The New Orleans Pelicans are entering the first season without Anthony Davis and will do better than the team did with a limited Davis a year ago.
Teams typically fall all the way to the bottom of the basement right after they trade their best stars. While they get assets in return, those assets usually take time to build, causing a complete rebuild. That is not the case with the New Orleans Pelicans.
The Pelicans got three solid young players in return in Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram and Josh Hart, all of which can play a significant role right away. They also got a ton of draft capital, some of which was flipped for even more capital and even more young players.
They also brought in veteran sharpshooter JJ Redick, who will undoubtedly help the team space the floor as well as teach the young guys the ropes.
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All of that alone would be great but the biggest thing to happen to the New Orleans Pelicans this summer was lucking out in the NBA Draft lottery and landing Zion Williamson as a result. Zion looks ready to be a star as early as day one, instantly filling the hole that Davis left behind.
Zion will not be as good as Davis is right away, it would be unreasonable to expect that, but he will be soon enough.
Despite all of these great moves and a little bit of luck, a lot of people are overlooking the Pelicans. Not only are they overlooking them as being a good team in 2019, but are completely looking past them being a playoff team.
This is a shame, really, as the Pelicans will be the eighth seed in the Western Conference this year.
The path to the eighth seed really is not all that difficult. First, let’s break down the seven teams that will make it ahead of the Pelicans, all of which being near locks for the playoffs barring some sort of big injury (which would only help New Orleans).
Both LA teams, the Denver Nuggets, Utah Jazz, Houston Rockets, Portland Trailblazers and Golden State Warriors are the seven teams that should be mortal locks to make the first seven seeds.
So, who does that leave for the Pelicans to compete with for the eighth and final seed in the Western Conference?
The Phoenix Suns, Oklahoma City Thunder and Memphis Grizzlies are throwaway teams that will be competing for a top draft pick, not a playoff spot. That leaves the Sacramento Kings, Dallas Mavericks, Minnesota Timberwolves and San Antonio Spurs as the Pelicans’ challengers.
In terms of raw talent, the Pelicans are better than the Kings. The Kings were fun to watch last year and will be more fun if Marvin Bagley and De’Aaron Fox get even better. However, they did lose some pieces and lack that playoff depth.
The Minnesota Timberwolves could be considered a throwaway team but with Karl-Anthony Towns they have to be somewhat considered. They won’t have a better record than the Pelicans as they were only three games better than last year’s team.
The Spurs and Mavericks will be the two teams that end up fighting to the end of the regular season with the Pelicans but both will come up short.
As great as Gregg Popovich is, this is a weird time for the Spurs. They underwhelmed last season, DeMar DeRozan wasn’t that great and there is a good chance that LaMarcus Alridge takes a step back. They will still be in the running, obviously, coming up just short.
The Mavericks are the most intriguing of the bunch as they have Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis, although Pozingis hasn’t played in a year and a half. However, outside of those two, the Mavericks lack depth and have more questions than answers.
The New Orleans Pelicans actually have a formed lineup and rotation already, which will obviously make winning games that much easier.
They might end up getting swept anyways but the Pelicans making the playoffs will be huge for this young team and will mean leaps and bounds for their success in the future.
And while the Western Conference is stacked, there is just enough room for the New Orleans Pelicans to wiggle into the playoffs, which is exactly what they are going to do.