New Orleans Continues Flight Into Uncertain Future


Consistency is not always guaranteed.

Just ask the New Orleans Pelicans as the franchise hopes to clinch back-to-back postseason appearances for the first time in over a decade.

As of Apr. 6, the Pelicans sit at 41-39, right in the thick of the muddled Western Conference. However, the franchise has won eight of its last 10 games and sit on the inside track to at least make this year’s Play-In Tournament.

As per usual, New Orleans’ road to relevancy faced a usual round of inconsistent play, notable absences and questions over how legit this team is. The Pelicans finished last season on a strong note, including earning two wins against the Phoenix Suns in the first round, but this year turned out to be a complex one.

What is New Orleans’ New Ceiling?

Even if the Pelicans make the playoffs, the franchise sits in a unique spot with more questions than answers.

Zion goes M.I.A. Again

Surprisingly, New Orleans began this season on a hot note, sitting mainly in the top-six in the West to begin the season. But since the beginning of the new year, it’s been mostly downhill. Most of those struggles begin — and mainly end — with Zion Williamson‘s continued absence.

January 2nd marks the last time Zion suited up for the Pelicans. Since then, he’s missed New Orleans’ last 41 games. And while the team has been streaking lately, the Pelicans are 18-25 since Williamson’s last game this year. Whether we jinxed it or not, The Lead embraced how much talent and potential New Orleans had this postseason.

Since that point, the Pelicans’ play continues to falter compared to earlier this season.

The alarm bell should start to loudly ring for New Orleans. Zion already missed the entire 2021-2022 season. Since playing 61 games in 2020-2021, he’s missed well over 100 contests since.

While New Orleans has trended upward recently, most of its struggles stem on the offensive end. Despite its talent, the Pelicans rank middle-to-bottom in points per game (15th) and offensive rating (18th) in the NBA. Even with great stats on the defensive end, the Pelicans are a noticeable differently team without Williamson.

And that different team will have to continue, as the Pelicans expect to be without Zion through the Play-In Tournament.

The main problem: New Orleans is losing the battle from three. While the Pelicans hold opponents to the lowest three-point percentage in the league, they rank 23rd or worse in attempts per game and opponent attempts per game. The Pelicans also fork over the second-highest two-point field-goal percentage. Despite their versatility, the team lacks defensive paint depth.

State of the roster

Broadly speaking, New Orleans faces an interesting path moving forward. On the one hand, this team is loaded with draft capital from the Jrue Holiday and Anthony Davis blockbuster deals. Furthermore, there is plenty of young talent like Trey Murphy III and Herb Jones who give the franchise a promising future next to Williamson and Brandon Ingram.

But this is also a team that’s mostly locked into its current core. C.J. McCollum, Williamson, Ingram, and other veterans all fall under multi-year extensions. Especially for someone like McCollum, who’s approaching his age-32 season, it’s an awkward-ish fit.

There’s also concern about New Orleans trending (yet again) as a middle-of-the-pack team. This season marks the first time the Pelicans secure at least 40 wins since 2017-2018. Yes, the team technically improved its regular-season win total in each of the last four years. At the same time, it doesn’t feel like that, right?

Consistency remains New Orleans biggest need. Last season’s fluky end-of-season run seemed like an outlier. Then, the Pelicans went on a tear to start this season.

Now, the franchise faces regression to the mean. There’s still plenty of outs and fallback plans for the Pelicans after this season.

But, at some point, will this team ever come together?

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About Dominic Chiappone

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