The New Orleans Pelicans are on the road against the Toronto Raptors to open the NBA season without rookie sensation Zion Williamson.
The New Orleans Pelicans are entering a new era of the franchise and one of the most exciting seasons of recent memory. The Anthony Davis era is over in New Orleans and now the team boasts a collection of young guys with extreme promise that are also really fun to watch.
We won’t see the Pelicans at full strength right away as Zion Williamson is set to miss a few weeks with a knee injury. However, while it is a blow to the team, the Pelicans have plenty of talented guys around Zion that can pick up the slack while he is out.
The Pelicans went 5-0 in the preseason and are looking to extend those winning ways to the regular season, especially as they make their trek to become a surprise eighth seed in the tough Western Conference.
The first challenge of the year will be against the defending champions, the Toronto Raptors. Without Kawhi Leonard, though, they are not the same team from last season.
Here are the three keys for the Pelicans to start the year 1-0 with a win over last year’s champs.
1. Keep Derrick Favors matched up on Pascal Siakam
Pascal Siakam is now the foundation of the Toronto Raptors and that is evident from the four-year, $130 million extension that he just signed with the team. Siakam was really good down the stretch last season and his playoff performance was a huge reason why the Raptors were able to win it all.
He averaged 19 points and 7.2 rebounds per game since the turn of the calendar last season and had five games where he scored 30 or more points.
The Raptors are going to try everything to get a different matchup to exploit with Siakam as the matchup with Favors is not a favorable one for the Raptors. Favors was 15th among forwards with at least 50 games played in defensive win shares last season and had the sixth-highest block rate at 51.5 percent.
2. Brandon Ingram or Jrue Holiday need to take over
The biggest disadvantage of not having Zion Williamson on the court is that the Pelicans do not have a clear-cut number one guy to go to. This might help the team in distributing the basketball and making sure everyone gets a slice of the pie, but the team still needs that one guy to take over the game and make shots when they need it.
My prediction is more towards Holiday as Ingram still did not show that competitive “I am going to win this game by myself” edge that we would like to see in the preseason. He has the skills but he has a more passive mindset, which goes hand-in-hand with him looking more like a point forward at times.
3. Focus on the three-point shot
This might seem like a given in today’s NBA but the New Orleans Pelicans really need to focused on shooting more threes in this game to outlast the Raptors. This is not a blanket statement, this is directly tied to how the Raptors won and lost games last season.
It is really interesting — if you look at the team’s splits from last season you will notice that the team did not differ much in wins and losses in terms of field goal attempts, rebounding, assists, etc. Sure, their field-goal percentage was slightly lower, but that is natural.
The opponent stats are more of the same with the one exception being how many three-pointers teams attempted. Teams attempted 3.1 more three-pointers per game in games that the Raptors lost.
That might not seem like a huge difference but it is the only noticeable difference in the numbers that are likely affected by some three-point barrages that the Raptors were on the losing end of.
So instead of getting the ball in the paint, the New Orleans Pelicans’ game plan should be to get as many open-look threes as possible.