The 2023-24 season is crucial for the New Orleans Pelicans. The Pelicans have been “all-in” on the duo of Zion Williamson and Brandon Ingram for the past four seasons. While the Pels have finished in the top 10 in the last two seasons, it is a far cry from the hype surrounding the organization since the duo’s pairing. There are real questions about whether the Pelicans should go forward with the pair or deal either Williamson or Ingram. The biggest question heading into the season is whether Williamson will be in shape and be able to stay healthy.
2023-2024 NBA Power Rankings Offseason Edition: No. 18 New Orleans Pelicans
New Orleans finished ninth in the Western Conference last season with a 42-40 record, a six-game improvement over the previous season. But the Oklahoma City Thunder eliminated the Pelicans from playoff contention in the Western Conference’s 9-10 play-in game. The 42 victories were the Pels’ most since 2017-18, when they won 48 games.
CJ McCollum led the way for the Pelicans as Ingram played in 45 games, and Williamson made 29 appearances. The Pels were 23-22 in the games Ingram played though the 26-year-old arguably had his best season and posted six double-doubles and two triple-doubles. They were 17-12 with Williamson in the lineup, who scored the ball well and registered five double-doubles.
Ingram and Williamson played 12 games together a year ago, with New Orleans posting a 7-5 record. The duo has been in the lineup together 93 times since teaming up. The inability of Ingram and Williamson to stay healthy is the primary reason that the Pels begin the year at No. 18 in my power rankings.
However, if everything goes right, there is no reason to expect New Orleans will not make a meteoric rise up the rankings. The Pelicans return 11 of their top 12 players from a team that finished sixth in defensive rating last year. While the Pels had issues with turnovers, they were a slightly better-than-average shooting team. Defensively, they did an outstanding job forcing turnovers.
McCollum and Jonas Valanciunas are solid veteran complimentary players. Trey Murphy III produced a career year last year, while Herb Jones and Naji Marshall showed some growth in their development. Jose Alvarado was a surprise last season, and Dyson Daniels, who the Pelicans took with the eighth pick in the 2022 draft, is expected to take a significant step in his development.
New Orleans Summer League
New Orleans had a successful summer league session in Las Vegas. The Pelicans went 3-2 in five games, but more importantly, most of their youngsters showed some growth.
Dereon Seaborn, who had a cup of coffee with the Pels last year, returns to the team on a two-way deal. The 23-year-old guard led the way for the team in Vegas, producing 17.2 points, 6.6 rebounds, and 3.0 assists while committing 3.2 turnovers. Seabron often got to the free-throw line and shot 56.7% from the field. He scored in double-figures in all five appearances, topping the 20-point mark twice.
Daniels struggled mightily offensively last year though he was pretty good on the defensive end. The 20-year-old guard, who played in last year’s Rising Star game, struggled shooting the ball but was very good on both ends during the summer league. He produced two double-doubles and averaged 14.6 points, 7.2 rebounds, and 6.4 assists in five appearances. Daniels scored in double-figures five times, doled out eight assists three times, and grabbed double-figure rebounds twice.
Jordan Hawkins, New Orleans’ first-round pick this year, struggled mightily on both ends. Known as a shooter at UConn, Hawkins recorded a shooting slash line of .319/.250/.550 in Vegas. He did score in double-figures three times and 12.8 points a game.
E.J. Liddell, a 2022 second-round draft pick of the Pelicans, returned to the court during the summer, one year after tearing his ACL in Las Vegas in 2022. Liddell was highly efficient during his four appearances. EJ was fantastic around the rim and got to the free-throw line. He averaged 12.7 points with a shooting slash line of .552/.167/1.000.
Best Offseason Decision: Not Applicable
New Orleans didn’t do much this summer. They essentially exchanged Jaxson Hayes (Lakers) and Willy Hermangomez (Europe) for Cody Zeller and Liddell, who had his two-contract converted to a standard one. Zeller is a reliable veteran, but not sure how much he will play. He will be behind Valanciunas and Larry Nance Jr on the depth chart.
Worst Offseason Decision: Extending Herb Jones
Not saying that New Orleans wasn’t going to re-sign Jones anyways, but they could have waited until next season. Jones was slated to make a little less than $2 million this year. Instead, they essentially tore that deal up to sign him to a four-year, $53.8 million contract. Jones has been a starter the last two years after being a second-round pick out of Alabama and earned all-Rookie honors in 2021. Now he is locked in through 2026-27.
Jones is a good defender due to his length and athletics. He is not great offensively, averaging 9.8 points with a shooting slash line of .467/.335/.764. Jones scored double-figures in 32 of his 66 appearances, including three games of 20 or more points. While he posted a +2.9 plus-minus rating, Jones is not a good rebounder, as he produced just one double-digit game. New Orleans posted a 31-35 record in games that Jones played.
Here is more from The Athletic’s John Hollinger when asked what he thought about Jones’ extension instead of waiting.
“I wasn’t crazy about it just because they didn’t have the money. Because of their tax position and the fact they boosted Jones’s salary by more than $10 million, they took themselves out of using the midlevel exception for any other help and probably will have to give up a draft pick just to get rid of [Kira] Lewis. Those are considerable collateral costs to signing Jones to this extension.”
“I get the idea of locking him up early for midlevel exception money, especially looking ahead at their future cap challenges, but this strategy is only a win if you think he has a big shooting jump in his future. History tells us that non-shooters struggled to get paid in free agency, especially the type of money that would have been necessary to turn this into a win for the Pels. He’d have to become a $20 million player this year for the extension to make sense.”
What’s Next: Trading Kira Lewis Jr.
New Orleans has 14 players under contract, and their roster appears relatively set. While the Hornets still have some open training camp slots and a two-way spot left, they have been looking to dump Lewis all off-season. Lewis, taken by the Pels with the 13th pick in 2020, is slated to make $5.7 million in the final year of his deal. Ridding themselves of Lewis would give New Orleans nearly $10 million of “play money” before entering the luxury tax.
Lewis returned to basketball in December, nearly a year after tearing his ACL. The 6-1 point guard, who is more of a scorer than a playmaker, averaged 4.6 points with a slash line of .455/.441/.846 in 10 minutes of action over 25 appearances last season.