The New Orleans Pelicans announced on Tuesday that rookie Zion Williamson will be out 6-8 weeks following surgery to repair a torn meniscus.
Update on Zion: pic.twitter.com/7Jn2jEdUVS- New Orleans Pelicans (@PelicansNBA) October 21, 2019
The update provides a clearer picture after the announcement towards the end of last week that the No. 1 overall pick would miss 'weeks' while recovering from a knee injury.
MORE: Injury update from Pelicans
As with anything of this magnitude, there's sure to be significant fall out as the ripple effects reverberate across the entire league. Here are four immediate reactions starting with the team itself.
The tough gets tougher
Prior to the announcement last week that Williamson would miss the start of the season, the Pelicans were getting some buzz as a potential playoff team. That was largely the result of a preseason in which the rookie forward looked unstoppable in helping lead the team to a perfect 5-0 record.
Even at full strength, New Orleans faced a daunting road early on with an opening slate that ranks among the hardest in the entire league.
Based on preseason over/unders, the Pelicans have the NBA's third-hardest strength of schedule prior to the All-Star break with 16 of the team's first 20 games coming against teams that made the playoffs. Of the four that are not against playoff teams, two are against the Heat and Mavericks, both of whom will be in the mix for postseason contention.
The Utah Jazz are a living embodiment that struggling through a tough early stretch does not necessarily spell doom. Two seasons ago they started 19-28 against an impossibly difficult schedule that aligned with an injury to Rudy Gobert. They recovered to make the playoffs.
Last season, the Jazz started 14-17 against another front-loaded schedule before yet again recovering to qualify for the postseason.
If you're a Pelicans fan, look towards the Jazz model as room for optimism even if there are prolonged stumbles out of the gate.
The playoff ramifications
Of course, the Pelicans aren't the only team impacted here.
It goes without saying that seeding in general can be decided by a game or two which means catching a significantly weakened Pelicans team early on could have a large impact once we get to April or May. Just ask the Houston Rockets who lost a tiebreaker with Portland and fell to the 4-seed in last year's playoffs which of course then led to meeting the Golden State Warriors a round earlier than expected. It's of course impossible to know how things play out in an alternate timeline but if its the Rockets instead of the Blazers that caught a Durant-less Golden State in the Western Conference Finals, there's a decent chance Houston ends up winning the whole thing.
Seeding matters. Individual games matter.
So which teams will be impacted the most besides New Orleans?
- Oklahoma City Thunder: Seen by many as a potential fringe playoff team, the new-look Thunder play the Pelicans three times within the first six weeks of the season
- Golden State Warriors: They meet twice within the first four weeks of the season. Potentially a massive break for Golden State who could be on that 8-seed bubble. A third meeting takes place 8 weeks and 3 days after opening night.
- LA Clippers: Two games vs New Orleans in November. Conversely, Williamson's 6-8 week timetable has him miss one game each vs the Lakers, Rockets and Jazz and none vs the Nuggets. This could be big in shaping the race for the 1 seed.
- Dallas Mavericks: They play on October 26, December 4, December 8 and March 5. December 8 marks just over six weeks from opening night meaning the Mavericks could be in the same boat as the Thunder in terms of a playoff hopeful catching a schedule break.
- Toronto Raptors: Williamson was already ruled out for the opener but it bears repeating that Toronto could be the 2019-20 version of Houston in terms of a dangerous team whose ultimate bigger picture fate could depend on seeding.
Brandon Ingram's next contract
Ingram is entering his fourth year and like Jaylen Brown, Buddy Hield and Domantas Sabonis, was among those eligible for a contract extension leading into Tuesday's deadline.
Unlike those three, he did not agree to terms on a new deal which means the forward will enter restricted free agency next summer.
Pundits remain split on what type of player Ingram can ultimately become. The glass half-full approach leads one to believe he's a candidate to blossom into a multiple-time All-Star capable of averaging somewhere in the neighborhood of an efficient 25 points per game with decent playmaking. Those less bullish see Ingram has a more limited prospect capable of the occasional big scoring night, but not offering much else.
With Williamson in the lineup, Ingram was a good candidate to get squeezed for shots on a roster that also features the likes of Jrue Holiday, JJ Redick and Derrick Favors who will all get looks.
Without Williamson for the first 6-8 weeks, Ingram has the opportunity to take on the load of at-worst a No. 2 option behind Holiday and at times the No. 1 option for extended stretches.
This is a big opportunity for Ingram to show what he's capable of in his fourth season. How he delivers in this space will ultimately play a large role in determining what kind of offer Ingram will receive from New Orleans or elsewhere come restricted free agency.
Rookie of the Year voting
Following the preseason, it appeared the only thing stopping Williamson from cruising towards Rookie of the Year honours would be health.
While he could certainly still win it even while playing in 50-60 games, this injury opens the door for others to get in the mix. In fact, updated markets peg Grizzlies point guard Ja Morant as the new favourite to win it.
🚨 We have a new favorite...- The Action Network (@ActionNetworkHQ) October 21, 2019
Updated NBA ROY Odds:
+200: Ja Morant
+300: Zion Williamson
+400: RJ Barrett
+1000: Coby White, Tyler Herro
+1200: Rui Hachimura
+2000: Darius Garland, Jarrett Culver, Michael Porter Jr.
(via @SuperBookUSA) pic.twitter.com/gPi00juNJ7
Morant or RJ Barrett could have presumably challenged Williamson just as Damian Lillard did with Anthony Davis back in 2012-13 with a high-scoring rookie campaign. With Williamson now out, that potentially opens the door for other contenders whose value might not jump off the page with gaudy numbers.
For instance, could someone like Michael Porter Jr. now emerge as a candidate should he play a valuable, if limited, role on a Denver Nuggets team which could finish with the best record in the NBA?
The views here do not represent those of the NBA or its clubs.