On Sunday, the New Orleans Pelicans took home their second straight win against the Phoenix Suns. The overtime thriller wasn’t necessarily anything significant on the surface, as it’s still early in the regular season. However, these two teams have a history, and back-to-back wins against them have more meaning than people think.
On Friday, during the final seconds of their first matchup against the Suns, Zion Williamson capped off the 128-117 win with a 360-degree windmill dunk, sending the Smoothie King Center into a frenzy. The Suns didn’t take this too kindly, starting an altercation after the fact.
Following Friday’s game, there was undoubtedly tension going into the Sunday matchup. The Pelicans were eliminated last season at the hands of Devin Booker and Chris Paul, so snatching two straight at home would be huge. New Orleans did just that.
Coming into the 2022-23 NBA season, there was an expectation that the Pelicans would once again compete for a playoff spot. Last season, the Pelicans managed to win all of their games in the Play-In Tournament despite going 36-46. New Orleans is now 18-8, good for the top spot in the Western Conference.
On the surface, this is definitely surprising. No significant roster changes were made over the summer, and the only real asset the Pelicans added was Dyson Daniels in the NBA Draft. However, it all becomes clear when you look at the fact that New Orleans did not have their franchise player last season.
You’d have to be living under a rock to not know about Zion Williamson.
Take a look at the Pelicans’ roster. Sure, Williamson is a near superstar, and CJ McCollum and Brandon Ingram are very good second and third options. But, on paper, this roster isn’t built to be better than the Warriors, Clippers, or Nuggets.
What separates New Orleans from the rest of the Western Conference is that their players are not necessarily big names, but big fits.
GM David Griffin has managed to put together a roster of hard-nosed, grit-and-grind players, and Head Coach Willie Green takes it a step further by developing the young guys and putting together lineups that balance each other out.
The Pelicans can get it done on both sides of the floor As of now, New Orleans is fifth in the NBA in offensive rating (115.3) and third in the NBA in defensive rating (108.4). It’s no surprise when you look at the defenders. Williamson is averaging 1.2 steals per game, and Coach Green trots out elite defenders such as Herb Jones, Trey Murphy III, and Jose Alvarado. Balance it out with the scoring of Williamson, Ingram, and McCollum, and you have a recipe for an elite Western Conference team.
In such an offensively driven league, where you need two or three superstars to win, the Pelicans are culture defiers. Take a look at the standings compared with offensive rating. The Boston Celtics, Phoenix Suns, and Denver Nuggets, elite conference contenders, have the three best offensive ratings. In terms of defensive rating, they all fall out of the top seven.
Defense matters and that is why Willie Green’s team is at the top of their conference. They don’t necessarily have an MVP candidate, and they don’t have big-name players, besides Zion Williamson, to make you jump out of your seat. The New Orleans Pelicans win because they’re physical. They’ll run you over, and they don’t care who is in their way.