Everything in New Orleans revolves around Zion Williamson, from his superstar turn in his second season last year to his reported unhappiness with the franchise. Williamson is already one of the league’s best scorers as he turns 21 years old. Now the next step is leading his team into the playoffs. New Orleans acquired a productive big man in Jonas Valanciunas and some pull-up shooting in Devonte’ Graham, but they also lost a valuable two-way piece in Lonzo Ball. While Williamson gets all the attention, Brandon Ingram’s development as his sidekick could determine if their postseason dreams are legitimate.
The Pelicans make the playoffs and win a first-round series in the process. Despite lacking a large quantity of familiar names and “losing free agency,” the talent in New Orleans coalesces nicely around Zion Williamson and Brandon Ingram. A lot of the younger players, like Nickeil Alexander-Walker and Jaxson Hayes, take that proverbial next step, and the amount of buy-in under new head coach Willie Green leads to better offensive efficiency plus a much improved defense.
Thanks to poor performance, key injuries or both, the Pelicans miss the play-in tournament, largely learning their fate well before the final week of the season. David Griffin gets fired. Instability seemingly continues to reign supreme. And with Zion Williamson missing the playoffs in each of his first three seasons in the league, the noise becomes deafening in regards to his bleak future in New Orleans. It reaches a point where it’s discussed nationally on at least several prominent outlets every week during the next offseason.
The Pelicans make the play-in tournament comfortably enough, and come mighty close to reaching the playoffs — if not squeezing in entirely. Individually, Zion Williamson displays an expanded game, Brandon Ingram shows greater determination defensively, and several young Pelicans show promising development. With such a young and talented team, the most likely outcome is natural improvement that results in more victories.
Watching the newest additions in Trey Murphy III and Herbert Jones. The two rookies possess very useful NBA-ready skills along with that necessary competitive fire. Coming off a 50/40/90 season last year at the University of Virginia, Murphy has flashed his deadly outside proficiency in summer league, training camp, and preseason. As for Jones, there exists a phrase already for his defensive exploits, “Not on Herb” — that says everything you need to know.
Trey Murphy III