Zion Williamson and the Pelicans will be fun to watch, but are they good?
New Orleans is already on everybody’s League Pass must-watch list — they are going to put on a fireworks show every night they step on the court. We see that already in team scrimmages.
Zion Williamson has generated excitement and has New Orleans buzzing — 10,000 people showed up to watch the team’s informal scrimmage over the weekend.
There is a wave of energy around this team that New Orleans fans are ready to ride.
The Pelicans will be fun, no doubt, but will they be any good?
Could they be in the mix for a playoff spot in the West?
That might be asking a lot — this was a 33-win team a season ago that made major roster changes and is banking on a lot of young players, plus they are playing in a West deep with quality teams. New Orleans is in the tier of teams that needs everything to go right this season to have a chance to be in the playoff mix. Maybe the best comparison is last-seasons League Pass darlings, the Sacramento Kings, who won 39 games and hung around the fringes of the playoffs until late in the season.
Make no mistake, however, the Pelicans are going to be respectably good, this is not a rebuilding team that is a nightly pushover. Teams are going to have to earn their wins against the Pelicans.
That’s in part because of a good mix of veterans. Jrue Holiday at the guard spot is a borderline All-Star player who averaged 21.2 points and 7.7 assists per game last season. J.J. Redick is in the mix at the guard spot and will be there to wear opponents down chasing him off screens, then draining the three anyway. The Pelicans added a solid big man in the paint in Derrick Favors, and they have guys like E’Twaun Moore coming off the bench.
This should be a lock-down, top-10 defensive team the Pelicans put out on the court. Holiday and Lonzo Ball form one of the better defensive backcourts in the NBA, Favors and Zion are good rim protectors, and while Brandon Ingram isn’t known for his defense he’s long, athletic, and can play within the system. Also remember, the Pelicans hired Jeff Bzdelik — the guy behind the Rockets defense when it was good the past couple of seasons — to be an assistant coach running that end of the floor.
New Orleans’ offense makes a lot of sense when the Pelicans get out in transition — and they will do that a lot. Last season the Pelicans played at the second-fastest pace in the league (103.9 possessions per game) but were 12th in percentage of offense in transition, in part because they just weren’t efficient finishing those plays (28th in the NBA in transition efficiency, stat via Cleaning the Glass).
Expect that to change this season — the Pelicans should be beasts in transition. Ball is at his best playing on instinct in the open court, and with Williamson and Ingram there are athletic finishers to close out plays. Holiday is very good in transition as well. This is when the Pelicans will be fun. Ball needs to finish better at the rim and develop a little floater to score in the paint, but in transition New Orleans will put on a show and be hard to stop.
In the halfcourt, the offense will be tougher to fit together. Ingram has been his best in isolation with the ball in his hands, but that’s not going to happen as much as he likely wants (he’s in a contract year and wants his numbers). Ball needs to hit shots to space the floor. With Redick and Holiday the Pelicans have shooting threats and veterans to run the offense, Favors can get them a solid 12 points a night, but it may take a while to find a rhythm when the game slows down.
The Pelicans bench was an issue in years past, but this season with payers such as Moore and Josh Hart, plus Redick probably comes off the bench, there is a lot more depth on this roster. Coach Alvin Gentry will have some room to experiment with lineups and rotations.
The Pelicans are going to be a nightly fireworks show on the court. They are going to be good and difficult to score against. Saying playoffs is probably jumping the gun, but this is the time to watch the Pelicans and get in on the ground floor of something that could be special.