NBA

Pelicans require patience despite bid for 2021 NBA postseason

By Sports Desk April 15, 2021

Perhaps no team in the NBA is on as interesting and open-ended of a course as the New Orleans Pelicans.

In a league where most teams fear the purgatory of mediocrity, New Orleans have seemingly set up a permanent home there.

The Pelicans are 279-340 since establishing their new nickname in 2013-14, including a 25-30 mark this season that would leave them out of the playoff picture if they remained the Western Conference's number 11 team.

Less than two years ago, the Crescent City had a franchise cornerstone and consensus top-10 player in Anthony Davis, who would soon force the Pelicans into trading him to the Los Angeles Lakers.

Last offseason, New Orleans shipped two-way guard Jrue Holiday to the Milwaukee Bucks in a four-team deal.

Along the way, New Orleans also let Christian Wood and Julius Randle slip through their fingers.

Despite the exodus of top-level talent in exchange for draft selections and pick swaps, the Pelicans' situation is far from a full rebuild. The Davis trade netted them Brandon Ingram, who made his first All-Star team last season and continues to improve.

Winning the 2019 NBA Draft Lottery despite having just a six per cent chance has been a franchise-altering moment that resulted in the addition of Zion Williamson.

While most teams in their position would prioritise the future over all else, building around Williamson, Ingram and whatever young talent comes from a sizeable pile of future draft picks, the Pelicans have given significant playing time to veterans Steven Adams, Eric Bledsoe and JJ Redick, before the latter was traded at last month's deadline.

But can the Pelicans defy the odds by attempting to win both now and in the future? Perhaps more importantly, are Williamson and Ingram the right cornerstones around which to build a team?

Williamson appears to be the unquestioned future of the Pelicans, utilising a unique combination of physique, athleticism and skillset to dominate inside despite being only as tall as many guards in the league.

The former one-and-done star at Duke is shooting 61.8 per cent from the floor this season, on pace to set an NBA record for a player listed at six-foot-six or shorter. Charles Barkley currently holds the record, shooting 60.0 per cent in the 1989-90 season for the Philadelphia 76ers.

While Williamson's shooting has improved from last season to this term, he has shown even greater growth in other areas. His free-throw shooting has jumped from 64.0 per cent to 70.1 per cent, and his assist-to-turnover ratio has improved from 0.85 to 1.45 season.

Williamson's performance has proven that his abbreviated, 24-game rookie season was no fluke and has only missed five games in his sophomore campaign to relieve concerns that he is an injury-prone player.

But as good as he has been, Williamson's size allows him to only match up against opposing power forwards, standing too short to defend most centers and unable to move his 285-pound frame quickly enough to stay with most wings. This would be a limitation that is easily managed if Ingram were not also best suited to play power forward, placing the pair's long-term compatibility into question.

The Pelicans have typically started Adams at center, with Williamson and Ingram starting at the forward spots, and Adams and Williamson have a tough time switching onto other players while playing defense. While talent has led to New Orleans having the league's ninth most efficient offense this season at 112.1 points per 100 possessions, this rigid alignment has resulted in the NBA's third worst defense, allowing 113.0 points per 100 possessions.

Williamson appears to be more valuable than Ingram, although the Pelicans are far from being forced to choose between their 20- and 23-year-old stars. New Orlean's net rating is plus-0.5 this season with Williamson on the court and minus-3.2 with him on the bench. The team have a minus-0.8 net rating with Ingram playing and a minus-1.1 net rating with Ingram sitting.

Perhaps more concerning is that fact that the Pelicans apparently have yet to realise that Williamson has surpassed Ingram as the team's best player. Ingram shoots 18.1 times per game, compared to Williamson's 16.6. Ingram also has 65 field-goal attempts in the last three minutes of fourth quarters, compared to Williamson's 50.

With that being said, the Pelicans are 21-13 when Ingram scores 22 points or more and are 4-17 when he scores fewer than 22 points or does not play.

Offense appears to come easily to both Williamson and Ingram, but can the pair evolve enough to ever play even league-average defense?

The problem is the reverse of another pair publicly deemed incompatible – the 76ers' Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons – two elite defensive players who do not mesh perfectly on offense.

Despite their warts, Embiid and Simmons are in their fourth season together and have Philadelphia sitting atop the Eastern Conference at 38-17, with the former averaging nearly 30 points per game and the latter making a bid for Defensive Player of the Year.

Perhaps in two or three years – and with a better supporting cast – Ingram and Williamson can help the Pelicans grow into contenders in the west.

But when the Pelicans' stars are at their peaks, players like Adams, Bledsoe and James Johnson will have moved on. New Orleans better hope they have enough assets and supporting players in place after investing in a seemingly short-sighted run at the 2021 playoffs.

