The top-seeded New Orleans Pelicans are real NBA Finals contenders

New Orleans Pelicans duo (Andrew Wevers-USA TODAY Sports)
New Orleans Pelicans duo (Andrew Wevers-USA TODAY Sports) /

Despite some understandable outside skepticism, the top-seeded New Orleans Pelicans are real NBA Finals contenders. 

At last year’s NBA Trade Deadline, when the New Orleans Pelicans acquired C.J. McCollum from the Portland Trail Blazers, I didn’t really understand what the team was trying to do. However, that foreshadowing of a move has truly paid off for the Pelicans so far this season.

Through the first (let’s say) third of the season, the Pelicans have consistently been the best team in the Western Conference. They are sitting as the top seed in the West with an 18-8 record. Specifically, over the last couple of weeks, the Pelicans have truly rounded into form. They’re 12-2 in their last 14 games and have an even better net rating during that stretch (tops in the league) than the world-beaters that the Boston Celtics have been so far this season.

Overall this season, the Pelicans have a top 5 offense, defense, and net rating. Even in games when they haven’t had their full assortment of payers available, the Pelicans, more often than not, are still finding ways to win.

That’s perhaps the team’s most impressive characteristic through their early-season success.

The New Orleans Pelicans have the right mix to wreak havoc in the Western Conference

It may be odd to hear or see that the Pelicans are sitting on top of the West standings right now. But these are not the Pelicans of old. This Pelicans roster is dangerous, young, and extremely talented.

And it all starts with one of the most overlooked stars in the league, Bandon Ingram. He hasn’t been his best this season but Ingram is still averaging 21 points, five rebounds, and five assists on 47 percent shooting from the field overall and 47 percent from 3-point range.

Oh, and he’s been the team’s second-best player so far this season.

Zion Williamson, who has been pretty healthy so far this season, has been at the forefront of the Pelicans’ ascension in the West. He’s averaging 27 points, seven rebounds, and four assists per game on 61 percent shooting from the field. Here’s the key stat – he’s played in 21 of the team’s 26 games so far this season.

The aforementioned McCollum has been the backcourt leader that the team has needed. In his first full season with the Pelicans, he’s averaging 18 points, six assists, and five rebounds on 41 percent shooting from the field.

New Orleans may not have the biggest names in their big three, but together, they average 66 points, 17 rebounds, and 15 assists per game. You can put those numbers against some of the other bigger names in the league and they hold up.

The Pelicans may still have some big issues in their supporting cast, but they have a top-10 bench-scoring unit and a group that is still improving overall. The fact that six of the top nine contributors for the Pelicans are all under the age of 25 makes this team that much more dangerous and intriguing.

The one big qualifier for this team revolves around health. If they can remain healthy, the Pelicans have the look of a team that is going to pose some big problems for the rest of the contenders in the West.

It remains to be seen whether the Pelicans have the experience and depth to not only remain as a top 3 seed in the West through to the playoffs, or even navigate a deep run once they get there, but one thing has been clear throughout their impressive early success.

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And it’s that the Pelicans are talented enough to compete with the top-level competition in the league when healthy. The young Pelicans have finally grown up. They’re here, they’re for real, and they seem to be a problem.