New Orleans Pelicans – Contenders or Pretenders?

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The New Orleans Pelicans have been much improved since the All-Star break. A lot of this, of course, can be attributed to their acquisition of CJ McCollum at the trade deadline. Their run has vaulted them into the thick of things in the play-in tournament, although there’s still a lot of work to be done.

New Orleans Pelicans – Contenders or Pretenders?

Current Standings

New Orleans currently sits at 10 in the Western Conference standings. This places them right in the play-in tournament. It won’t be an easy ride should they make the play-in, however, as they’ll have to win three games in a row to make the final eight.

The Los Angeles Lakers are right above the Pelicans. The Lakers’ struggles have been well-documented but simply put no team wants to play against LeBron James, regardless of his age, in a do-or-die match-up. Things can get more interesting should Anthony Davis be available.

As of now, the eighth and seventh seeds belong to the LA Clippers and Minnesota Timberwolves, respectfully. LA continues to impress while Minnesota’s core is strong. It won’t be easy for the Pelicans should they make the play-in.

Strengths

New Orleans’ main strength, at least right now, is their scoring prowess under McCollum and Brandon Ingram. Both players can explode for 30+ points in any given game. McCollum is averaging 22 points per game this season while Ingram is averaging about 23. Trading for McCollum gave New Orleans more of a dynamic playmaking threat as well. Devonte’ Graham is a solid player, but he can’t be relied upon to lead an offense on his own.

Another one of the Pelicans’ strengths is at the five spot. Jonas Valanciunas remains one of the league’s more underrated players. This season he’s averaging about 18 points, 11 boards, and a block per game. As good as Valanciunas is inside, he’s also an outside threat shooting close to 37 percent from deep.

Weaknesses

First and foremost, the modern NBA game revolves around shooting the three. New Orleans struggles with this. As of right now, they rank 27th in the league in three-point percentage. Only the Orlando Magic, Detroit Pistons, and Oklahoma City Thunder are worse. With this being said, McCollum, Ingram, and Valanciunas are still major three-point threats.

New Orleans can also play a tad sloppy at times, as they’re 20th in the league when it comes to turnovers. They’ll have to avoid their high number of turnovers in a potential play-in match-up.

The team also remains a tad inexperienced, with rookies such as Herbert JonesTrey Murphy III, and Jose Alvarado getting plenty of minutes. This is not necessarily a weakness, but they’ll be inexperienced compared to a team such as the Lakers.

The New Orleans Pelicans X-Factor

There’s no question here – Zion Williamson is the Pelicans’ x-factor. Williamson has not played all season, but recent news is trending positive concerning his return. If truly healthy, he has the ability to completely change the Pelicans’ trajectory.

Last season Williamson averaged about 27 points, seven boards, and four assists per game. The 2019 NBA Draft number one overall pick has plenty of superstar potential and playing at least close to what he did last season makes the Pelicans a serious play-in threat.

Final Verdict for the New Orleans Pelicans

On paper, if healthy, New Orleans is very solid. Williamson, McCollum, and Ingram are stars. Valanciunas is one of the better starting fives in the game. Role players such as Graham and Jones, among others, give plenty of life as well. This team can be a threat, and have improved recently, but overall they remain a pretender.

If McCollum and Ingram can figure out their fit together, and if Williamson is fully healthy, things can change.

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