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Zion Williamson and the Pelicans will be fun to watch, but are they good?

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New Orleans is already on everybody’s League Pass must-watch list — they are going to put on a fireworks show every night they step on the court. We see that already in team scrimmages.

Zion Williamson has generated excitement and has New Orleans buzzing — 10,000 people showed up to watch the team’s informal scrimmage over the weekend.

There is a wave of energy around this team that New Orleans fans are ready to ride.

The Pelicans will be fun, no doubt, but will they be any good?

Actually, yes.

Could they be in the mix for a playoff spot in the West?

That might be asking a lot — this was a 33-win team a season ago that made major roster changes and is banking on a lot of young players, plus they are playing in a West deep with quality teams. New Orleans is in the tier of teams that needs everything to go right this season to have a chance to be in the playoff mix. Maybe the best comparison is last-seasons League Pass darlings, the Sacramento Kings, who won 39 games and hung around the fringes of the playoffs until late in the season.

Make no mistake, however, the Pelicans are going to be respectably good, this is not a rebuilding team that is a nightly pushover. Teams are going to have to earn their wins against the Pelicans.

That’s in part because of a good mix of veterans. Jrue Holiday at the guard spot is a borderline All-Star player who averaged 21.2 points and 7.7 assists per game last season. J.J. Redick is in the mix at the guard spot and will be there to wear opponents down chasing him off screens, then draining the three anyway. The Pelicans added a solid big man in the paint in Derrick Favors, and they have guys like E’Twaun Moore coming off the bench.

This should be a lock-down, top-10 defensive team the Pelicans put out on the court. Holiday and Lonzo Ball form one of the better defensive backcourts in the NBA, Favors and Zion are good rim protectors, and while Brandon Ingram isn’t known for his defense he’s long, athletic, and can play within the system. Also remember, the Pelicans hired Jeff Bzdelik — the guy behind the Rockets defense when it was good the past couple of seasons — to be an assistant coach running that end of the floor.

New Orleans’ offense makes a lot of sense when the Pelicans get out in transition — and they will do that a lot. Last season the Pelicans played at the second-fastest pace in the league (103.9 possessions per game) but were 12th in percentage of offense in transition, in part because they just weren’t efficient finishing those plays (28th in the NBA in transition efficiency, stat via Cleaning the Glass).

Expect that to change this season — the Pelicans should be beasts in transition. Ball is at his best playing on instinct in the open court, and with Williamson and Ingram there are athletic finishers to close out plays. Holiday is very good in transition as well. This is when the Pelicans will be fun. Ball needs to finish better at the rim and develop a little floater to score in the paint, but in transition New Orleans will put on a show and be hard to stop.

In the halfcourt, the offense will be tougher to fit together. Ingram has been his best in isolation with the ball in his hands, but that’s not going to happen as much as he likely wants (he’s in a contract year and wants his numbers). Ball needs to hit shots to space the floor. With Redick and Holiday the Pelicans have shooting threats and veterans to run the offense, Favors can get them a solid 12 points a night, but it may take a while to find a rhythm when the game slows down.

The Pelicans bench was an issue in years past, but this season with payers such as Moore and Josh Hart, plus Redick probably comes off the bench, there is a lot more depth on this roster. Coach Alvin Gentry will have some room to experiment with lineups and rotations.

The Pelicans are going to be a nightly fireworks show on the court. They are going to be good and difficult to score against. Saying playoffs is probably jumping the gun, but this is the time to watch the Pelicans and get in on the ground floor of something that could be special.

PBT Podcast: 2020 NBA Mock Draft crossover podcast, Part Deux

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We’re back at it… and not just drinking beer during a podcast. Although we do that, too.

For the third consecutive season, Rob Dauster of College Basketball Talk and I collaborated for a first-round mock draft. Rob knows the prospects better than anyone; I provide some knowledge about what the teams might be looking for. The result is a unique listening experience breaking down who will be picked where based on fit.

The first ten picks can be found over on the College Basketball Talk feed.

Here we finish off the lottery and run through the entire rest of the first round.

As always, you can check out the podcast below, listen and subscribe via iTunes at ApplePodcasts.com/PBTonNBC, subscribe via the fantastic Stitcher app, check us out on Google play, or check out the NBC Sports Podcast homepage and archive at Art19.

We want your questions for future podcasts, and your comments, so please email us at PBTpodcast@gmail.com.

LeBron James, Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant make top 10 of Forbes highest-paid athletes list

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LeBron James, Stephen Curry, and Kevin Durant make more money off the court in endorsements than they do in salary from their teams. Which is not a surprise.

It’s enough money to vault them into the top 10 of FORBES Magazine’s list of highest-paid athletes for the last year.

LeBron is fifth at $88.2 million, of which $37.4 million is salary (although Forbes lists it as much less). Stephen Curry is sixth at $74.4 million, and Durant is seventh at $69.3 million.

Rounding out basketball players in the top 20 are Russell Westbrook at 12th ($56 million), James Harden at 17th $47.8 million, and Giannis Antetokounmpo at $47.6 million. Overall, 34 NBA players are in the top 100, including rookie Zion Williamson at 57th ($27.3 million).

