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Are the Pelicans the Team to Beat in the West?

The New Orleans Pelicans made headlines in the early hours of the morning when Zion Williamson sent the crowd home happy with an explosive windmill dunk in the final seconds. Several Phoenix Suns had an issue with the play, which led to a scuffle between the two teams. This article has no intention of debating basketball’s ‘unwritten rules’ with members of the Suns’ rotation. Instead, let’s make sure we are paying attention to the Pelicans for the right reasons. Is this team a threat to win the West?

Are the Pelicans the Team to Beat in the West?

Zion is Back

The foot injury that kept Williamson out of the entire 2021-22 season was a significant concern for this team coming into the year. Would he show the same athleticism and explosiveness upon his return? It seems that the answer is a resounding yes. After 20 games, Zion matches nearly all his 2020-21 numbers. The points per game are down, but that can be attributed to the talent around Williamson. His rising assist numbers speak to that as well. How about the athleticism? Williamson is averaging a career-high in steals so far. He is also averaging 32 minutes per game; the tape speaks for itself. Zion led the game against the Suns in scoring with 35 points. 

Looking deeper into the numbers shows Williamson’s efficiency. He shot 13-17 from the floor and 9-12 from the free-throw line. He took no threes, which is great, considering that he hasn’t perfected that part of his game and shoots well below league average. Zion played 37 minutes while notching four assists to only two turnovers. The Pelicans leaned on Williamson against the Suns, and he didn’t disappoint, earning a +30 in his time on the court. 

The Depth of the New Orleans Pelicans

Of course, Zion has been great, but a team can’t make a run like this on the back of 24.5 points per game. The real strength of the Pelicans is their depth. Starting with the starters, CJ McCollum is a quality third option capable of winning games throughout the year with the occasional 30-40 point outburst. Jonas Valanciunas is a steady big man with some touch and ball skills near the basket and regularly cleans the glass. Herbert Jones is a strong defender capable of creating instant offense. Brandon Ingram is a star worthy of a section of his own. 

The role players have been called upon recently with injuries to Jones and Ingram. Jose Alvarado had 20 points against the Suns. He leads New Orleans with 1.3 steals per game and averages 10 points per contest. Larry Nance Jr. brings a veteran defensive presence to the team. He leads the Pelicans in blocks per game and, on average, creates just under two turnovers a game for them. Trey Murphy III has done well with his opportunities, earning 13 starts due to injuries. He’s scoring 13 points per game to date, fifth best on the roster. Murphy is a sharpshooter, currently converting on 40.6% of his three-point attempts and 95.5% on free throws. While these numbers may regress, Murphy is poised for a leap in his sophomore season.

What Happens When Brandon Ingram Returns?

One of the most impressive factors of the New Orleans Pelicans’ early-season run is how much of it has been done without Brandon Ingram. The former All-Star and 2019-20 Most Improved Player has only played in 15 games this year. Ingram is battling a toe injury, and the Pelicans have been cautious with his return. While Ingram’s numbers are down across the board, expect that to change once he is healthy. The former Laker will be a star in this league. It’s easy to forget that this seven-year veteran only turned 25 a few months ago. 

There may be a short-term slide once everyone is healthy. The Pelicans best starting five has only played 10 games together this year. It’s fair to assume that there will be some growing pains as everyone adjust to their roles with a full squad. However, this offense will be a matchup nightmare in the long run. Ingram and Williamson can destroy their matchup inside the arc, and defenses can’t afford to take their eyes off of McCollum and Murphy. Valanciunas and Nance provide second-chance opportunities, and Alvarado is known around the league for the creative ways that he generates offense. 

The Last Word on the New Orleans Pelicans

The Pelicans will face the Suns again tonight with a chance to prove that the last meeting was no fluke. Regardless of the outcome, don’t be surprised to see the New Orleans Pelicans hosting a playoff series when the postseason begins.



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