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New Orleans Pelicans: 5 big questions for 2021-22 NBA season

Jaxson Hayes, Josh Hart, Brandon Ingram, Nickeil Alexander-Walker, Pelicans

The New Orleans Pelicans are an interesting team to watch heading into the season. There’s a lot of questions surrounding this team right now, most notably about their future.

Let’s take a look at some of these questions and see if we can give some predictions on what will be the answer to those questions.

What in the world is happening to Zion Williamson?

Okay, look. We understand Zion Williamson is a physical specimen to behold. He’s a 6’7, 284 pound athletic freak that has never-been-seen before in the NBA, or in any other professional basketball league. There’s no doubt that the Pelicans got a good one in Zion.

However… isn’t this… too much? It’s been reported that due to his foot injury, Zion’s weight has gone up. Way up, in fact: he’s reportedly north of 300 pounds at this point. That’s not a great weight for a basketball athlete, especially one as athletic as the Pelicans forward. Those high jumps and bursts of speed are going to add more stress to his body if he indeed gain weight.

The Pelicans have to figure out a way to get Zion’s weight in control. If not, the sophomore’s career might end sooner and more tragically than we expected it to be.

Is Brandon Ingram worth keeping around?

We have to talk about Brandon Ingram. In Ingram’s first year in New Orleans, he thrived in the new system. As the de-facto lead scorer of the team, he did enough to earn All-Star honors and be  the Most Improved Player in that same season.

After that… well, he didn’t regress, so perhaps that’s a good thing. The Pelicans forward’s counting stats remained the same or had minimal regression, at the very least. The problem is that Ingram and Williamson might be a pairing that doesn’t quite work in practice.

Zion Williamson is a force of nature under the paint, as we all know. His soft touch around the rim and athletic abilities make him one of the best inside scorers today. On the surface, Ingram looks like a decent fit for Zion: in his two seasons with the Pelicans, B.I has never shot below 38% from deep. However, his three-point volume is low, since Ingram scores more comfortably from the midrange. That clashes with Zion’s inside-heavy style/

Do the Pels believe enough that the duo can make this pairing work. We’ll see.

Can Nickeil Alexander-Walker improve more?

Nickeil Alexander-Walker has been a revelation for the Pelicans. After an uneventful rookie season, Alexander-Walker balled out big time for the Pels in Year 2. Coming off the bench, he averaged 11 points per game on 42% shooting, along with 3.3 rebounds and 2.2 assists per game. He looked like an absolute stud off the bench.

The question now for NAW is whether he can continue to improve more and be of greater help to the Pelicans. Two areas that he’s already good at but needs to be better are his shooting from deep and defense. He’s not a bad three-point shooter (34% last season), but playing alongside Zion Williamson means needing to be more of a threat from deep. And with Zion still struggling to find his footing on defense, perimeter defense from guys like NAW will be very important to unlocking their full potential.

Where does Jaxson Hayes fit into the timeline?

Jaxson Hayes falls into the same problem as Brandon Ingram when it comes to fit with the team. However, the Pelicans center has a lot less going for him than Ingram.

For one, Hayes more or less plays the same position as Williamson (the center/power forward spots). He’s also not shown any semblance of any floor-spacing at all: he only shot 14 three-point attempts in his second season in the league. Those two factors alone put him in a rather awkward position with the Pelicans.

This season will be the ultimate test of where Hayes stands with the Pelicans. Can they figure out a way of keeping Hayes together with Zion? Or is it a lost cause.

Where is this team going?

Ever since Anthony Davis left the Pelicans, the team hasn’t really been, well, good. They’ve missed the postseason in all of their post-Davis years. This should be Zion Williamson’s year for the taking: it’s his third year, and all of the signs point to him being a significant presence by now.

However, injury concerns have derailed Williamson’s potential domination. If Zion misses significant time this year, should the Pelicans tank it and waste another year of Ingram’s prime? Or do they fully commit to the tank? These are questions that need to be answered, and fast.