NBA 2023-2024 Preview: New Orleans Pelicans Must Avoid Falling Behind

New Orleans NBA Preview 2023 2024 copie 8

Who will succeed the Nuggets as NBA champions? Over the course of a month, we’re diving into all 30 teams of the esteemed American league. Today, we turn our focus to Louisiana to discuss the New Orleans Pelicans.

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2022/2023 Recap: The Pelicans’ Ascent Delayed

Last season, marking the fifth straight year, the Pelicans wrapped up their campaign between 9th and 13th place. They concluded with a near-even record, boasting 42 wins to 40 losses. However, the storyline of the season was overshadowed by injuries to their star players. Zion Williamson managed to play only 29 games before succumbing to a severe hamstring injury in early January. As of that moment, the Louisiana franchise was ranked 3rd in the West. The team’s other mainstay, Brandon Ingram, also faced injury challenges during this period, leading to the team’s slide down the rankings.

Throughout the season, the coaching staff had to improvise, giving starting roles to emerging talents like Trey Murphy III, Naji Marshall, Dyson Daniels, and Jose Alvarado. This resulted in the Pelicans ending in 9th place and suffering a first-round play-in defeat against Oklahoma City. The realization of this team’s potential continues to be postponed, with the ongoing health of their key players being a recurring concern.

Offseason Moves

Departures:

  • Josh Richardson (to Heat)
  • Garrett Temple (to Raptors)
  • Jaxson Hayes (to Lakers)
  • Willy Hernangomez (to FC Barcelona)

Extensions

  • Herbert Jones (4 years)
  • EJ Liddell (3 years)
  • Dereon Seabron (two-way contract)

Arrival

  • Cody Zeller (from Heat)
  • Jordan Hawkins (14th pick of the 2023 Draft)
  • Kaiser Gates (two-way contract)

Pelicans’ Starting Five

CJ McCollum, Herb Jones, Brandon Ingram, Zion Williamson, Jonas Valanciunas

Bench Rotation

  • Point Guards: Dyson Daniels, Jose Alvarado, Kira Lewis Jr.
  • Shooting Guards: Jordan Hawkins, Dereon Seabron (two-way)
  • Small Forwards: Trey Murphy III, Naji Marshall, Kaiser Gates (two-way)
  • Power Forwards: EJ Liddell
  • Centers: Larry Nance Jr, Cody Zeller

Strengths and Weaknesses

Strength: Established Hierarchy

A major strength of this roster is the clarity with which they have entered the training camp. Every player knows their role and their standing in the team’s hierarchy. Brandon Ingram and Zion Williamson are set to be the offensive leaders. CJ McCollum and Jonas Valanciunas will serve as secondary offensive options. The rest, including Herb Jones, Larry Nance Jr, Jose Alvarado, and Dyson Daniels, are primarily defensive role-players. This team has maintained continuity over the past two years, with every player locked into long-term contracts. Moreover, they share a close bond with coach Willie Green and are well-acquainted with his systems, style of play, and operations. They’ve shown impressive outcomes with his methods but never consistently throughout a season. The key for these Pelicans now is consistency.

Weakness: 3-Point Shooting

Outside shooting is a glaring weakness for this squad. Last season, the Pelicans ranked 28th in the NBA in terms of 3-point attempts. It simply wasn’t a focal point in their game, which relied heavily on paint dominance and mid-range shots. With Zion Williamson’s return and the injury to the team’s best shooter, Trey Murphy III (out until December), the situation doesn’t seem likely to improve. The spacing within the starting five is subpar. Hope might come from rookie Jordan Hawkins, a pure shooter drafted specifically to address this shortcoming. The addition of former Hornets’ coach James Borrego to the staff as an offensive coordinator might also bring some respite. As per Willie Green, Borrego is expected to “bring the shooting prowess he picked up in San Antonio and while coaching Charlotte.”

Player to Watch: EJ Liddell

While the easy pick for this category might be Zion Williamson, from whom much is expected this season, a deeper dive into the roster reveals another interesting prospect: EJ Liddell. Standing at 6’6″, the former Ohio State power forward was picked 41st by the Pelicans in the 2022 Draft. During his college career, he averaged 19 points, 8 rebounds, 2 blocks, and shot 37% from beyond the arc. However, a torn ACL during the Summer League prevented him from making his NBA debut.

Despite this setback, the Pelicans kept an eye on him and eventually signed him to a three-year contract this summer, even without him playing a single game for the franchise. This signifies their confidence in his potential. With the Pelicans thin at the small forward and power forward positions, especially with Trey Murphy III’s injury, Liddell has an opportunity to carve out a significant role. Experts at the Envergure website describe him as “an offensive big man who can stretch the floor, attack closeouts, and facilitate the game.” Precisely what the Pelicans need in that position.

End of Season Prediction: 10th in the West

Despite the roster’s continuity, the Pelicans will need to find their balance. Last season, they ranked 6th best in defense and 21st in offense. This trend might well reverse this season. The return of Zion Williamson and the addition of James Borrego to the coaching staff point to this possibility. Such changes will inevitably require an adjustment period as the team seeks to redefine its identity. Given the stiff competition in the Western Conference, this could cost them a top-8 spot.

The Pelicans are under immense pressure to perform this season. The project built around Brandon Ingram and Zion Williamson has been ongoing for several years without significant success. A disappointing campaign could have severe ramifications. If that happens, the team might undergo significant changes, affecting players, coaching staff, and management alike.

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