The New Orleans Pelicans are fighting to qualify for the NBA postseason, but they will now have to fight twice as hard without their best player.
The team announced Friday on Twitter that Zion Williamson is out indefinitely with a fractured left ring finger.
Pelicans general manager David Griffin addressed the media shortly after the announcement.
“I’m really frustrated because this was avoidable,” Griffin said. “We told the NBA through every means available to us, through sending in film, to speaking through everybody in the officials’ department, everybody in basketball operations, that the way they were officiating Zion was going to get him injured.
“And quite frankly, he’s injured now because of the open season that there’s been on Zion Williamson in the paint. He has been absolutely mauled in the paint on a regular basis to the point that other players have to said him, ‘I’m going to keep doing this to you because they don’t call it.’ So, there’s more violence encouraged in the paint against Zion Williamson since any player I’ve seen since Shaq. It was egregious and horrific then, and the same is true now.”
Griffin went on to put some of the blame on himself and the team for not stressing the issue enough, though his criticism of the league and its officiating will likely result in a fine.
Head coach Stan Van Gundy reaffirmed that he has spoken with referees many times about Williamson's nightly plight.
“Here’s the thing with Zion — he’s third or fourth in the league in free-throw attempts (but) he doesn’t have any of the tricks to draw fouls…. He just goes to the basket,” Van Gundy said. “He should easily lead the league in free-throw attempts, and yeah, the swipe-downs, the guy on both ends is getting killed every night, and the referees let it go too often. So, this is what you’re going to have.”
This is a major blow for New Orleans, which is just 1.5 games behind the Spurs for the 10th seed that would qualify the team for the play-in tournament. The Pelicans are already without forward Brandon Ingram, who’s dealing with a left ankle sprain, and have another three players who are unlikely to suit up Friday night vs. the 76ers.
It’ll be no easy task to replace Williamson’s production. The second-year forward was averaging 27 points and 7.2 rebounds on 61% shooting. That’s the highest scoring average ever by any player shooting better than 60% in a season.