How a recent four-game win streak could re-solidify the New Orleans Pelicans’ commitment to winning this year and change the way the front office operates
Once the regular season started, the on-court product didn’t quite live up to that anticipation and excitement. A preseason injury to Zion Williamson has sidelined him for the duration of this season, injuries and inconsistent play had riddled Jrue Holiday’s season, and Lonzo Ball could not seem to capitalize on his publicized new shooting form.
These issues, among others, culminated to the New Orleans Pelicans starting the season off with a 6-22 record and a 13-game losing streak. Fans were calling for Alvin Gentry to be fired and NBA pundits began questioning if David Griffin should change course for the future. Trade destinations were hypothesized for Jrue Holiday and JJ Redick with the goal of further adding to the myriad of draft assets owned by the Pelicans.
Insert a 6-3 run which included a four-game win streak, victories over Houston and the Nuggets, and a controversial loss to the Jazz. Lonzo Ball has played the best basketball of his career; shooting 42.4 percent from 3 during the stretch and averaging 23.5 points, 7.5 assists, and four rebounds per game in January. Brandon Ingram has cemented himself on the shortlist for the Most Improved Player of the Year.
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Derrick Favors has inserted a veteran presence in the frontcourt and eaten up rebounds. Lastly, yes, Zion Williamson is finally expected to return this month as well. After a tumultuous start and a small gleam of hope, the Pelicans find themselves only four games out of the playoffs in the Western Conference.
This begs the question, should David Griffin and the front office remain committed to winning this season or fall into the media-imposed pressure to trade players to harvest more assets?
Zion’s return this month could not be timed any better. This will allow the Pelicans to view not only how the face of their franchise meshes with certain players, but it also gives them one month to see how he may impact their winning with roughly one month before the trade deadline.
Plenty of teams from 8-14 in the West could become sellers closer to the deadline, opening up more spots for the Pelicans to climb. With their currently constructed roster, if Zion can insert even a fraction of his hyped production, the Pelicans could find themselves amplifying this 6-3 stretch and climbing closer to that playoff appearance.
Tanking is not always the ideal route when building a franchise either. Sure, it could lead to higher lottery odds, but remember that the Pelicans won last year’s lottery with the 7th worst odds. The players they acquired from the Lakers have appeared to develop more in the past three weeks than they did during two years of losing in Los Angeles.
Even the worst-case scenario of missing the playoffs and playing themselves out of a top-5 pick would still leave the Pelicans with 10 first-round picks over the next six years (with varying protections).
This team already has the infrastructure and assets to promote a promising future. Their best course of action for this season is to insert Zion into the rotation with the ultimate goal of making and competing in the playoffs. At the very least it would make for some captivating first-round action.