Next Steps for the Pelicans
Currently sitting at 15-19, the Pelicans are not playing as well as they should be. They struggled in the bubble last year and missed the playoffs in spite of what was supposed to be an easy schedule. Drafting Zion Williamson at #1 meant that good days were believed to follow. It has been a bit of a slow process.
The team has had two All-Stars in the past two years, one being Zion and the other Brandon Ingram, who is having another great year. But the team is still evaluating how to best fit players around them. From what the rumor mill is saying, 3/5 of the Pelicans starting lineup sits in trade rumors. There have been talks of moving Steven Adams, as well as Lonzo Ball and Eric Bledsoe.
There are a few things the team needs to do if they want to be a legitimate playoff team. Read on to find them out.
Let’s take a look at the next steps for the Pelicans!
1) Find a Sixth Man
If you want to be feared by other teams around the NBA, it’s critical to have a player that can come off the bench and score the ball effectively. JJ Redick was that guy last year, but it seems in 2020-21 that his age has caught up with him. Redick went from averaging 15 ppg on 45% shooting last season down to 8.3 ppg on 39% shooting this year. Not very good.
Josh Hart has had a terrific season for the Pelicans and will be worthy of a nice extension in the offseason, but he’s not a sixth man by any means. He’s very good as seventh or eighth, where he can play 20-30 minutes and provide a nice scoring touch on his best nights. But he’s not the type of player who can heat up. Nickeil Alexander-Walker looks like a player who will only be good in short bursts, his 37-point outburst seeming to be an anomaly.
Willy Hernangomez is a decent backup center, but the team could use an upgrade there. As a matter of fact, they should probably revamp the center position altogether. And perhaps cut their losses with Jaxson Hayes, who is looking like a bust after being taken in the lottery a season ago.
Get your sixth man. You need somebody who can come off the bench 5-6 minutes into a game and do some scoring.
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2) Invest in Lonzo Ball
He’s been up and down in the two years he’s spent in New Orleans, but one thing is clear about Lonzo Ball: he makes winning plays. For all the criticism that his shooting has drawn over the years, Ball has continued to improve in that regard. He’s a tremendous passer and also has great chemistry with his former LA teammates Josh Hart and Brandon Ingram.
Even though his rebounds are down, Ball’s scoring is up to a career-high of 15 per game this season. He’s shooting 43% from the floor, 40% from three, and 78% from the free-throw line, all of which are career-highs. His assists are down because the ball has been in his hands a little less. But he’s still averaging a 15-4-5 line, with 1.3 steals per game. He can effectively guard his counterpart, while being a sniper on the other end.
The team should trade with Eric Bledsoe, who looks like a shell of his former self. And in doing so, find a few guys that can fit around the team. Ball has earned the opportunity to stick around. And at just 23 years of age, he is only going to get better. The major thing is his health. Ball appeared in 63 of 72 games last year and has played in 31 of 34 this year.
The health stat matters because he only played in 99 out of 164 possible games in two years with the Lakers.
3) Find a Mobile Center
Ask anybody that I’ve ever talked hoops with, and they’ll tell you I love Steven Adams. It’s true; I do. Just like Kel loves Orange Soda. The only problem is, he is a horrible fit on this team. And while he brings tremendous leadership, he isn’t helping the team much.
Adams is a terrific screener and makes sure to find open teammates whenever possible. The issue is that he has no jumper to speak of and takes up space in the lane. Brandon Ingram can’t drive to the basket when Adams is around, most of the time. And Zion Williamson, who does most of his work near the basket, doesn’t exactly benefit from another big body hanging out inside.
It also doesn’t help matters that Adams averaged just 0.5 blocks per game. Small forward Brandon Ingram (27) leads the team in blocks through 34 games played. The team has got to find a mobile center. Somebody that they can deploy on the three-point line and swing the ball to. Zion is only 6’6, but is athletic and strong enough to grab offensive rebounds. Let him be the one hanging in the lane.
Whether they trade Adams for somebody or just find somebody on the market, they’ve got to make a move. He can help so many teams, but the Pelicans aren’t one of them. Finding a rim-protecting, three-point shooting big man would make this team complete.
It’s less about rim protection and more about mobility. If they can block a lot of shots, it’s a bonus. Not having a guy who can play away from the hoop will definitely hurt this team in half-court sets.