From the moment Zion Williamson walked on the court for the New Orleans Pelicans this season, the Pelicans became must-watch.
The team went 11-8 with the league’s 11th ranked offense, eighth-best defense, and a +4 net rating. New Orleans was 3.5 games back of Memphis for the final playoff spot in the West when the season was suspended, but with a soft schedule down the stretch (and the Grizzlies facing a brutal one), the postseason was not out of the question for New Orleans.
David Griffin, the Pelicans Executive Vice President of Basketball Operations, thinks his team could have grown a lot playing meaningful games down the stretch — regardless of what the result would have been. That opportunity may be lost. Still, he told the Pelicans’ official website he likes how this team is positioned.
“We have a young group here that is exciting,” Griffin said. “We have a team that is sort of on the precipice of being very good and is just scratching the surface of what we’re capable of. We’re optimistic – if we’re able to restart in any form or fashion – that we’re going to be a team that is one to be reckoned with.
“We’re a team that has shown a great deal of promise. I think there is a lot of optimism that surrounds our team on a lot of levels.”
Whether the league restarts this season or not, Griffin is right that this is a team on the rise.
There is Zion Williamson, who came in overhyped and then somehow exceeded expectations in the 19 games he got to play, averaging 23.6 points per game and opening up their offense with his gravity. Brandon Ingram found his jumper and became an All-Star player, one who fits well with Williamson. There were the lobs of Lonzo Ball and the bouncy potential of Jaxson Hayes. All that youth was surrounded by veterans such as J.J. Redick and Jrue Holiday.
Almost all of those players are under contract for next season. The Pelicans will need to max out Ingram to retain him, but that’s expected to happen. Derrick Favors is a free agent and the Pelicans will either need to re-sign him or find another big man who can fill that role. However, for the most part this team is locked in.
The West is going to be brutal next year. The Pelicans and Grizzlies are getting better, the Timberwolves are putting better players around Karl-Anthony Towns, the Suns are improving, the Golden State Warriors get Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson healthy — and those are just the teams missing the playoffs this season. The Lakers, Clippers, Rockets, and everyone else are not going anywhere.
Even with all that, the Pelicans feel like a playoff team, whatever next season ends up looking like.