The New Orleans Pelicans dropped their NBA restart opener against the Utah Jazz, 106-104.
Head coach Alvin Gentry pointed to turnovers and not effectively using the New Orleans bench as reasons for the loss but the talk following the game was about the playing time, or lack of, that rookie forward Zion Williamson received.
The phenom scored 13 points in just 15 minutes of action and sat during the games final minutes when the Pelicans were vying for the victory.
Pelicans Executive Vice President of Basketball Operations David Griffin told reporters Friday that he understood the frustration that Williamson didn’t play more but offered an explanation for why the team’s staff limited his minutes.
Griffin said the team’s performance staff established a plan to get every member of the roster ready for the eight seeding games which included among other things, a specific amount of scrimmage playing time.
“So everybody got to do that during the course of the scrimmages,” Griffin said. “Zion didn’t get that opportunity and, unfortunately, because of the situation with his family he was called away. And 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.”
Griffin apologized for not being more clear ahead of the matchup with the Jazz about Williamson’s playing time but added that “no mistakes were made” with regards to the former Duke star’s usage. Several fans as well as members of the national media questioned why Williamson’s limited minutes weren’t used in the later portions of the quarters which would have made him available for the Pelicans final push.
Griffin said that too was determined by the medical staff.
“The reason that they are taking place at the beginning is just that the medical team wants to make sure he’s warm and loose before he gets on the court,” Griffin said. “Because everything that they are doing is sort of predicated on that.
“Again the players have a very clear routine and so his routine is to get loose at a certain time. So we don’t want him to get loose and then sit on the side of the court because that just isn’t conducive to him playing his best.”
He also reiterated that the team plans to stick to the recommendation of Pelicans staff with regards to ramping him up.
“He will not play significant minutes in the next game and he may not in the following game, quite frankly,” Griffin said. “This is all about the ramping up time and he didn’t get the benefit of any of those things that his teammates got for those 13 days.”
He added that Williamson has been putting in extra work in order to “condense” the ramp up time.
“He’s very mindful of wanting to help the team and we appreciate that, obviously,” Griffin said.
The Pelicans are back on the court Saturday for a 5 p.m. matchup with the Los Angeles Clippers