Zion Williamson #1 of the New Orleans Pelicans high fives teammates after being removed from the game against the Chicago Bulls.

Pelicans produce multitude of positive signs in preseason-opening win at Chicago

Tuesday’s TNT preseason broadcast of New Orleans-Chicago was a veritable Pelicans lovefest, even before the opening tip in the United Center. With some extra time to fill prior to Game 2 of a nationally-televised doubleheader, studio analyst Channing Frye said of New Orleans, “This is a really good team. They have a puncher’s chance to make the Western Conference finals.”

Although perhaps it’s a bit too early on the NBA calendar for scorching-hot takes, once the matchup began, the Pelicans did nothing to slow any optimism about their potential in 2022-23. New Orleans put up 40, 30 and 34 points in the first three quarters, looking like a team that’s played together for years. Zion Williamson’s return to an NBA floor after 500-plus days featured 13 points in 15 minutes. A wide array of other Pelicans made notable contributions, including rookie lottery pick Dyson Daniels (15 points, three steals, two blocks) in a 129-125 victory.

While watching New Orleans dish 29 assists and display ball movement rarely seen in an exhibition opener, TNT game analyst Greg Anthony noted, “The Pelicans look like they’re almost in midseason form… They have a chance to be a real factor in the West.”

Preseason Highlights: Devonte' Graham (21 points) vs. Chicago Bulls

The second unit – led by Devonte’ Graham (21 points), Jaxson Hayes (14 points, 7/8 shooting) and Larry Nance (nine points in 11 minutes) – dominated long stretches of the opening half. Willy Hernangomez generated a second-quarter burst of a dozen points, while Daniels provided another 12 points in the fourth quarter alone, helping close out the victory. The 19-year-old initially struggled to finish a few floaters in the paint, but was a catalyst down the stretch, disrupting Chicago’s offense with key defensive plays.

“That’s to be expected,” Pelicans coach Willie Green said of Daniels’ early moments. “This is his first time playing against high-level NBA competition. But I thought he did a really good job. He settled into his game, but it started with his ability to play defense. He’s big, he can guard multiple positions, he rebounded well, he took his shots. That’s what we want from him – be aggressive.”

Meanwhile, Williamson didn’t appear to be coming off an extended hiatus from NBA action, overwhelming Chicago defenders around the basket with his quick first step and leaping ability.

“He looked good,” Green said. “He’s just going to continue to get better. He works at it, is a competitor. That’s the type of work he puts in on the floor.”

Willie Green Postgame Interview | Pelicans vs Bulls NBA Preseason | 10/4/22

Williamson seemed to spend about half of his time on the floor with a wide smile on his face, thrilled to be back in uniform.

“I couldn’t show them everything,” a grinning Williamson said postgame of saving part of his arsenal for future games and the regular season. “But (I was) kind of getting a feel for it again, finding spots, picking and choosing when I want to attack.

“We’ve got a new team since the last time I played (in 2020-21), so I’m still trying to learn some of the guys. We were able to click. If we can do that for the rest of these preseason games, I think we’ll be in good shape.”

Zion Williamson Postgame Interview | Pelicans vs Bulls NBA Preseason | 10/4/22