As a team that has often dwelled in the doldrums of the NBA, the New Orleans Pelicans aren’t always a buzzword during the draft and free agency frenzy. Usually, they are happy to slide under the radar, picking up the scraps after the big teams swoop up the tastiest prey.
This year was different. First, they hit the draft lottery jackpot, in a year where the first prize was the generational Zion Williamson. Then, they traded away star Anthony Davis to the Los Angeles Lakers for a pretty penny. And finally, they rounded out their new and improved squad with some astute free agency signings.
Overall, the turnover was significant. Davis joined fellow rotational pieces Nikola Mirotic, Julius Randle, Elfrid Payton and Ian Clark through the exit door, a bundle of legitimate players who could leave a glaring hole in any squad. But the Pelicans rebounded well, replacing them with Williamson and his rookie comrades Nickeil Alexander-Walker and Jaxson Hayes, former Lakers trio Brandon Ingram, Lonzo Ball and Josh Hart, and new signings JJ Redick, Derrick Favors and Nicolo Melli.
Those new faces are exciting, but they will still play second fiddle to their new leader in Jrue Holiday. The one-time All-Star and two-time All-Defensive Team member will take the torch from Davis as the go-to guy on both ends of the court. If his last few seasons are an accurate track record, he will handle it just fine. Holiday was amazing again last season, averaging a career-high 21.2 points per game and chipping in 7.7 assists, 5 rebounds and 1.6 steals to round out an awesome stat line.
With the changes in place, there is a new hoops identity in The Big Easy. This team isn’t going to splash triples like the heavyweights of the modern era, but they are going to run teams off their feet and put the shackles on defensively. With a troop of young athletes with gangly limbs to match, the Pelicans are perfectly constructed to play a run-and-gun offense and a switch-heavy, lockdown defense.
In 2017-18 the New Orleans Pelicans finished first in pace of play and backed that up with a second-place finish last season. Head coach Alvin Gentry was the puppet master in both of those campaigns and he will be licking his lips at the thought of a streamlined squad that can implement his vision to its fullest capability.
Even with fast movers and savvy defenders, New Orleans’ outlook isn’t all sunshine and roses. Their aforementioned shooting woes will play a part in its fair share of losses this season. They can outgun teams below or around their level, but simple mathematics dictates it will be an uphill battle to overcome the best sniping teams in the competition, even with sharpshooter JJ Redick in tow.
That rings truer than ever in the Western Conference, where the standings will resemble an 82-game dog fight. The Pelicans’ youthful exuberance will be breath of fresh air for a city that has been trapped in basketball mediocrity for the better part of their franchise’s history. However, it can only prop them up for so long. They will likely fall victim to their inexperience over the course of a long season, but that shouldn’t be regarded as a disappointment.
The Pelicans have forgone a full-blown rebuild and retooled themselves into one of, if not the, most impressive young core in NBA. Williamson has some of the lowest bust potential of any draft pick in the last decade and Ball and Ingram should continue to grow and flourish outside of the bright lights and piercing criticism of Hollywood.
That’s without even mentioning their lesser alluded to rookies Jaxson Hayes and Nickeil Alexander-Walker. The former is a rim-running, shot-blocking giant who flashed a new and smooth-looking 3-point shot in his Summer League debut. With a bevy of big men to contend with for minutes this season, Hayes may not get much time to show his worth but make no mistake he has a place in this league and will eventually become a fan favorite in Nawlins.
Alexander-Walker, on the other hand, looks like less of a project and more of a first-year impact player. The combo guard was electric in Vegas, dominating the Summer League to the tune of 24 points, 6 assists and 4.8 rebounds per night.
Add those two to the already promising New Orleans Pelicans core and you have a whole lot of fun. Even if this team doesn’t win enough games to sneak into the Western Conference playoffs, fun will be their mantra. They are an instant league pass favorite who should produce enough highlights and hefty box scores to keep their fans glued to the screen.