The Pelicans entered the offseason after a tumultuous and largely lost season that resulted in the trading of Anthony Davis to the Los Angeles Lakers. Having consistently failed to build a contender around the Bayou’s prodigal son, Davis demanded a trade on January 28th. The cloud hanging over the Pelicans was finally lifted as the trade period opened this offseason, but as one star departed another entered stage left. The Pelicans drafted Zion Williamson with the 1st overall pick and completely restructured their team around the Flying Dukeman.
The Pelican’s new General Manager and well-known NBA magician, David Griffin, has constructed a young team with intriguing potential to overachieve. The Davis trade saw Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, Josh Hart and a plethora of first round picks (including the 4th overall pick) head to the Big Easy.
In my opinion, Ball projects as the best fit around Williamson with his ability to create for others and initiate transition offense in a flash. His defensive potential at the guard spot is through the roof and he has all the physical tools to take the next step in a (hopefully) healthy third season. Ingram has always been a question mark to me, no doubt he has the tools to be a scorer at multiple levels in the NBA but his struggles shooting from the perimeter as well as his lack lustre creation out of pick and roll mark him as a huge uncertainty but with high potential. Hart coincidentally has consistently shown the ability to defend with grit and intensity, whilst his 3 point shooting has waxed and waned, he has shot a reasonable percentage (34%) on 4 attempts per game. As a quaternary scorer in a 3 and D role Hart could surprise a lot of people in 2019/20.
To fill in the roster gaps, the Pelicans drafted spring loaded Centre Jaxon Hayes and utility point guard Nickeil Alexander-Walker. Hayes impressed with his leaping ability, flashing upside as a rim runner and lob finisher, his defence and touch around the basket leave much to be desired and his shooting needs to impress if he’s to project as a long term fit next to Williamson.
Alexander-Walker (cousin of Shai Gilgeous-Alexander) was outstanding throughout summer league, posting averages of 24 points, 4 rebounds and 6 assists on an impressive shooting clip from 3. His pick and roll prowess should fit well with Williamson as a roll man, if he can grow defensively he could provide immediate value as a combo guard off the bench.
Griffin didn’t stand pat as the offseason wore on, signing JJ Redick (2 years/$26 million) and picking up Derrick Favors in a sign and trade for the price of 2 second round picks. Both Redick and Favors provide desperately needed shooting and defence respectively and their veteran presence will be sorely needed amongst the Pelicans’ youth.
Lest we forget their former all-star: Jrue Holiday. Jrue Holiday’s presence cannot be overstated, and his pick and roll ability should unlock a lot of potential for the Pels’ young core.
The run and gun style of Gentry’s 2018/19 squad should translate well to this year’s iteration of the Pelicans, their started lineup projects currently as:
PG Jrue Holiday
SG JJ Redick
SF Brandon Ingram
PF Zion WIlliamson
C Derrick Favors
With Ball and Alexander-Walker hopefully providing sufficient ball handling off the bench coupled with the shooting of Hart and the physical presence of Hayes, this second unit could be fast paced and fun to watch.
The areas that the Pelicans will struggle will most likely be shooting, rebounding and interior defence. Neither Williamson, Favors or Hayes stretch the floor in any way and none are particularly intimidating as rim defenders, though Williamson projects as the best and most versatile defender of the group.
All in all, this Pelicans team could excite throughout many points this season. There will be times when shots just aren’t falling for this team, and whilst the defensive potential is intriguing, its far from proven at this point.
My Win/Loss prediction: 38 – 44
Best Player: While the easy bet is to go with Williamson here, he’s still an unproven commodity in the NBA and his flaws at this point are incredibly glaring.
Jrue Holiday stands out from the crowd in this Pelicans team and he remains one of the league’s top point guards. Holiday has improved his playmaking, shooting and mid-range game while remaining a dogged stalwart on defence. He is, in my opinion, the best defensive guard in the NBA.
Head Coach: Alvin Gentry is entering his 16th season as an NBA head coach and his 30th season combined (assistant coach & head coach) and will likely be looking to employ Williamson similarly to how he incorporated Davis. Gentry’s defensive scheme hinges on gritty perimeter defenders coupled with bigs who can contain the pick and roll in a switching system. Holiday and Redick are an intriguing fit defensively, with Redick likely getting picked on by opposing offenses. Because of this expect to see a lot of Brandon Ingram defending opposing shooting guards and a “switch everything involving JJ” approach at the defensive end of the floor. Williamson and Favors can both excel in a switching system as fleet footed defenders with larger frames. The offense for Gentry is more of a question mark moving forward, can they succeed with Ingram as a ball dominant creator, and will the lack of shooting affect Williamson’s ability to create for himself? The Pelicans liked to use Davis as an isolator from the mid-post and as a roll man in the 2-man game. Look for them to use Williamson to similar effect, though an added benefit of youth is the ability to run endlessly; I would expect this Pelicans’ team to rank in the top 5 for transition offense this year.
P.S Coast to Coast favourite Jahlil Okafor is still under contract for the Pelicans and could provide an interesting look offensively at centre next to Williamson. In the words of Zac Vogue “FREE JAH”.