26 points and seven rebounds while shooting 60.5 percent of his shots, sometimes in spectacular fashion.
Griffin said managing the health of the 6-foot-6, 285-pound Williamson has been a learning process for the team and the player.
“A lot of it is on him,” Griffin said. “There are a lot of things he can do better. And he would tell you, I think. He certainly recognized that.
“We need to do a better job of maybe looking at the whole situation from top to bottom,” Griffin continued. “We intentionally don’t do the right things. So I think it’s important to find a way to put him in the best position to succeed and his participation in that also plays an important role.”
Meanwhile, Griffin praised guard CJ McCollum and forward Larry Nance Jr. for playing through injuries. McCollum needs surgery to repair his right thumb, and Griffin said the veteran guard also ended the season with a torn labrum in his right shoulder (shot). Nance missed time with a sprained left ankle but returned while still in pain to help the Pelicans push for a late-season playoff.
“CJ and Larry wanted to send a message that this is what you do,” Griffin said, adding that McCollum didn’t want his shoulder condition to come out until the end of the season because he didn’t want to. not risk that opponents take “cheap”. shots” on it.
When Williamson was largely healthy through the first 10 weeks of the season, the Pelicans rose to the top of the Western Conference. After his injury, and with winger Brandon Ingram also out, New Orleans fell in the standings. Even after Ingram returned, the Pelicans struggled for several games and fell outside the top 10 in the conference.
But as Ingram found his form, New Orleans won nine of its last 12 games to finish as the No. 9 seed.
“In that locker room is the No. 1 seed in the West,” Nance said. “Whether we can enter the pitch at the same time or not is another question. But the talent is clearly there. But obviously reliability is the issue.”
Griffin expressed similar sentiments.
“The core and core of what we have here is very, very good,” Griffin said. “We haven’t seen him play enough minutes together to say, ‘Yes, this is a championship-caliber formation. “”