Related items

  • John Wall set to sign with Clippers after Rockets buyout John Wall set to sign with Clippers after Rockets buyout

    Five-time All-Star guard John Wall plans to sign with the Los Angeles Clippers after reaching a buyout agreement with the Houston Rockets, ESPN reported on Monday.

    Wall will relinquish $6.5million of the $47.4m he was owed for the upcoming season, the final one of a four-year, $171m extension he signed in 2017 while a member of the Washington Wizards. Yahoo Sports first reported that a buyout had been reached.

    The 31-year-old will be joining a Clippers team that reached the Western Conference Finals in 2020-21 but were ousted in this year’s play-in, dealing with long injury absences for stars Kawhi Leonard and Paul George.

    Leonard missed the entire season recovering from a torn ACL sustained in the 2021 playoffs, while a torn elbow ligament limited George to 31 games.

    Wall also did not play in 2021-22 due to reported differences between the veteran and the rebuilding Rockets over his potential role, and he hasn’t played more than 41 games in a season since 2016-17 due to several injuries.

    The top pick of the 2010 NBA Draft missed much of 2017-18 due to a knee injury that required surgery and sat the pandemic-shortened 2019-20 season, recovering from a ruptured Achilles tendon he suffered in January 2019.

    Houston acquired Wall from the Wizards in December 2020 for former NBA MVP Russell Westbrook, and he averaged 20.6 points and 6.9 assists in the lone season he took the court for the Rockets despite being limited to 40 games.

  • Kyrie Irving opts in for $37m with Brooklyn Nets Kyrie Irving opts in for $37m with Brooklyn Nets

    Kyrie Irving has exercised his $37 million player option with the Brooklyn Nets for next season, confirming his decision on Monday.

    The move ends any chance of a sign-and-trade deal and takes Irving off the market when the free agency negotiating period begins on Thursday.

    Locking in the enigmatic Irving ends speculation of him fleeing—for now, at least.

    Earlier this off-season, Irving had given the Nets a list of approved destinations if a sign-and-trade deal were to happen. The only team on the list that explored acquiring Irving was the Los Angeles Lakers, ESPN reported earlier Monday.

    “Normal people keep the world going, but those who dare to be different lead us into tomorrow,” Irving told The Athletic. “I've made my decision to opt in. See you in the fall. A11even.”

    Irving has played just 103 of a possible 226 games since signing with Brooklyn in the 2019 off-season.

    Irving chose not to receive any COVID-19 vaccinations, leaving him unable to play for much of last season due to municipal regulations in New York. He played 29 games in 2021-22, averaging 27.4 points and 5.8 assists.

  • Sedin brothers, Luongo and Alfredsson headline Hockey Hall of Fame Class of 2022 Sedin brothers, Luongo and Alfredsson headline Hockey Hall of Fame Class of 2022

    Twin brothers Daniel and Henrik Sedin, along with former Vancouver Canucks team-mate Roberto Luongo and long-time Ottawa Senators captain Daniel Alfredsson, headline the Hockey Hall of Fame Class of 2022. 

    Finish women's hockey great Riikka Sallinen and Herb Carnegie, a black hockey pioneer, were also selected Monday to be inducted in November. 

    Daniel and Henrik played all 17 of their NHL seasons together for the Canucks after being selected second and third overall in the 1999 NHL draft. 

    Henrick finished his career with 1,070 points and won the 2009-10 league scoring title and the Hart Trophy as league MVP that season, while Daniel ended with 1,041 points and won the NHL scoring title in 2010-11 with 104 points. 

    Henrik routinely set up his brother, finishing his career with 830 assists (27th all time) while Daniel was the beneficiary of Henrik's passes, tallying 393 goals. 

    The brothers each won an Olympic gold medal for Sweden at the 2006 Games and helped lead the Canucks to 11 playoffs trips and a berth in the 2011 Stanley Cup Final. 

    While the Sedins fuelled the offense for those Canucks teams, Luongo protected the net, serving as Vancouver's goaltender from 2006-07 until he was traded to the Florida Panthers on in March 2014.

    Over a 19-season career from 1999-2000 to 2018-19, Luongo ranks second among all goalies with 1,044 games played while his 489 wins are fourth most. 

    A three-time finalist for the Vezina Trophy, Luongo ranks ninth all time with 77 career shutouts and was also the goalie on the Canada team that won the 2010 Olympic gold medal. 

    Alfredsson, who also won an Olympic gold as a team-mate of the Sedins on the 2006 Sweden team, spent 17 of his 18 NHL seasons with the Senators. 

    The winner of the 1995-96 Calder Trophy as the league's top rookie, Alfredsson finished his career with 444 goals (tied for 64th all time) and 1,157 points (55th most in NHL history). 

    Sallinen, the first woman not born in North America to be inducted into the Hall of Fame, won bronze medals for Finland at the 1998 and 2018 Olympics, while Carnegie, who died in 2012 at the age of 92, is widely considered the best black hockey player to never play in the NHL. 

© 2022 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.