The season hasn’t gone to plan for the New Orleans Pelicans, but the future is still bright for the team. Their number one pick, Zion Williamson, is finally healthy and contributing, while several other players are having very good seasons. That said, the Pelicans’ overall record is disappointing, and when the trade deadline approached, some questioned whether the franchise would be better off trading some of their better players for more long-term assets. But the roster has more to gain in the future by not making any moves and allowing this group of players to grow together. That’s why the Pelicans stood still as the 2020 trade deadline passed by.
Injuries derailed the Pelicans’ season before it starts
For the first time in a couple of years, the prevailing emotion going into the season for the New Orleans Pelicans was excitement. The Anthony Davis saga that hovered over the Pelicans’ previous season finally arrived at its conclusion with the superstar big man getting traded to the Los Angeles Lakers. There is no precedent to losing a player of Davis’ level without coming off worse in the transaction, but New Orleans, led by new GM David Griffin, got as much as they could out of the trade. They got two young players with intriguing potential (Brandon Ingram and Lonzo Ball) and three first-round picks in exchange for Davis.
The offseason got even better for the Pelicans when they won the draft lottery that gave them the gift of Zion Williamson. Williamson became the superstar that the team could be built around. They signed quality veterans who could help on the court and provide leadership in the locker room (JJ Redick and Derrick Favors) and kept established players already on the roster (Jrue Holiday).
Those moves gave Pelicans fans that the team would be good in the future and the present. But that hope was extinguished after Williamson tore his meniscus, and the team lost seven of their first eight games. Injuries to their other starting big man, Derrick Favors, left New Orleans with no interior presence on defense. Their season was on the ropes before they had a chance.
Brandon Ingram plays like a star amid difficult circumstances
It took a long time for the new-look Pelicans to come together. There were some significant growing pains. The low point was when they lost 13 games in a 14-game stretch. Fans began to question if Alvin Gentry was the right coach for this team. But New Orleans still has an outside chance of making the playoffs because of the performances of Brandon Ingram.
Ingram had been a slightly frustrating player throughout his career. He was the second overall pick in the 2016 draft, but his talent was only seen in glimpses. His skinny frame and inconsistent jumper prevented him from being the player many hoped that he could become. However, Ingram has been a star this season. Williamson’s injury pushed him into a starring role that he has grabbed with both hands. He’s averaging career highs in points, rebounds, assists, minutes, 3-point percentage, and free-throw attempts.
As bad as the Pelicans have been at times, Ingram’s play has kept the team’s collective heads (nearly) above water. He deserved to be named as an All-Star reserve for the first time in his career.
New Orleans is finally healthy — is now the time for trades?
It took 48 games, but the Pelicans finally got their full squad on the floor. But their earlier struggles sparked the debate over what New Orleans should do at the trade deadline. Players like Holiday, Favors and Redick could have brought back some valuable pieces in potential trades. But the Pelicans were better off sticking with the team they have.
The arrival of Williamson into the NBA season’s narrative has been a much-needed bright spot after Kobe Bryant’s tragic death, nagging injuries to stars such as Luka Doncic, and the ever-present talk of load management. He started slowly out of the gate — he only scored five points in his first three quarters — but he’s become increasingly comfortable on the floor with each passing game. In limited minutes, he’s looked every bit the once-in-a-generation phenom that everyone views him as — 18 points and eight rebounds in only 24 minutes per game.
They already have the sort of assets that franchises tank to acquire. Ingram and Williamson should be cornerstones for the franchise in the future. The Anthony Davis trade gave them three extra draft picks, in addition to their own. They don’t have a single bad contract on the books. New Orleans would be better off keeping this group together and seeing how they mesh together before making any significant moves.