The New Orleans Pelicans officially turned over a new leaf in their franchise history this summer, trading away superstar center Anthony Davis to the Los Angeles Lakers and lucking into the No. 1 overall pick in the 2019 NBA Draft, selecting generational talent Zion Williamson.
Executive Vice President of Basketball Operations David Griffin was lauded for landing a host of future assets in the Davis deal, and the Pelicans are widely regarded as one of the most exciting teams in basketball heading into the 2019-20 regular season.
In a totally reloaded Western Conference, however, playoff spots will certainly be hard to come by for any team, especially for a team in the very first year of their “rebuild.”
With that in mind, here are the three Pelicans players facing the most pressure heading into this season.
3. Jrue Holiday
Externally, Holiday might not face a whole lot of pressure. As the most established Pelican on the roster, he has already proven that he is one of the best two-way combo guards in all of basketball. Internally, however, even Holiday himself will likely feel a bit of pressure as the leader of a new-look group that already has high expectations.
When Davis was still in town, Holiday could afford to fly under the radar. From the fact that Davis was arguably the MVP of the league for the first three months of the year to the subsequent sideshow caused by his injuries and trade request, the storylines in New Orleans always revolved around Davis.
But this year, Holiday is the unquestioned leader of the team. He averaged a career-high 21.2 points and 5.0 rebounds per game to go along with 7.7 assists and 1.6 steals, and as even regarded as an All-Star snub. With a fresh group of backcourt mates that includes Lonzo Ball and Josh Hart, the onus will be on Holiday to get the newcomers involved and help the team gel both on and off the floor.
The development of good chemistry could be the intangible that puts this immensely talented Pelicans team over the top, and Holiday’s ability to lead cannot be understated.
2. Lonzo Ball
This is an extremely consequential season for Ball. Although he is already regarded as one of the better perimeter defenders in the league and has tremendous court vision, his playmaking has been slightly disappointing and injuries have limited his overall growth as a player.
However, there is plenty of reason for optimism with respect to Ball’s development in New Orleans. For starters, he should see more of the ball at the point because of Holiday’s ability to play off the ball (compared to LeBron James dominating possession in Los Angeles). Secondly, despite being in a new city, he will have some familiarity in terms of still being able to play with both Hart and Brandon Ingram.
That said, Ball is absolutely under the microscope this season. Although he improved his perimeter shooting, most defenders are still very comfortable sagging off of him on the perimeter. Ball also struggles to finish through traffic, which at times actually masks how good he can be in transition.
Will this finally be the year that Ball begins to validate his draft selection?
1. Zion Williamson
Is there any doubt whatsoever that Williamson faces the most pressure of any rookie since LeBron James? He is a transcendent talent given his size and athleticism.
However, there are still some questions about how his game will translate at the next level.
Williamson has incredible body control for someone with his size, and his leaping ability is second to none.
But in a league where everyone is bigger and stronger, can he still have success barreling his way to the rim? Will his body be able to sustain the rigors of an 82-game season?
Needless to say, this is the most anticipated rookie season in recent memory, and Williamson’s development could determine whether or not the Pelicans reach the playoffs.