Pelicans Taking Flight: How New Orleans can Capitalize on their Upward Trajectory

The New Orleans Pelicans at 36-46 has surprised everyone. Going from the ninth seed at the playoff tournament, but working their way to the NBA play in. They ended up beating San Antonio Spurs and The Los Angeles Clippers to grab the eight seed in the western conference. 

As for their reward, they earned a first round series vs the one seed phoenix sun, with Chris Paul and Devin Booker. Although they have fought hard, they fell to the Suns in six games. Led by Brandon Ingram and CJ McCollum, the Pelicans have had decent success in the second half of the year. Before McCollum the Pelicans had a 21-32 record (including a 19-20 with Ingram, at the time of the trade).

Now with their season over, what’s next for the Pelicans. What should they do next to continue to build momentum going forward and prepare for next season.

Prepare Zion for a return to the team

I wrote more about Zion and what they can do to get him back to the court here. Hopefully with a full off season of rest and the right regime, Zion can be back to his normal dominant form. He’ll probably take the place of Jaxson Hayes in the lineup. A Lineup of McCollum, Herb Jones, Ingram, Zion and Jonas Valanciunas has potential to be a dangerous two way juggunant, if everyone is completely dialed in. They seem to have brought into coach Willie Green’s coaching style post McCollum trade so they just have to keep that momentum going, as well as hope for good health from Zion.

Build up the Bench

The Pelicans were able to build a solid ten man rotation, with young pieces of Trey Murphy III and Naji Marshall at the forward spots, providing athleticism and youth. They also play young guards such as Jose Alvarado and Off-season acquisition Devonte’ Graham. They also were able to acquire Larry Nance Jr. as a back up to Valanciunas in the McCollum trade. 

Although Alvarado, Murphy and Marshall are solid young players going forward, I think the Pelicans could use a bench scorer. Someone like Jordan Clarkson on the Utah Jazz for example to carry the offense for a couple of possessions at a time. This will persevere their starters from playing too many minutes in order to carry their bench offense in the regular season. They definitely need to add that particular piece to the team cause I don’t see Graham being a long term option in the role. The Pelicans do have some extra assets they can use to package in a deal to acquire a bench scorer. Someone like Clarkson, Patty Mills, or Spencer Dinwiddle, etc. These are all solid bench guards that would raise the ceiling of the Pelicans if acquired.

Lock up core guys to long term deals

The Pelicans have Valanciunas, McCollum and Ingram all locked into long term deals for at least two more seasons. With deals ending in 2023-24 for Valanciunas, McCollum and Ingram’s deal ending in 2024-25 respectively, the Pelicans have time to test and see if the Core is good enough to build into more and have them contend for the title. Zion’s rookie deal ends in 2023-24 (including his fifth year option) and Zion recently has shown a desire to stay long term and sign an extension.

However, despite Zion’s desire to stay, Pelicans General Manager David Griffin has shown some hesitation in giving him an extension recently.

If the Pelicans decide to trade Zion, I’m sure they’ll get a decent package for him, despite his injury woes this season. There should be a good amount of teams willing to give up a good amount of pieces to get him, if the Pelicans are willing to part from him.

Outside of their core four players, (McCollum, Ingram, Valanciunas and Zion) the rest of the rotation guys are young enough to see what they can become and to also see if they want to keep or part with those pieces. Don’t rush to trade for pieces if you don’t see them being a part of the team core long term but build instead on what you have (for now). Also maybe look at finding the right vets to short term deals that can help the Pelicans when it comes to building experience with a contender, while you keep the main guys to long term deals, if the core meshes well.

Looking back to where they parted from Lonzo Ball before the season, which was seen as an initial bad move is now seen as a good move, due to his own injury history. Keeping Ball might take minutes from the likes of Jones and wasn’t the right fit next to Zion and Ingram, in terms of trying to build a contender to win games.

The Pelicans have had a solid second half and have seen the postseason, coming away with solid experience. Now we got to see where they go from here. Now how far can this team, the Pelicans, Fly as a team going forward.

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Born and Raised in the Greater NYC Area. Long time New York Knicks fan as well as a Huge NBA fan since 2006. You can follow him on twitter at @KyosotaComics.