Pelicans

Pelicans Enter Promising, Yet Difficult New Era

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A new look. A fresh start.

The New Orleans Pelicans enter the 2020-21 season without a single player on their roster from the Dell Demps regime. A change the in coaching staff and a change to the roster signifies a new direction and purpose. In just under two years at the helm, Griffin altered the Pelicans’ DNA, aligning it with his vision and ideals of what a championship-caliber team looks like. Lofty expectations — internally and externally — flood the ball club this season. As such, here is the (un)official Pelicans’ season outlook.

Roster Upgrades

Trade Season

The condensed offseason brought a bounty of changes to the team personnel. Most significantly, New Orleans moved on from former franchise cornerstone Jrue Holiday in a blockbuster trade. Along with two firsts and two pick swaps, the Pelicans received Steven Adams and Eric Bledsoe. Adams and Bledsoe are high-quality veterans, rounding out a starting lineup that includes relatively inexperienced players.

Eric Bledsoe

Eric Bledsoe, an all-defensive guard in the last two seasons, brings a hard-nosed mentality on the defensive end. Bledsoe is a tenacious disrupter capable of guarding smaller wings and guards. Throughout his tenure under coach Budenholzer in Milwaukee, Bledsoe had free roam within the highly successful Bucks defensive scheme. Eric’s attention to detail and depth of knowledge of his primary match-up aided Bud’s confidence.

At times on the offensive end, however, Bledsoe struggles. Spacing is critical for the Pelicans this season. Unfortunately, Eric’s three-point percentage for his career in Milwaukee is 34%. To make matters worse, this drops to 25% in the playoffs. The Pelicans desperately needed spacing at times last year. Similar to Bledsoe, Holiday did not provide ample spacing for a free-flowing offence.

Steven Adams

Conversely, Steven Adams brings a different dimension to New Orleans. The bruising center from New Zealand spent his whole career in Oklahoma until the trade. During his time with the Thunder, Adams became an elite offensive rebounder and screen setter. With Zion, Adams creates a formidable front-line pairing. Zion previously mentioned the strength of Adams.

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The sheer size of the front-court is something teams will struggle with. Adams is going to be a nightmare on the glass. Additionally, his elite screen-setting will open up driving lanes and shooting pockets for all Pelicans, a sight they have not experienced yet. However, Adams does shrink the floor. Sadly, all of Adams’ activity comes in the restricted area providing less room for Zion to operate.

Draft Recap

Kira Lewis Jr.

The Pelicans made one selection in the draft, opting to trade the rest of their picks for various assets. New Orleans’ only selection was Kira Lewis Jr. at No. 13. Unlike the other young Pelican guards, Lewis Jr. only measures in a 6’3. However, Lewis Jr.’s speed is unmatched by any player on the roster. The Ringer compares Kira to smaller guards like Lou Williams and Darius Garland. When re-watching his collegiate career, it is evident to see why. Similarly, Lewis Jr. creates separation through dynamic movements.

In relation, his defense has promise. Throughout his time at Alabama, Kira was pesky on and off-ball. He liked to fight through screens, taking each match-up personally and was extremely active as a weak-side defender. At such a young age, a mentality like this bodes well for him to receive minutes early on. While New Orleans’ backcourt is deep, a change-of-pace guard like Kira is necessary in today’s NBA.

Coaching Change

Stan Van Gundy

Late in October, Stan Van Gundy was appointed head coach of New Orleans. Surprisingly, the former Magic, Heat and Pistons head coach beat out other coaches who were seemingly more interested in the job. Evidently, Stan was hired for his defensive prowess. Under Coach Gentry, New Orleans struggled on the defensive end. Known as an offensive guru, Gentry failed to create defensive schemes that players bought into. Nonetheless, Van Gundy won’t have this issue. Stan hangs his hat on defense. In his eleven seasons as head coach, his teams ranked top-10 in defensive rating ten times.

Essentially, Van Gundy is here to help the Pelicans make the leap. To date, Griffin’s job is admirable. The Pelicans have a mix of young, budding superstars along with high-caliber veterans. In New Orleans’ first preseason game, the defensive intensity was evident. Moreover, it is Van Gundy’s job to ensure New Orleans maintains this defensive acumen. Considering New Orleans has many elite transition players, becoming an elite defense will maximize their transition opportunities. Seemingly, the team has bought into the pitch.

Season Outlook

Heading into the rest of the shortened 72-game season, New Orleans face a juggernaut in the West. In other words, the Pelicans have a small margin for error. The introduction of play-in games assists New Orleans further, but their expectations are loftier.

Van Gundy is set to start Bledsoe, Ball, Ingram, Zion and Adams. As a unit, they will be lethal on the boards, defensively and in transition. Off the bench, Reddick, Hart, Melli, Hayes, Alexander-Walker and Lewis Jr. provide various options, giving Van Gundy the flexibility to adapt to any match-up. The flexibility to play small and big is a luxury not many teams have.

Above all, New Orleans had to adapt to a new scheme quickly. I firmly believe the team is more than capable of winning 40+ games. Still, their ability to grow together is what will affect their development. There is no doubt the team has elite talent. Zion and Ingram should both be all-stars, as well as Lonzo, a potential MIP candidate. Admittedly, the learning curve is going to be fast, but a challenge the team is definitely up for.

Overall, New Orleans enters a new age. Notably, the Holiday trade and coaching change signify the dawn of the Zion and Ingram era. Their potential is endless, and the season is set to showcase the talent of their franchise cornerstones. Furthermore, be on the lookout for a leap taken by Lonzo, Alexander-Walker and Hart. Along with Zion and Ingram, all three players have been imposing in preseason, and rejuvenated and motivated by Van Gundy.

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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