The 2019-20 NBA season went on hiatus on March 11 because of the coronavirus pandemic . The season will return on July 30 and NBA.com's writers are taking an updated look at each of the league's 30 teams.
* * *
Record: 28-36, No. 10 in Western Conference
Season summary: Injuries prevented the Pelicans from getting off to the fast start required to keep pace in the ultra-competitive Western Conference. But New Orleans was just starting to find its way, capturing wins in eight of the last 13 games going into the NBA’s season hiatus. They may get to capitalize on that groove they were in, though, as one of the 22 teams in the season's comeback. Jrue Holiday, Lonzo Ball and Brandon Ingram each missed at least eight games due to injuries, while a torn meniscus suffered by rookie sensation Zion Williamson limited him to just 19 of the team's first 64 games. Still, hope remained for a successful push to the postseason as New Orleans is 3 1/2 games behind Memphis for the No. 8 spot. Over the last 13 games, Williamson averaged 25.9 points while knocking down 61% of his shots. Ball was hot over his 13 games, too, averaging 14.2 points on 46.3% shooting from 3-point range. The starting group of Holiday, Ball, Ingram, Williamson and Derrick Favors was showing signs of real chemistry, not to mention promise for the future going into the NBA’s suspension.
Breakout player: Williamson deserves credit for what he’s done, having averaged 23.6 points on 58.9% shooting over his first 19 games. But Brandon Ingram is the true breakout player on this squad and deserves strong consideration for Kia’s Most Improved Player Award. The Pelicans landed Ingram, Lonzo Ball and Josh Hart in a three-team trade last summer with the Los Angeles Lakers and Washington Wizards. But Ingram has emerged as the breakout star of this group, averaging a career-high 24.3 points, 6.3 rebounds and 4.3 assists while shooting 38.7% on 3-pointers to become New Orleans’ No. 1 scoring option. New Orleans needs to make re-signing Ingram its No. 1 priority in free agency this offseason. The No. 2 overall pick in 2016, Ingram has dealt with inconsistency early in his career, not to mention a blood clot that ended his 2018-19 season early. But now, Ingram appears poised to take the next step in his ascent with a young squad on the way to becoming a serious contender in the West.
Statement win: A couple come to mind here. On Christmas, the Pelicans -- 8-23 at the time -- defeated the Denver Nuggets 112-100, which served as somewhat of a turnaround moment for the Pelicans. Then, on Jan. 31, New Orleans bested Memphis 139-111 in another statement game that let the Grizzlies know the Pelicans were coming strong for that No. 8 seed. Williamson scored 24 points in fewer than 29 minutes in just his fifth game since returning from a three-month rehab process from arthroscopic right knee surgery. Williamson jammed in 3-of-4 attempts on alley-oops in that game, while coach Alvin Gentry racked up his 500th career victory. Ingram contributed 20 points in that win, while Ball connected on 5-of-7 from deep as New Orleans captured its third straight victory while halting Memphis’ four-game winning streak.
Most exciting game:There’s some backstory to this one, which came on Jan. 16 vs. Utah. In a 128-126 loss to the Jazz 10 days earlier at the Smoothie King Center, Ingram was fouled by Rudy Gobert at the buzzer on a layup attempt. That foul wasn't called and thus, Utah's win streak ran to six games. But according to the NBA’s Last Two Minute report from the game, replays showed Gobert making body-to-body contact with Ingram. Fast forward to Jan. 16 when the teams met again in New Orleans. This time, Ingram scored a career-high 49 points in a New Orleans win that snapped the Jazz's 10-game win streak. New Orleans thought they had the game in hand with 0.2 seconds left when Ingram knocked down an off-balance jumper. But Jaxson Hayes was called for holding Rudy Gobert with Utah attempting a tip-in on the inbound pass. The call was upheld after video review (even though the Last Two Minute report said it shouldn’t have been called a foul), and Gobert missed one of two free throws to send it to overtime. From there, the Pelicans finished on an 11-0 run to win the game.
Memorable moments: Nothing tops the return of Williamson on Jan. 22 after he missed the 41 games of the season with that knee injury. By far, this was the loudest the crowd at the Smoothie King Center had been all season, and for good reason. Williamson reeled off 17 straight fourth-quarter points for the Pelicans in a span of 3 minutes and 8 seconds, knocking down four 3-pointers to become the only player in history go 4-for-4 from deep in his debut. Williamson also joined a select group of players that scored more points than they accumulated minutes on the floor (minimum of 15 minutes played) in their NBA debuts. Williamson scored 22 points in just 18 minutes to join the company of Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf (then known as Chris Jackson), who scored 26 points in 25 minutes in 1990 with the Denver Nuggets as well as Willie Burton (1990), Julius Erving (1976) and Johnny Neumann (1976). Most importantly, Williamson came out healthy from the 121-117 loss to the San Antonio Spurs.
Team MVP: Plenty of players could be in the running for this in Holiday and Williamson, as well as Ball. But Ingram has been the MVP of this team through the first 64 games. Let’s be real here: he’s gradually developed into the closer New Orleans needs and he’s the wing the franchise always wanted. It’s expected that New Orleans will reward Ingram handsomely once the offseason hits. You knew he’d come into the 2019-20 season motivated to prove the Lakers shouldn’t have traded him, and he’s done that. Ingram made his first All-Star game this season, becoming the team’s No. 1 option, proving he can attack the basket or knock down the 3-pointer. Ingram is an integral part of a young New Orleans core that also features Williamson, Ball, Hart, Hayes and Holiday. He’s that good and has plenty of potential to improve.
* * *
The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.