The New Orleans Pelicans are entering a new era with the start of the 2019-20 season. Despite the loss of Anthony Davis last June, the Pelicans are among the most exciting teams this year with the presence of 2019 top draft pick, Zion Williamson.
Though the expectations are low for the Pelicans this year, they actually have a shot at making the playoffs. This isn’t as ridiculous as it may seem given how the Western Conference is more wide open than ever.
Here are four reasons why the Pelicans will return to the postseason:
4. Alvin Gentry is a better coach than many realize
Gentry has compiled a 145-183 record as head coach in four seasons with the Pelicans. During his first three seasons, the 64-year-old had been making steady progress (30, 34, 48 wins) and led them to the playoffs in 2018.
Last season was a regression for the Pelicans only because of Davis’ trade demands limited his playing time. Without their best player on the floor during crucial moments, they were still able to win 33 games. That’s a testament to Gentry’s coaching.
Entering his fourth season as the Pelicans’ head coach, with management’s support, Gentry should mold this team into a strong playoff contender.
3. Two playoff teams from last season will miss the 2019-20 postseason
The Oklahoma City Thunder are in rebuilding mode and will likely skip the playoffs this season. But the Los Angeles Lakers are likely going to take their spot. So who else will miss the playoffs?
This is going to be an unpopular opinion, but this could be the year that the San Antonio Spurs finally miss the playoffs. The Spurs have been terribly inconsistent the past two seasons and they will eventually suffer from not getting enough in the Kawhi Leonard trade.
The Pelicans could take the Spurs’ place in the playoffs if San Antonio falters. Anything can happen in the wild, wild west and the Pelicans are on an upward progression while the Spurs are heading in the opposite direction.
2. The former Lakers will thrive outside of L.A.
For the past couple of years, former No. 2 overall draft picks, Brandon Ingram (2016) and Lonzo Ball (2017), have been disappointments.
But without the pressure of playing in Hollywood, Ingram and Ball could develop at their own pace with the anonymity of playing for the Pelicans.
Ingram’s development may have been stifled by the presence of the talented Kyle Kuzma, who plays pretty much the same position as he did, the last two seasons. Without Kuzma around, Ingram could blossom into a 20-point scorer in New Orleans.
Ball could find playing alongside Jrue Holiday quite refreshing and vice versa. The two should be devastating defensively. Josh Hart, the other young player acquired from the Davis trade last June, is a combo guard who seems extra motivated to prove to the Lakers that they made a mistake.
1. Zion Williamson will be better than advertised
Expectations for Williamson are high but no one expects him to carry New Orleans to the playoffs just yet. Additionally, the Pelicans themselves have been trying to keep expectations low for Williamson this season.
Don’t believe them!
Williamson will be a force in the league as early as this season, and judging from his first preseason game (16 points and seven rebounds in 28 minutes), he’s just warming up. There’s a reason why the 2019 NBA Draft was the Zion Sweepstakes.
He is primed to become the best player the league has ever seen since LeBron James was drafted in 2003. His Duke University career (22.6 points, 8.9 rebounds) was just a preview of what he can do in the pros.
Expect Williamson to be given every opportunity to carry the team on his broad shoulders. He will exceed the hype and give the Pelicans a fighting chance to make the postseason.