Hot Take: Watch out for the New Orleans Pelicans


Erik Drost

Erik Drost | Wikimedia Commons

Fahim Khan

Before the start of the 2021-2022 National Basketball Association season, the narrative around the New Orleans Pelicans was that the team was going nowhere and was going to have another rebuilding season.

At first the Pelicans proved their doubters right with a disappointing offseason. The team did not sign any big-name free agents after Lonzo Ball left for Chicago and the team started the season with a record of 1-12.

But 66 games into the season, they have a record of 27-39 and are in position to earn themselves a spot in the playoffs through the play-in tournament.

To understand how the Pelicans recovered and turned this season into a foundation for their future, look at what went wrong last season.

Although Steven Adams and Eric Bledsoe provided a veteran presence, they were simply not a good fit with young All-Stars Zion Williamson and Brandon Ingram, especially considering Bledsoe is a ball-dominant guard. He struggled from the field last season, shooting only 42% from the field and 34% from 3.

The Pelicans got rid of both veterans, giving them more cap flexibility because both players had large contracts.

There was also Lonzo Ball, a young player who shoots, defends and passes well. Yet there were constantly rumors of him either being unhappy, wanting to play somewhere else or him getting traded elsewhere.

If these players were still on the team that started 1-12, the lack of chemistry in last year’s roster would have prevented this season’s recovery.

The Pelicans then made underrated moves for pieces that have since fit well together. During the offseason, the team traded for Jonas Valanciunas, who has a dominant interior presence, averaging 11.5 rebounds a game.

The Pelicans also traded for Devonte Graham, known for his streaky 3-point shooting. Although those numbers are down this year, he has helped stretch the floor and has hit shots in big moments when the team needed him the most.

The Pelicans drafted rookie Herbert Jones in the second round. The rookie defends and makes hustle plays, for which he has gained the respect of his peers.

The two biggest moves were signing head coach Willie Green and trading for CJ McCollum.

Head coach Green has instilled a fighting spirit in the young Pelicans roster. The team has more fight and perseverance, a different mindset compared to the team coached under Stan Van Gundy.

Arguably, the biggest move was trading for McCollum before the trade deadline.

This move was risky considering they gave up four players and this year’s first-round pick, but it has worked out. Both McCollum and Brandon Ingram have chemistry, playing in a way that allows each other’s game to flourish and the team to win. The Pelicans have had huge victories against teams like the Suns, Jazz and Lakers with the two on the floor.

This team has a long way to go before they become legit contenders in the Western conference. Zion Williamson must return and learn how to play with his new teammates.

Until then, however, no team should underestimate the Pelicans.