There are two glaring needs the New Orleans Pelicans have at the moment.
- Another big who can shoot — to make space for Zion Williamson to operate down low
- A 6’6-6’8 wing who can guard the 2, 3 and 4 positions — preferably the other team’s big, athletic star like a LeBron James or Giannis Antetokounmpo
Entering the 2019-2020 season, the hope was that Kenrich Williams would be able to do both. So far through the 35 games he’s played this season, we’ve seen flashes, but not nearly enough for him to have cemented a new contract with the Pelicans during the next off-season. In other words, the upcoming eight games are vital for the young man affectionately known as ‘Kenny Hustle.’
To start the season, Williams scored in double figures twice within the first nine games (16 points against the Golden State Warriors and 15 points against the Charlotte Hornets) and rebounded in double figures four times through the first 14 games. While the TCU product wasn’t taking the league by storm, he looked to be on his way to proving his future worth. Kenny Hustle was out there hustling and earning the minutes he was given.
But it’s been a remarkably different story since.
He has only reached double digits in scoring once (11 against the Los Angeles Lakers on November 27) and has yet to record more than 10 rebounds since November 19.
With that said, Williams hasn’t touched the floor since January 6 due to a back injury, and he’s only played a total of 81 games in his young NBA career.
Low-cost wing who can defend, rebound and move the ball. Plus, you have his Bird Rights. The coaching staff is clearly high on him. I'd hold onto him and pray his jump shot improves. He's only played 81 career games. I'd for sure keep him over Miller and Okafor.— Preston Ellis (@PrestonEllis) June 10, 2020
Is he injury prone? Is he worth another minimum contract similar to the one he received prior to the 2018-2019 season?
Well, we can answer the latter question, given the amount of impact it has on future salary caps — maybe. The Pelicans will need to fill out ensuing rosters with low-cost contracts, but Williams likely needs to help himself before negotiations start. The prior, not quite yet, but we do have a decent sample size.
Sidelined in part with an ankle injury during the 2018-2019 season, Williams played in just 46 games. In 23.5 minutes per contest, he averaged 6.1 points and 4.8 rebounds a game all while shooting 68.4 percent from the free throw line and 33 percent from three-point range. Those numbers, unfortunately, dwindled or completely fell off a cliff this season. Kenny Hustle has put up 3.8 points and 5.1 rebounds per game while shooting 37.5 percent from the free throw line and 26 percent from deep.
Considering his lack of production — coupled with the amount games he’s played over the last two years — Williams’ future in New Orleans may be completely contingent on this upcoming eight-game stretch.
It would behoove the 25-year-old to remind the Pelicans that he’s a capable defender, if anything. While the front office would obviously desire a guy on the roster that can contribute on both sides of the ball, this team can live with one player whose vast contributions come from the defensive end of the floor, attacks the glass for 20 minutes a night and adds momentum-shifting plays. New Orleans will score 120 points either way.
Labeled at times too slow to guard 3s and too small to guard 4s, Kenny Hustle must once again earn his nickname. Williams must aspire to be the Dennis Rodman on this team. Heck, even mimic the ever-so-worthless-on-2K type in Andre Roberson. At the end of the day, Kenrich has to do something consistently that impacts winning.
If he’s given a chance in Orlando, let’s hope there’s a sense of urgency to his game; otherwise, we shouldn’t expect to see Kenrich Williams wearing a Pelicans jersey next season.