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Far-Fetched Friday: Pelicans Finish as Top-4 Seed Next Season
By: Khaqan Khan
After starting 1-15, the Pelicans stayed the course. With a little help from acquiring CJ McCollum in a midseason trade, they fought their way into the Play-In, where they beat the Spurs and then the Clippers to make the playoffs. They then gave the Suns a run for their money in a way we haven't seen an eight seed do. The Pelicans lost 4-2, but they could have easily taken this series of 7 or even won 4-2. They were competitive in every game and had a shot to win if not for Chris Paul's 4th quarter heroics. The fight they showed in the series proves to me this isn't a fluke. This reminds me of the Suns going 8-0 in the bubble the year before they made the Finals. Similarly, I believe the Pelicans will not only make the playoffs but will get home-court advantage as a top-4 seed.
Welcome back to Far-Fetched Friday, where every Friday we give you a bold prediction that we believe will come to fruition. This Friday, we look at the soaring Pelicans.
During the series, their rookie class became a revelation. The combination of Herb Jones, Jose Alvarado, and Trey Murphy was playing big crucial minutes. The 8th seed with three rookies playing crucial roles against the title favorite 1st seed should not have done as well as the Pelicans did, but that is just a testament to their persistence and dedication throughout the season of getting better. Herb Jones looks to be a perennial all-defense player and eventual DPOY candidate. Alvardo pulled a Chris Paul on Chris Paul himself. Trey Murphy's shooting will get him paid in this league. David Griffin finally established a young core with the pelicans.
Brandon Ingram said don't forget about me. People who caught Pelican games throughout the year were not surprised with how well he played once he got to the postseason. Last year, he fell off the radar in the shadow of Zion and a weird tumultuous season under Stan Van Gundy, but one thing about Ingram is that he loves basketball, and he loves to work. Under new head coach Willie Green, he came back with improved defense and playmaking, which boosted his scoring. In addition, his game is built for success in the playoffs with enough skill and length to be a mismatch and enough composure and IQ to figure out schemes. As a two-way playmaker and clutch shot maker, he has established himself as a guy you can build around.
What's next for the Pelicans? They have the Lakers lottery pick, they have Kira Lewis jr coming back from Injury, and oh, yea, Zion Williamson. It's hard to predict how this Zion situation will play out. The safest assumption is he gets the rookie extension and eventually asks out. It does not seem he has any intention of staying in New Orleans long-term. Who knows, maybe watching this team exceed expectations changed his mind.
Zion is a once-in-a-generation talent. We saw the type of damage he could do when he was healthy, 27 ppg on 60% shooting. If the Pelicans can figure out how to incorporate that Zion into this current roster, the Pelicans should be taken seriously as contenders. But if they don't, then expect another weird, tumultuous season. Zion is pretty high usage and is poor on defense, things that interrupt the momentum of this pelicans team. So maybe it's not a bad idea to trade Zion before his health becomes a problem again? Sell an injury-prone player who doesn't want to be there for a premium package to bolster your team that's already good around your other star player who is committed and not injury prone?
Regardless of what happens with Zion, the people of New Orleans should feel safe to become Pelican fans, and the rest of the NBA should watch out because of the way Willie Green has these guys bought in. With the way their rookies were unphased against the Suns behind Brandon Ingram, no one should be shocked if this team established themselves as a top 4 seed.
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