Following a four-month hiatus as a result of COVID-19, the NBA is getting ready for a long-anticipated league restart. Beginning on July 31st, the top 22 teams will compete at Disney World’s Wide World of Sports Complex in Orlando. Given that there will be a secured “bubble”, concerns over the spread of COVID-19, and no fans, it’s safe to say that this will be a season unlike any other. Taking the unique NBA landscape into consideration, the Last Word on Pro Basketball staff continues this contender or pretender series with the New Orleans Pelicans.
NBA Disney Contenders or Pretenders, New Orleans Pelicans
The Zion Williamson Factor
There’s no question that any hype surrounding the Pelicans stems from Zion Williamson’s presence. The 2019 NBA Draft’s first overall pick has only appeared in 19 games this season but has exceeded many already hefty expectations.
In less than 30 minutes per game, Williamson has averaged roughly 24 points, seven rebounds, and two assists per game. His pure athleticism and strength have stood out, and at only 20-years-old he’s already a match-up nightmare for the majority of forwards in the league.
Williamson started out on a minutes restriction, but the Pelicans haven’t necessarily been dominant with him. They’re 10-9 in his 19 games. It can be argued, however, that they were adjusting to a new rotation and play style. That’s still a winning record, after all.
He’s already a dominant player, however. His “worst” game of the season saw him put up 15 points and six boards in 21 minutes. The hiatus surely gave him more time to become healthy, so expect an even better version of Williamson when NBA Disney tips off.
The Supporting Cast
All focus will be on Williamson, but it can’t be forgotten that Brandon Ingram is an All-Star. Ingram has really blossomed this season after being traded from the Los Angeles Lakers. He’s averaged about 24 points, six rebounds, and three assists per game this season. Ingram can score on any defense and will be just as important as Williamson.
Jrue Holiday, of course, is a former All-Star as well. The combo guard can do it all – from being an elite perimeter defender to orchestrating plays on offense. He’s putting up strong numbers of about 20 points, seven assists, and five rebounds per game while playing both guard positions from time to time. Holiday is often discussed as one of the league’s most underrated players, so he’ll be playing with some time to prove.
Other members of the core supporting cast include Lonzo Ball, Derrick Favors, and JJ Redick. Ball has formed a strong connection with Williamson. Like Holiday, Ball is also a superb defender and has no problem finding open teammates. Favors has quietly averaged close to a double-double this season. He’s the underrated anchor of the Pelicans. Redick is the most experienced on the squad and remains an elite three-point shooter averaging 14 points per game.
The New Orleans Pelicans Must Be Ready from the Get-go
The Pelicans are currently 10th in the West. They’ll be competing with a few teams, most notably the Memphis Grizzlies and Portland Trail Blazers, for the conference’s eighth seed. They’re 3.5 games behind Memphis for eighth, but with only eight “regular season” games left. They can, however, qualify for the play-in games.
In the Pelican’s eight games, there are five very winnable games. Their first three games, however, will be tough.
First off, the Pelicans will be the first game of NBA Disney versus the Utah Jazz. The Jazz won’t be at full strength but remain a good team nonetheless. The second game, versus the Los Angeles Clippers, will likely be the toughest. The third game, versus the Grizzlies, will have huge implications. The Pelicans can’t afford to let up in any of their games.
New Orleans Pelicans Verdict: Pretender
It’s not even a given yet that the Pelicans will be in the playoffs. If they somehow make it, however, they will more than likely play the Lakers in the first round. They already played the Lakers twice with Williamson at full health and lost both times.
New Orleans has a very solid overall roster. Williamson, Ingram, and Ball are fantastic building blocks. With that being said, they’re still building blocks. They don’t have playoff experience yet and aren’t comparable to other team’s cores. The Pelicans could become a contender as soon as next season, but for now, they’re pretenders.
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