Predicted finish: 10th in the West (3rd in the Southwest, 17 in the power rankings)
Last seasons conference finish: 13th
After so much hype about the entrance of Zion Williamson into the NBA, the payoff was minimal, at best. Williamson spent most of the season injured and although he showed flashes of something special when he returned pre-bubble, in the bubble he was a trainwreck. As he goes, this franchise goes. Outside of Zion, David Griffin and his staff have built an impressive young core. Brandon Ingram was an All-Star last season, Lonzo Ball showed real strides on his jumper and Kira Lewis Jr, Josh Hart, Nickeil Alexander-Walker and Jaxon Hayes make up a tantalizing group of prospects. They also have an interesting veteran nucleus around the kids, led by JJ Redick, Eric Bledsoe and Steven Adams. It’s pretty clear new head coach Stan Van Gundy has been handed a group management thinks is a playoff team, the question is will he be able to guide them there in year one.
The big question for the franchise: How good is Zion?
Last season in his limited action pre-bubble, Zion flatout lived up to the hype. However inside the bubble and before that action in February and March, the biggest fears were also answered. Williamson’s body and weight have long been a concern. For someone as explosive as he is, it begs the question if his joints can hold up with that much weight. In year one, they couldn’t. Now back for year two, Zion is down by many reports at least 25 pounds and has looked outstanding in the preseason. If Wiliamson can find a way to stay on the court this season, NOLA may just be a playoff team. Seriously, he’s that good. His explosiveness and strength around the rim is unlike really anyone in recent memory and his touch is nearly as good. If he adds even any kind of middle or long game and refunds how he played defensively at Duke, the possibilities appear endless. Of course to realize those he has to be on the court regularly and until he does, the question of how good he is will never fully be answered.
One move I want to see them make: Trade Eric Bledsoe
With young guys like Lewis, Ball and Alexander-Walker, I just don’t get why Bledsoe is still here. It feels to me like the Pelicans are trying too hard to be good in 2021 instead of 2022 and beyond and it worries me. The Steven Adams trade and extension was frankly one of the worst moves in the offseason to me. I can’t think of a big more likely to clash with Zion’s skill set than Adams but of course he and Bledsoe help them win now so who cares? Time and again we see NBA teams make these win now moves and it rarely, if ever works out. Please trade Bledsoe and give the young guys minutes. He’s 31, 11 years older than Zion, and stealing minutes from guys who need them. I like Griff a lot but Bledsoe and Adams are textbook shortsighted stupid NBA moves.
Offseason Grade: C-
They got a boat load of picks from Milwaukee which was awesome until Giannis signed and now they’ve acquired four different 28th picks, whoopty freaking doo. Then I thought at least they’d flip Bledsoe for an asset because of the minutes he would take from Ball and Lewis. Nope. So then it would make sense to trade Ball since Bledsoe is the starting PG right? Nope. So now they have a log jam at guard and for what reason? It gets dumber though because the Admas trade is completely illogical. How can a centre with no jumpshot play with a power forward who needs space in the paint? Then they doubled down on the dumb and extended Adams before they play a second together, what could go wrong? The saving grace of this offseason is despite the picks not being of great value, the total amount of them is probably the most Holiday could’ve gotten you so that’s a win and, the Lewis pick was good so there’s that as well. Overall, I frankly hated their offseason but they made some nice moves to still pass.
Young player I’m excited for: Lonzo Ball
Prior to the bubble Lonzo learned to shoot! Inside the bubble was a different story though which is why I’m so fascinated to see Ball this season. If he can remain a good shooter, his playmaking and defence make him a fascinating fit next to Zion. With no contract extension as well, Ball comes into the year in a prove it situation. Ball’s jumper will decide his fate next season and I for one am fascinated to see how it plays out.
It was a weird offseason in New Orleans but the good news is Zion is back healthy and that’s all that truly matters. This team to me feels low level playoff team good depending on Zion’s health of course. Until we know what that’ll be for sure, I’m hesitant to stamp this team in pen anywhere. All I know is I just can’t wait to watch Zion hoop again.