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Predicting Zion Williamson’s return, Pelicans record through first 20 games

Can New Orleans keep their head above water through the first quarter of the schedule?

NBA: New Orleans Pelicans-Media Day Andrew Wevers-USA TODAY Sports

How many games do you think Zion Williamson will miss as he continues to recover from right foot surgery? In conjunction, predict the New Orleans Pelicans record through the first 20 games on the schedule.


Ever since the news dropped that Zion had sustained an injury over the summer, I assumed he would miss time. I mean, why would I expect good things? If there’s anything we can be assured of by looking at Pelicans’ history, it’s that they will never start a season with an intact starting lineup.

Also, a new tradition is a bent reality proclamation from David Griffin — whether it’s, “beat peoples asses,” “bully ball,” or, “Jrue Holiday will be an MVP candidate,” he’s bound to over promise and under deliver on something.

New Orleans Pelicans Media Day Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images

Case in point, there were a lot of positive vibes on media day regarding Zion’s return, from Griffin as well. However, as we learned on Thursday, Williamson will miss at a minimum the first week of the regular season.

Why does Griff continue to dig himself these holes? What good does it do? How is it fair to the player, the organization or the fan base?

Initially, I was prepared for Zion to miss 4-6 games, but now I’m thinking 8-12 is more likely.

With that in mind, I’m also prepared for a less than ideal start by the Pelicans — again, as history has shown. In the past I’ve been overly optimistic, but I have zero faith in leadership. Maybe the pandemic and Hurricane Ida have peeled the tint off of my prescription rose-colored glasses, but I see a very painful start.

I went through game-by-game and it was brutal. The Pels not only play some good teams, but they play the bad teams that they play horribly against. I’m thinking we come out of the gate 6-14 and panic begins to ensue.


The news that Zion will not be ready for the start of the regular season would have stung even if it had been received a few weeks earlier, but hearing it with tip-off less than a week away feels particularly cruel.

FiveThirtyEight’s annual projections pegged the Pelicans as the West’s sixth-best team, but that is with Zion projected to play 37 minutes per night. Without Zion, who is far and away the best player on this team, even playing .500 basketball would be a tough ask.

Caution should be the expectation, but because there is so little known about what it is that Zion has been working through, a “cautious” timeline is hard to define. In lieu of one of those, I’ll offer what I guess by definition has to be an optimistic guess: Zion will miss the first 11 games of the season and will debut in New Orleans against OKC. The Thunder stink, and the team may want him to finalize his rehab in New Orleans.

With Zion, I’d predict a 12-8 start. Without him for the first 11 games, I’m comfortable with 10-10.


I expect Zion’s out four more weeks and misses a total of 11 games, coming back on November 10 against the Oklahoma City Thunder.

Along with that, I wager he’ll be on a minutes restriction until at least Thanksgiving, which is the 20 games mark.

New Orleans Pelicans v Minnesota Timberwolves Photo by David Berding/Getty Images

I’ll be optimistic and say the Pelicans go 9-11 over the first 20 games thanks to Brandon Ingram, Jonas Valanciunas, and Devonte’ Graham stepping up. Especially so in the clutch.


Since learning of Zion’s offseason foot surgery, I’ve had mixed emotions about how much time he’ll miss and at what cost to the Pelicans record.

Back on media day, I figured Williamson would miss close to the first few weeks of the 2021-22 schedule, needing to overcome several hurdles before stepping into a regular season game. I’ve been inclined to add another fortnight since David Griffin’s update on Thursday, but I’m currently thinking there just had to be good reason so many sounded hopeful at the outset of training camp — there had to be realistic expectations that Zion could appear in the opener.

Yes, Williamson isn’t allowed to participate in physical activity with teammates yet, but he can run. He should be able to make a great dent in his conditioning. And if the following step is trusting him to be on the court with nine other pairs of feet, why not just do that in a regular season contest? You know he’s going to be on a minutes restriction anyway.

With Williamson being given a thumbs up to run on Oct 13, the next scan and set of results should be in before the end of this month. Lo and behold, the Pelicans have a 3-game home stand (10/27 vs ATL, 10/29 vs SAC, 10/30 vs NYK) during this period. We’re due for something positive so let’s say he’ll return on one of those dates.

With Zion only missing up to six games in my bullish scenario, I’m allowed to be a little more hopeful about the first 20 games. Let’s pencil in a 9-11 start.


Oh, no, not again. Seems like every year, this team desperately needs to win and win early. This year is no exception. There’s of course no telling how long an injury will last, but if it’s a “Jones fracture,” as some have guessed, we’re talking months. I’ll just hope we get him back by December 1.

20 games in? I presume more of the same until I see something to convince me otherwise: 6-14.