2020-21 Kia Season Preview

2020-21 Season Preview: New Orleans Pelicans

With Zion Williamson as the franchise cornerstone, the New Orleans Pelicans are trying to build a perennial winner.

Michael C. Wright

Michael C. Wright

Can the Pelicans’ young core lift them to the playoffs?

When last seen, the Pelicans were … recognizing that more change was needed after a disappointing 2-6 finish in the NBA bubble after expecting to contend for a spot in the play-in game.

What’s new? Two days after New Orleans lost its final game, the team announced it had fired Alvin Gentry. It marked the fourth time in five seasons the Pelicans missed the postseason, so David Griffin knew it was time to make a change. Enter Stan Van Gundy, who is charged with developing the team’s promising young talent while improving a defense that ranked 21st last season in efficiency.

The organization then traded away fan favorite Jrue Holiday in a four-team deal that landed Eric Bledsoe, George Hill, three future first-round picks and two pick swaps, in addition to longtime Thunder center Steven Adams. That trade almost immediately improved the Pelicans’ overall team defense, giving them a physical presence inside to pair up with franchise cornerstone Zion Williamson. The Pels finally closed out November by rewarding first-time All-Star Brandon Ingram with a five-year extension.

What’s missing: The ingredients for a perennial winner appear to be in place with Van Gundy and the collection of talent, headlined by Williamson. But the league’s abbreviated preseason due to the quick return for the upcoming campaign could make it difficult for Van Gundy to build the requisite cohesion to compete in the West. Van Gundy and Griffin are looking to build a new culture in New Orleans that requires them incorporating new philosophies on a team that features eight new players. New Orleans lost 10 players through trades or free agency, leaving Josh Hart, Ingram, Ball and Williamson as the Pels’ longest-tenured players. So, the cohesion isn’t there yet. But it will be.


POTENTIAL STARTING FIVE

Lonzo Ball | 11.8 ppg, 6.2 rpg, 7.0 apg
Court vision and passing ability should fuel plenty of fast breaks.

Eric Bledsoe | 14.9 ppg, 4.6 rpg, 5.4 apg
Hard-nosed defender has been named to the All-Defensive team two consecutive seasons.

Brandon Ingram | 23.8 ppg, 6.1 rpg, 4.2 apg
The offensive package is there, but expect major strides on defense.

Zion Williamson | 22.5 ppg, 6.3 rpg, 2.1 apg
No physical limitations to start this season after sitting the first 44 games as a rookie.

Steven Adams | 10.9 ppg, 9.3 rpg, 1.1 bpg
Said Van Gundy after Adams’ acquisition: “You’re not punking the New Orleans Pelicans.”


KEY RESERVES

Kira Lewis Jr. | 15.9 ppg, 3.6 rpg, 4.0 apg (college)
Lightning-quick rookie will establish a breakneck pace for the second unit.

Josh Hart | 10.1 ppg, 6.5 rpg, 1.7 apg
Hit a career-high 121 3-pointers last season but wants to tweak mechanics to improve even more.

J.J. Redick | 15.3 ppg, 2.5 rpg, 2.0 apg
Spent five seasons playing for Van Gundy in Orlando.


New Orleans Pelicans, last 5 seasons

Season W L PCT OffRtg Rank DefRtg Rank NetRtg Rank
2019-20 30 42 0.417 110.5 15 111.8 21 -1.3 20
2018-19 33 49 0.402 110.7 12 112.0 22 -1.3 20
2017-18 48 34 0.585 108.5 12 107.4 14 +1.1 13
2016-17 34 48 0.415 104.7 26 106.8 9 -2.1 22
2015-16 30 52 0.366 104.8 18 108.4 26 -3.7 25

OffRtg = Points scored per 100 possessions
DefRtg = Points allowed per 100 possessions
NetRtg = Point differential per 100 possessions


SEASON PREDICTION

The culture that Griffin and Van Gundy are building in New Orleans could be special, and the players recognize as much, which is why you should expect everybody on the roster to be all-in for the upcoming season. The athleticism, talent and grit are there, and the commitment from the organization is strong. But you know all young squads must suffer their lumps. Still, this is a playoff team if it stays relatively healthy. New Orleans is being built to contend for years to come, and we’re here for it.

Predicted finish: 39-33.

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Michael C. Wright is a senior writer for NBA.com. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter.

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