National Basketball Association

Pelicans star Zion Williamson is injured, and one man is blaming the refs

May 8

Zion Williamson's sophomore season has officially been cut short. 

The New Orleans Pelicans power forward injured his finger while attempting an offensive rebound against Golden State Warriors center Kevon Looney in the third quarter of a 108-103 victory over Golden State.

Williamson will be out indefinitely with a fractured left ring finger, much to the dismay of Pelicans Executive Vice President of Basketball Operations David Griffin.

In a press conference on Friday, Griffin referred to the news as "very frustrating" and "avoidable" had the NBA done a better job officiating his star player.

"Zion is left-handed, so it’s a fairly significant situation for him," Griffin said. "We told the NBA through every means available to us, through sending in film, through speaking to everybody in the official’s department, everybody in basketball operations, that the way they were officiating Zion was going to get him injured. And quite frankly, he’s injured now because of the open season that there’s been on Zion Williamson in the paint.

"He has been absolutely mauled in the paint on a regular basis," Griffin continued. "To the point that other players have said to him, ‘I’m going to keep doing this to you because they don’t call it.’ So, there’s more violence encouraged in the paint against Zion Williamson than any player I’ve seen since [Shaquille O'Neal]. It was egregious and horrific then, and the same is true now. 

"This situation is something that very much should have been able to be avoided if we were protecting our players in the way that we should be in the league," Griffin added.

"It’s asinine," Griffin said. "When kids are getting attacked in the way they are, and in particular [the way] Zion was, this type of thing is going to happen."

This news comes a week after a no-call between Williamson and Denver Nuggets center and MVP candidate Nikola Jokic cost the Pelicans a game. Replay showed Jokic making contact with Williamson's hand and head with 2.2 seconds remaining, but officials didn't call a foul, sealing New Orleans' fate. 

This isn't the first time Williamson hasn't gotten a call, and according to Griffin, it likely won't be the last, which begs the question: Does the league treat physical players fairly?

The 20-year-old Williamson has taken the NBA by storm with his unique skill set in this modern era. 

He is averaging 27 points, 7.2 rebounds and 3.7 assists per game this season – the highest PPG ever by any player shooting 60%+ in a season – and the records don’t stop there. 

Williamson is one of only four players to score more than 2,000 points in their first 85 games (2187) over the last 40 seasons, second to only all-time great Michael Jordan (2387). 

He is the fourth-youngest player to play in an All-Star game behind Kobe Bryant (19 years, 169 days), LeBron James (20 years, 52 days) and Magic Johnson (20 years, 173 days) and the youngest player in NBA history with 30 points on 90 percent shooting.

In his rookie season, Williamson became the first teenager in NBA history to score 20+ points in 10 consecutive games and currently ranks in the top 10 in the league in PPG and FG% (61.1). This season, Williamson has made more layups than any other player in the league by a landslide (441), and there’s no telling how high that number could have reached had he not been injured on Tuesday night. 

Williamson has the highest career PPG average through age 20 and is averaging 20.3 paint points this season, the most since Lakers legend Shaq in 1999-00.

Williamson has often drawn comparisons to Shaq, but unfortunately, not always for the best reasons. Shaq was also a player who dished out (and absorbed) a lot of contact, and it was often difficult for officials to determine who was the perpetrator and who was the victim when O'Neal ventured into the paint.

In a 2001 interview with Sports Illustrated, O'Neal discussed the disadvantage of being so physically strong that he could power through fouls, and thus they wouldn't be called by the refs.

"I'll tell you this," he said at the time, "it's going to be scary when I do start running people over because I have a lot of frustration to let go. I don't have a hit list or anything like that, but when I go after some people, I don't want to hear mouths running. Oh, why did Shaq do that? They're going to know why. I've been getting beat up for nine years, and maybe it's time to do some beating up."

Williamson, like Shaq, has a combination of quickness and strength that can make it hard for referees to tell what contact he is creating and what contact he is receiving.

Could this be history repeating itself? If so, NBA fans are once again missing out on watching a star this year, as Williamson joins a host of other stars who have missed time this season. They include:

- LeBron James, who re-injured his ankle last week after being sidelined for 20 consecutive games.
- Anthony Davis, who missed 30 games earlier this season.
Joel Embiid, who sat out 10 games this season with a bruised knee.
- Kevin Durant, who suffered a left thigh contusion in April.
- Jamal Murray, who is out of the season after injuring his knee.
- James Harden, who has played only five minutes since injuring his hamstring in late March.
LaMelo Ball, who missed 21 games with a broken wrist.

And that's the greatest shame of all.

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