Tennis legend Roger Federer topped the list at $106.3 million, and he was followed by soccer stars Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi, and Neymar, before we got to LeBron.

Despite all the work that goes into them, these Forbes estimates have a reputation for being off the mark. That said, it makes for a fun debate and ranking, and we could all use that right now.

Stephen Jackson speaks passionately at a rally in remembrance of his “twin” George Floyd

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Stephen Jackson, the former NBA player and current ESPN analyst, knew George Floyd from when he pair grew up near each other in Texas.

Friday, Jackson spoke about the man he called his “twin” at a rally Minneapolis City Hall Rotunda (an event with Timberwolves players Karl-Anthony Towns and Josh Okogie in attendance. (Video via Jon Krawczynski of The Athletic, there is NSFW language involved.)

“I’m here because they’re not gonna demean the character of George Floyd, my twin. A lot of times, when police do things they know that’s wrong, the first thing they try to do is cover it up, and bring up their background, to make it seem like the bulls*** that they did was worthy. When was murder ever worthy? But if it’s a black man, it’s approved.

“You can’t tell me, when that man has his knee on my brother’s neck — taking his life away, with his hand in his pocket — that that smirk on his face didn’t say, ‘I’m protected.’ You can’t tell me that he didn’t feel that it was his duty to murder my brother, and that he knew he was gonna get away with it. You can’t tell me that wasn’t the look on his face.”

There has been a powerful reaction across the NBA world — and across the nation — in the wake of the deaths of Ahmaud Arbery (a 25-year-old black man killed while jogging in a Georgia neighborhood) and Floyd. In a sport with many black players, the murders of these men were reminders of the systemic race issues still part of American culture. LeBron James captured the feelings of many players and others when he took to Instagram.

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STILL!!!! 🤬😢😤

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Derek Chauvin, the man pictured kneeling on Floyd’s neck — which he did for more than eight-and-a-half minutes — was fired from his job in the Minneapolis Police Department and was arrested on Friday and charged with third-degree murder.

Vote on NBA restart format expected next Thursday, here are four plans on the table

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The NBA is almost guaranteed to return to action in July, with the games taking place in Orlando.

What format the return takes is undecided, but the owners are expected to vote on that next Thursday, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

On Friday’s conference call with owners, Adam Silver reportedly laid out four options for them, something Shams Charania of The Athletic reported.

There was no consensus behind any one option, teams are all lobbying for what they want to see. Come next Thursday, Adam Silver is going to have to make a recommendation and get everyone to line up behind it, something the owners and players will do. This is Silver’s call.

Let’s break those options down.

• 16 teams going directly into playoffs. This is the cleanest, most straightforward option, and it has support from a number of owners. This keeps the number of people in the bubble relatively small, making it easier to maintain the safety of players, coaches, staff, and everyone involved. The league likely would keep the conference format rather than go to 1-16 seeding (many owners from the Eastern Conference and coastal cities reportedly are not fans of 1-16 and fear if they do it once, even in this unique season, it would become a regular thing).

One downside is players have asked for some regular season games — or games with meaning — before the playoffs to get their legs under them, this does not provide any (increasing the risk of injury). The other downside is this takes almost half the NBA’s markets and tells them “you’re done, no games from March until Christmas (the expected date for the tip-off of next season, or maybe a week or two earlier). That’s a long time without games and can hurt momentum for those franchises.

• 20 teams, group play for the first round. This is the World Cup soccer idea, with four groups of five teams each and the top two teams in each group advancing to the playoffs. Some fans and teams backed this idea because it provided a bit of randomness to the mix — soccer sees a lot of upsets in this format. On the flip side, the top teams were not fans of this plan for the same reason.

The buzz around the league is this format is basically dead to the owners.

• 22 teams with regular season games to determine seeding, followed by a play-in tournament to the 16-team playoffs. This idea, in a couple of different forms (one with just 20 teams, some with 24) has some momentum. The idea is the 22 teams — all teams within six games off the last playoff spot in each conference, which is the Wizards in the East and the Trail Blazers, Pelicans, Kings, Spurs, and Suns in the West — would play eight regular season games, then standings at the end of those games would set up the play-in tournament for the eighth seed. After that, the playoffs would start. This gets more markets involved, gets some regular season games (helping some regional sports networks), and still has a full playoffs.

There are downsides. It brings more people into the bubble and is that risk worth the reward? There are going to be some meaningless regular season games here, both by teams eliminated and teams locked into their playoff spots (the Lakers and Bucks will treat these games like exhibitions). It also adds a couple of weeks to the season and pushes the end-date back deeper into September and maybe October.

• 30 teams, a regular season to get to 72 games, then a play-in tournament followed by the playoffs. This is the idea to “finish” the regular season. We’re not going to waste time on it because my sources, and those of other reporters, have called this one dead on arrival.

Silver is going to get lobbied all week by different factions backing different plans, but by next Thursday he has to pick a one he can sell to owners and to players. There are no good options, he has to choose the least bad one.

From there, players will get called back to market for workouts and the clock will start.

So long as the league can keep everyone safe.