The New Orleans Pelicans are one of the most interesting teams in the NBA heading into the 2019-20 campaign, which is probably not something anyone would have anticipated seven months ago when Anthony Davis demanded a trade.
And yet, here we are, as the Pelicans won the Zion Williamson sweepstakes and also landed Brandon Ingram and Lonzo Ball in a blockbuster deal that sent Davis to the Los Angeles Lakers, so they have an intriguing stable of young talent.
But is New Orleans truly the sleeper playoff contender that some have made it out to be going into next season?
Here are five bold predictions for the Pelicans.
5. They Won’t Contend for a Playoff Spot
I’m not sure how “bold” this is, but based on how many people seriously think the Pelicans can make a push for one of the last couple of playoff spots in the Western Conference, I have to include it here.
Maybe if they were in the East, it would be a different story, but I just don’t see how the Pels can really compete for a postseason berth in the West.
Let’s think about this for a second: the Clippers, Lakers, Warriors, Nuggets, Jazz, Rockets, and Blazers are all probably locks. That leaves just one playoff spot available with the Kings, Spurs, Mavericks and Timberwolves all fighting for that slot along with the Pelicans.
I know New Orleans has a lot of reasons to be excited about its future, but I personally find the hype surrounding the team heading into the 2019-20 campaign to be quite a bit over the top.
4. Brandon Ingram Will Be the Team’s Leading Scorer
I’m not necessarily a huge fan of Ingram as a prospect, but there is no doubting that he does have some talent, and right now, he is probably the best scorer on the Pelicans.
Ingram averaged 18.3 points per game over 52 contests with the Lakers this past season, and while he wasn’t absurdly efficient, he was still solid, posting a true-shooting percentage of 55.5 percent.
Of course, the No. 1 concern with Ingram is his health, as he has battled nagging injury issues since entering the NBA in 2015 and is coming off of a scare with blood clots.
Hopefully, Ingram will be healthy enough to play a full season this year, and if he does, look for him to lead New Orleans in scoring.
3. They’ll Trade One of JJ Redick or Derrick Favors
The Pelicans picked up both JJ Redick and Derrick Favors this summer, signing Redick outright and swinging a trade with the Utah Jazz for Favors. Both guys are on short-term deals (two years for Redick and one for Favors), so they both have some value on the trade market.
I’m not sure New Orleans will deal both of them, but I think that by the February trade deadline, one of them will be playing elsewhere, as contending teams could certainly use either player.
Redick is certainly a more valuable piece in a vacuum given his lights-out shooting from long range, but given that Favors is on an expiring contract, he seems like the more likely of the two to get moved.
The Pelicans might also want to keep Redick around for veteran leadership, which is another plus for him.
But the Pels will (or at least should) explore the trade market for Redick and Favors between now and the deadline.
2. They’ll Gauge the Market for Jrue Holiday
The Pelicans really, really seem to like Jrue Holiday, so trading him seems relatively unlikely at this point, but I think the Pels would be doing themselves a disservice to not at least gauge his value around the league.
Holiday is a very good two-way player, but the catch is that he has two years remaining on his current contract, plus a player option for a third year in 2021-22.
Will the Pelicans be able to get enough value for Holiday to trade him in spite of that deal?
Probably not, and it’s also fair to mention that Holiday, who is now 29 years old, has only played 70 games twice since the 2012-13 campaign, so he is an injury risk.
But again, it can’t hurt to at least try and see what other teams are offering, and I’m sure the Pels will put some feelers out there at some point over the next five months or so.
1. Zion Williamson Will Be Disappointing
People are expecting Williamson to immediately come in and dominate the league, with some already declaring him to be the most valuable asset in the entire NBA, and that seems foolish.
We have yet to even see Zion play an actual game (heck, he only played a few minutes in Summer League), and there is also no doubt that he has some holes that need fixing.
I think we are also neglecting the fact that the Pelicans will probably take it very easy with Williamson during his rookie year, and in today’s game where load management is becoming more and more prevalent, don’t be surprised if Williamson ends up missing 20 games or so.
I’m not saying Williamson will be bad, but thinking he is going to instantly be a star is pushing it.