The New Orleans Pelicans are extremely talented but lack an identity without Zion Williamson
NBA opening week finally arrived. It felt like an eternity since we last had basketball on our screens (the World Cup disappearance is erased from a lot of minds). The hype building up towards the season was like none other in recent memory.
Fans salivating over the new duos spread across the league, the distribution of talent across each team with no one team standing as the clear favorite and lastly the impending arrival of the No. 1 overall pick, Zion Williamson.
This past June, the NBA world saw the New Orleans Pelicans change their whole future in a matter of three days. Going from an afterthought to a potential darkhorse in a loaded Western Conference.
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But Are They? Flashback to the start of the whole revamped look.
On June 17, former Pelicans big man and franchise cornerstone Anthony Davis was traded to the Los Angeles Lakers for a huge package. Three days later, June 20, Zion Williamson was drafted with the first overall pick. The Pelicans were beginning the building of a young but very talented team.
Next, via free agency, they then acquired European stretch-big Nicolo Melli, sharpshooter JJ Redick who is aging like wine and a defensive stalwart in Derrick Favors. The addition of those three plus the multitude of talent they’ve drafted, this team has a lot of depth to work with.
Then, opening night happened and despite the overload of depth they lost, they would’ve greatly appreciated Williamson’s presence.
Williamson, after four strong preseason games, posted averages of 23.3 ppg on 71.4 percent shooting from the field. He jumped out the gate executing well-timed cuts, crashing the inside of the opposing defenses getting to the rim and performing lob sessions with his backcourt teammates, giving fans hope of what’s to come.
But he didn’t suit up for the final preseason game.
There is already a slight concern in the Bayou that Williamson is already out with injury. Hopefully, this is not another case of “bust-itis.” We’ve seen in the past a big man with knee issues bow out the league at the No. 1 pick, that being Greg Oden. Williamson is a physical specimen whose body may or may not hold up in the long run.
Former Big Baller Brand partner and former friend of point guard Lonzo Ball, Alan Foster, recently came out with news of a hidden injury the Pelicans are hiding about Ball’s ankle injury. Whether it is true or not remains to be found out.
Injury scares are nothing to play with. That is what affected the Pelicans in prior years, even besides the poor drafting and lack of big-name free agents to come play with the stars. Davis was often injured a lot, DeMarcus Cousins injured his Achilles right before it was playoff time, and former point guard Chris Paul in one of his early prime years had knee issues too resulting in a missed playoff appearance.
Williamson and Ball aren’t the only ones with injury issues on this team. Brandon Ingram has had his fair share of injury issues his last two seasons having not appeared in over 60 games since his rookie year. He is off to a good start through the first two games of the young season averaging 22/5/5 on efficient shooting stats. He looks like he is finally emerging into that potential alpha scorer. Something fans have been longing for from the former No. 2 overall pick.
Through the first two games where the Pelicans ended up on the wrong side, the only players looking the part is Ingram and another Lakers-trade acquisition Josh Hart. The team has lost both games by a combined 15 points. Backcourt duo Jrue Holiday and Lonzo Ball are both shooting sub-.500 from the field. Rookie Nickeil Alexander-Walker has been shooting bricks, the lights have apparently been too bright.
The backcourt has more rebounds than their frontcourt. Coach Alvin Gentry has been deploying lineups of mostly guards. His big men being ineffective. None being able to keep up with Toronto Raptor’s Pascal Siakam who went off for a strong 34 points and grabbed 18 rebounds in the 130-122 Raptors win.
The present says the Pelicans will not be able to compete in the West. Simply because of Williamson’s inability to stay on the court and the lack of a co-scorer next to Ingram. Back-to-back national TV losses say coach Gentry should alternate the lineups around in certain game-time situations. Another early concern is a team with so much defensive potential can’t be allowing 120-plus points scored on them so easily.
We will see what the future of the Pelicans will be as the season proceeds. Right now they look like a team without an identity.