The NBA is back, and with it come some teams with hopes of a championship and others who hope to crack the 20-win mark (sorry Cavs, Hornets and Knicks fans). But one of my favorite aspects of basketball is that dark horse team that shocks fans and owners alike by not only making the playoffs, but putting up a fight against top teams. Think the Indiana Pacers from two seasons ago or the Brooklyn Nets last year. This season, my dark horse is the New Orleans Pelicans.
With its mix of veteran talent and incredibly young core, the Pels are in store for a very exciting season that, health permitting, can surprise some people in the deep Western Conference. Right now, their starting five consists of Lonzo Ball, Jrue Holiday, Brandon Ingram, Zion Williamson and Derrick Favors, giving them one of the most well-rounded lineups in the NBA. Let’s break it down.
Ball is an incredible playmaker with an ever-improving shot, and now that he is out from behind the shadows of his deadbeat father and LeBron James, he should be able to thrive in the Pelicans’ fast-paced offense. His court vision is second-to-none, and with a bunch of athletes and shooters around him, I could see him dishing out over 10 assists a game, even with Holiday next to him. As for his defense, Ball took some big strides last season and has become a serious threat to lock down even some of the best players while also racking up his fair share of blocks and steals. We’ve seen small sample sizes of what he is capable of on both sides of the court, and at only 21 years old, his potential is through the roof.
Jrue Holiday has perennial All-Star talent that has been overshadowed by generational players like Steph Curry, Kyrie Irving, Damian Lillard and Russell WestBRICK (I mean Westbrook oops). Holiday earned his first All-Star selection when he was just 22 after he averaged 18 points and eight assists for the 76ers. Since then, the two-way guard has only improved and is currently in the prime of his career, averaging 21 points, eight assists and a career-high five rebounds per game last season. Holiday can put up points in bunches as well as provide as a playmaker, taking some of the pressure off Ball, but where he really shines is on the defensive end. Holiday is one of the best on-ball defenders in the league, earning a First Team All-Defensive selection last season. He and Ball will be one of the scariest backcourt duos in the league on the defensive end and provide consistency where some fear such a young team may lack.
Brandon Ingram is a player I have a little trouble getting behind, but that may once again just be from being stuck behind LeBron for the past couple seasons. Ingram can score, that goes without question, but his comparisons to Kevin Durant when he was drafted second overall seem misplaced based on his performance during his first three seasons. Ingram is listed at 6’9” but could very well be getting the Durant treatment, since his lankiness would suggest he stands somewhere closer to 6’10” or 6’11,” huge for a small forward. The big issue is that he is still just as skinny as he was when he came into the league and continuously gets bullies on both ends, limiting his overall production. If he is somehow able to put on some weight like Giannis or Kristaps have, there is no reason he can’t become a top scorer in the league within the next couple seasons. The Pelicans will happily take his 18 points a game, but they will need improved defensive ability for him to really contribute. But I am not too worried about that. After all, he is still only 22.
Now for Zion Williamson. I don’t know where to start with this kid. No one has received this much hype and this much hate simultaneously since LeBron. But what it all boils down to is this; Williamson is a freak athlete that will bully his way into the paint on both sides of the court, getting a good amount of buckets and rebounds, which is all you really need from your power forward. On the defensive side, it will be more of the same. Williamson’s size and athleticism will allow him to keep up with almost any player, and he will be able to rack up some big blocks based solely on his ability to jump out of the building. If this 19-year-old can stay healthy, I really believe the sky’s the limit for him, and he could not be in a better scenario with two great playmakers in Ball and Holiday at the helm. I personally cannot wait for the incredibly long highlight reel of the Ball-Williamson lob connection, they may even compete with the days of CP3 tossing it up to Blake Griffin.
Derrick Favors is someone I don’t have much of an opinion on, because what you see is what you get. He is never going to wow you with his footwork or range, but he is one of the most consistent players the NBA has seen. Favors has averaged 12 points and seven rebounds on his career, equal to his averages from last season. He will provide a big body in the middle as well as solid rebounding and protection around the rim. Along with this he brings some veteran leadership and a winning mindset, given his recent success with the Jazz. His numbers may not show it, but he brings as much to this team as the next.
The Pelicans’ biggest flaw is their lack of depth, something they have struggled with for the past several seasons. But if they play their cards right, they might have that issue solved this year, given their ability to go big or small. The Pels have, debatably, the best sixth man and three-point shooters in the game with J.J. Redick, who has served as a starter his whole career, a proven backup in Frank Jackson at the point and rookie Jaxon Hayes behind Favors. Not to mention Jahlil Okafor, who remains one of the most disrespected and underappreciated players in the league that could (and should) also provide valuable minutes.
The bench, as well as the whole team, could turn some heads this season, and if it weren’t for the Pels being in the much tougher Western Conference, I could see them being as high as a four-seed come playoff time. But since they do have to compete against the likes of the Warriors, Rockets, Nuggets and Lakers, I’ll say they finish the 2019-20 season as the seventh seed with one of the brightest futures in the NBA. Keep your eye on these Pels.
Conner Gilson is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. He tweets @connergilson03.