Pelicans

Pelicans Can Savor Their 2021-22 Season

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The dust is settling on the New Orleans Pelicans’ 2022-23 season.

A tumultuous start was slowly but surely rectified, with a scorching post-trade deadline qualifying the team for the Play-In Tournament. Not only did they become a play-in success, the franchise also proved they are capable of pushing the league’s best team to the brink. Six hotly contested bouts ended in a 4-2 loss to the Phoenix Suns.

Regardless, New Orleans is ready to take on the NBA’s best for years to come.

After a horrific start to the Willie Green era, everyone anticipated a Zion Williamson trade request, and murmurs of a relocation loomed as they have continued over the last decade.

The team looked defeated. The fans were dejected. The concerns over the front office dominated.

Yet, the group slowly started to band together. Coach Green began to understand the rollercoaster, a first-year head-coaching role, and small defensive and offensive changes were placed.

Still, the team struggled. It was not until David Griffin executed the C.J. McCollum trade that the team finally found their true identity. The package saw two playoff mainstays arrive. Between McCollum and Larry Nance Jr., New Orleans had leaders with profound playoff experience.

McCollum, in particular, knew the importance of holding players accountable and creating a team culture.

Team Culture

Team culture especially became the cornerstone of New Orleans’ identity later on in the season. As their roles grew and became clearly defined, Jose Alvarado, Naji Marshall and Willie Hernangomez became the team’s soul. Their constant bench energy became infectious.

The energy spread like wildfire, and as the season reached its climax, New Orleans’ culture peaked. Their youthful exuberance was showcased in press conferences, post-game interviews and throughout the games. The fans who grew fondly of Alvarado felt this mentality the same way Cavs and Bucks fans did of Matthew Dellavedova

There is no doubt Coach Green played a vital role in the culture. A long-term NBA veteran, Green experienced the ups and downs of an NBA player. Green did it all as a starter, from role player to bench warmer. His career made him unbelievably relatable to the whole roster. The reliability and passion were exuded after Game 6.

Green, overwhelmed with emotions, shed tears as the team was eliminated. That in itself showed the world the culture in New Orleans.

Invaluable Playoff Experience

The six-game series, where New Orleans went toe-to-toe with Phoenix, sent shockwaves through the NBA. It was a foregone conclusion heading into the playoffs that New Orleans was just here to make up the numbers. A hard-fought series gave Brandon Ingram and Co. a glimpse into what it takes to win a series.

The understanding of requirements needed to win when it matters is easily overlooked by young teams. Minnesota went through similar issues with Memphis. The Timberwolves struggled to close out the Grizzlies game after game. The inability to force a Game 7 was on full display in the second half of Game 6 for the Pelicans. The pressure of the moment seemingly got to the team, and a comfortable lead at halftime was quickly eroded.

Eventually, New Orleans was unable to stop Chris Paul and the Suns.

Nonetheless, moments like that can never be replicated in the regular season. They will only help New Orleans next year when they try to make a deep run.

Looking Ahead

It is an understatement to say the 2021-22 season was successful. The team battled and persevered through trying times. They pushed Phoenix to their limits and forced hall-of-fame performances out of Mikal Bridges (Game 5) and Chris Paul (Game 6) to eliminate them. 

As they look to next season, Zion’s return headlines the horizon. It is very easy to forget New Orleans achieved this without their best player. In the starting lineup, Zion in place of Jaxson Hayes catapults the team’s offensive upside. There will be no hiding for defensive liabilities with Herb Jones’ expected jump-shot development. 

Lastly, the highly tradeable contract of Devonte’ Graham — who fell out of the rotation — remarkably gives Griffin an asset to move. In relation, New Orleans will also have a lottery pick thanks to the Lakers, which could bare a top-four pick. That scintillating selection could be used for another star or even a high-upside, raw talent like Chet Holmgren.

Of course, there is expected development from the coaching staff and youngsters like Brandon Ingram, Trey Murphy and Jose Alvarado. All in all, New Orleans is in the best spot since the Chris Paul-led team.

All the arrows are pointing upwards in a season that was to savor.

About Vance Abreu

An Australian trying to make it big in Toronto, Canada. Weekly articles about the Pelicans journey to a NBA championship

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