With both teams facing many injuries, the Knicks and Pelicans will meet up in the Big Apple to compete. Zion Williamson won’t make his debut.
Zion Williamson IS…not in the building! Or at least not suiting up for the New Orleans Pelicans (13-25).
The 19-year-old phenom, selected first overall in the 2019 NBA Draft, could have made his regular season debut on Friday against the New York Knicks (10-28). However, Knicks rookie R.J. Barrett’s former Duke teammate will be out again after he underwent surgery on his torn meniscus back in October, which has sidelined Williamson for the entire season thus far. That New Orleans and Williamson were targeting January 10th in New York as a debut date is encouraging, but the team announced on Thursday that Zion won’t make an appearance.
Another power forward will be absent on Friday, too—New York’s Julius Randle will miss his second straight game due to “personal reasons,” involving a serious family matter, per the New York Post‘s Marc Berman. Randle, 25, the Knicks’ second-leading scorer, was not available for Wednesday’s beatdown in Utah against the Jazz, their fourth straight loss, all coming on a west coast road trip.
Picking Up the Load
Without Randle and possibly Marcus Morris again, the Knicks need a change in their scoring distribution versus the Pelicans. Third-year guard Frank Ntilikina led New York in scoring against the Jazz with 16 points, a first for the French Prince in his young NBA career.
FRANK THE MIDRANGE GOD*
*for tonight, anyway pic.twitter.com/yxLZgpBHsZ
— The Knicks Wall (@TheKnicksWall) January 9, 2020
The answer to who scores more for the Knicks is everybody; Morris and Randle’s combined 37 points a night doesn’t go directly to one player’s scoring output. Rather, the Knicks need to see first-year swingman Barrett get comfortable again. The former Blue Devil, with Williamson watching from the sidelines, needs to continue to up his productivity, and in this case it’s as the de facto leading scorer as a 19-year-old. Barrett has scored in double figures in the last four games, including 24 and 19 points against the Clippers and Lakers, respectively, but he needs to be a leader on offense, too. That means limiting his turnover problem and helping Elfrid Payton in the backcourt create better shots for themselves and teammates.
Bullock Settling In
Knicks wing Reggie Bullock, who signed and re-negotiated a deal with the team in the offseason as a free agent after having to undergo neck surgery, is settling into his role on the team. He’s a pretty solid jump shooter who feasts on quick-trigger pull-up three-pointers and those one-two step jumpers at the foul line. In five games for the Knicks thus far, the 28-year-old is averaging 9.0 points on 44.2% from the field and 7-of-18 (38.9%) from long range.
Reggie has to chuck it up and what do ya know pic.twitter.com/NrGiKrW8UN
— The Knicks Wall (@TheKnicksWall) January 8, 2020
This is exactly what the Knicks need right now—an injection of outside shooting and competent role players. However, the unfortunate part for New York is the lack of playmakers, too. Without Randle, the team’s second-leading dimer, the ‘Bockers rely on Payton finding his groove and have to hope Ntilikina brings it again (he recorded 10 assists against Portland on New Year’s Day). So, that’s one part good role players like Bullock and Damyean Dotson (played 22 minutes in Utah, some of which were garbage time), and a whole dash of confident ‘Bockers guards setting up their teammates.
Some Deats on the Pels
The Pelicans are not a good ball club at the moment, although they have some compelling pieces like young forward Brandon Ingram, who will be a free agent in 2020. Besides the former Lakers second-overall pick, point guard Lonzo Ball is having an uptick in recent weeks, including a string of 20-plus-point outings that was snapped in the most recent win against the Bulls and overall good shooting performances. He has averaged 21.2 points, 6.2 rebounds, and 7.8 assists while shooting 51.3% from the field and 40.5% from deep. Ball is also an above-average defender.
Additionally, New Orleans as a whole is a middle-of-the-pack offensive team (18th Offensive Rating) and hover around the same Defensive Rating as New York (so, very bad). The Pels’ pace is rather uptempo and they’re only an O.K. shooting team overall, along with being around the middle in turnover percentage, per NBA Stats.
The interesting part will be seeing how the Pelicans play without Holiday, the veteran of the team. He missed the past two games, where NOLA narrowly lost to a good Jazz team that just beat the Knicks and beat the meh Bulls team by double digits. Much earlier in the season the Pels lost back-to-back tilts with Holiday out, but that was when the young-ish team was still getting to know each other after an offseason of much turnover orchestrated by executive vice president and one-time Knicks general manager candidate David Griffin.
Besides Williamson on the Pels and Randle on the ‘Bockers sidelined, New Orleans is going to be without guard Jrue Holiday, the team’s second-leading scorer and top assist man.
Marcus Morris and Dennis Smith Jr., both of whom also missed Wednesday’s contest in Salt Lake City, are questionable, per the team. Mitchell Robinson is probable with a toe sprain.
UPDATE: 11:29 a.m. ET.
Along with Smith and Randle out today, Morris is doubtful, the team announced.