Overview of last season
It didn’t look good for the Pelicans to start the 2021-22 season. They started the season winning just three of their first 20 games. No one was quite sure when Zion Willamson was coming back. Brandon Ingram also couldn’t stay healthy.
They never got Zion Williamson back last season but they did manage to turn things around. Thanks to a midseason trade for CJ McCollum, the Pelicans had a tremendous 2022. They won 19 of their final 31 games to barge into the Play-In tournament where they climbed all the way to the eighth seed after beating the Clippers.
The playoffs featured plenty of solid moments, including Jose Alvarado punking Chris Paul. Though they couldn’t upset the Phoenix Suns, the Pelicans revived basketball in New Orleans.
What’s new this season?
Having Williamson healthy is the biggest change this season for the Pelicans. After numerous setbacks with his foot injury, Zion is in great shape and ready to pick up from where he last left a crater.
Other than extending Zion, there really weren't any big moves for the Pelicans to make in the offseason. They kept the core intact precisely to see what this roster can do with him in it.
The future of this franchise rests on the broad shoulders and fickle legs of Zion. It’s easy to forget how great he is when he plays since he’s only played 85 games in three seasons.
But in the 2020-2021 season, Zion was truly unstoppable, putting up 27.0 ppg on 61.1 percent shooting. That was Shaq-level dominance.
But the Pelicans do have other guys who think they are THE guy. Brandon Ingram could be New Orleans’ best shot-creator. McCollum has never lacked confidence. In big spots where Zion gets swarmed, the Pelicans have other guys to take big shots.
Sneaky fun guy
Do yourself a favor and watch the breakdown videos on Herb Jones. The second-round pick from last year's draft turned out to be the scariest defender in the league.
Jones is one of the few players that can legitimately guard all positions – standing 6-foot-8 with a 7-foot-5 wingspan and weighing close to 220 lbs. He darts around the court and makes impossible defensive recoveries look simple.
He was only scratching the surface offensively last season with encouraging shooting splits of 47.6/33.6/84.0. On a healthy Pelicans team, he might not even need to take many shots. New Orleans just needs him to keep haunting teams on defense.
This is the season for the Pelicans to make a giant leap. Talent-wise, they have what it takes to match up with the best Western Conference teams - they just need to stay healthy.
They’re versatile with guys like Jonas Valanciunas, Devonte Graham, and Jaxson Hayes ready to take on bigger responsibilities when needed. The Pelicans can come at teams in waves on offense and a defensive scheme that can hide their smaller guards could unlock their peak potential.
Willie Green also has the makings of a long-time system coach. He deserves all the credit for keeping the team focused amidst the uncertainty and turmoil last season. Now, he has more toys to tweak his system with.