Pelicans season preview: The Zion Williamson show is back

Pelicans season preview: The Zion Williamson show is back

Basketball

Pelicans season preview: The Zion Williamson show is back

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The New Orleans Pelicans were looking like they were heading towards a nightmare season after striking out in 2021 free agency and then losing Zion Williamson for the season. While they got off to a slow start, they got a lot out of roster and rounded out their rotation at the trade deadline. They made a late push for the play-in tournament and gave Pelicans fans a lot to be excited about after stealing two wins from the Phoenix Suns. They will look to capitalize off their momentum with a deeper push up the Western Conference standings.

Below is a preview of the upcoming 2022-23 Pelicans season.

Roster changes

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Returning: Brandon Ingram, Zion Williamson, CJ McCollum, Jonas Valanciunas, Herb Jones, Devonté Graham, Larry Nance Jr., Jaxson Hayes, Garrett Temple, Kira Lewis Jr., Trey Murphy III, Willy Hernangomez, Naji Marshall, Jose Alvarado

Additions: Dyson Daniels (G-League Ignite), Dereon Seabron (NC State), EJ Liddell (Ohio State)

Subtractions: Jared Harper (Valencia Basket), Tony Snell, Gary Clark

Strengths

Zion Williamson, New Orleans Pelicans

Stephen Lew-USA TODAY Sports

* Underrated star power… The Pelicans have two legitimate All-Stars in Williamson and Ingram, but they’ve had limited time playing together. And in the season they played together it didn’t always seem like they were amazing fits long-term. Both players need the ball in their hands so it will be interesting to see how head coach Willie Green balances their touches, as well as McCollum’s, who needs the ball a good amount as well. Either way, the Pelicans have the potential to be a top offense in the league this season behind them.

* Strong scoring in the paint and mid-range… Williamson is one of the most unstoppable players when he’s on his way to the rim. He averaged 65 percent on shots less than five feet from the rim in 2020-21 on a ridiculous 14.3 attempts per game. Valanciunas scores in the paint at a similar rate although at a much smaller volume than Williamson. The Pelicans were eighth last year in field goal attempts in the restricted area and there’s a good chance they go back to being first like they were in 2020-21. They were also ninth in mid-range scoring last year and they should stay in that range considering they’re bringing back the same roster.

* Huge, versatile team… New Orleans shifted to a huge starting lineup around the time they acquire McCollum that featured him at point guard, two big wings, and two centers. Their length allowed them to keep the early parts of the Suns series close by winning the possession game, especially by vastly outrebounding them. Now they will shift Williamson into that lineup over Hayes, which will sacrifice some length but give them more offensive firepower.

Weaknesses

Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

* Questionable shooting… The Pelicans were a bottom-tier three-point shooting team last season and it didn’t change much after the trade deadline. They did not address this in the offseason so it seems unlikely they make strides in that department. This is why they shifted to a styler more conducive to scoring in the paint and mid-range, which Williamson and Ingram are great at, respectively. They’ll need to improve their three-point shooting at some point or they won’t be able to keep up with strong offensive teams that get hot.

* Big team but the defense may not reflect that… The Pelicans ranked 18th in defense last season and it only rose to 16th post-trade deadline. They have some impressive defensive talent in Herb Jones and Jose Alvarado, both of whom are good at protecting the perimeter and defensive playmaking. There aren’t many other plus defenders on the roster and the return of Williamson, who struggled defensively in his first two years, could further hurt them on that end. The teams will need to dig deep and make strong internal improvements on the defensive end or risk simply being a one-way team.

Depth chart

Pelicans 2022-23 Depth Chart by Dionysis Aravantinos

Pelicans 2022-23 Depth Chart by Dionysis Aravantinos

Possible moves

Andrew Wevers-USA TODAY Sports

The Pelicans were the least active team during the 2022 offseason partly because they like their group, but mostly because of their close proximity to the luxury tax. They entered the offseason just $3.4 million below the tax, preventing them from using the mid-level exception and limiting them to first-round pick Dyson Daniels as their only big offseason addition. Thankfully, they already have a set rotation and a bench deep enough to support potential injuries.

If the Pelicans do anything on the trade front it might be reducing both short and long-term payroll. Any trade they make to improve the roster this season will likely require they take back equal or less salary so they avoid the tax. They could also look to trade players like Graham for expiring contracts to help them avoid the tax for next season. They are currently projected to be taxpayers next season after extending Nance Jr.

Salaries

Prediction

2rd in the Southwest Division, 8th in the Western Conference. (as voted by the HoopsHype staff)

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