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New Orleans Pelicans 2022-23 NBA preview: Zion Williamson’s return puts the rest of the league on notice

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The New Orleans Pelicans have high hopes for this season, and rightly so. With the return of Zion Williamson, their starting line-up is considered one of the best five-man in the league, and they have good depth thanks to a pair of high-flying athletes in Larry Nance Jr. and Jackson Hayes. In addition, they have Trey Murphy, Garrett Temple, Devonte Graham, Naji Marsol, Willy Hermangomes and Spark Plug Jose Alvarado, all set to take significant roles on the bench.

Without Williamson, New Orleans finished in 8th place last season and made it hard on the top-seeded Suns by losing six games in the first round. Of course, they believe they can move past the play-in and into the top six in the West this season, but it’s a very difficult task given the depth of the conference.

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Here’s a sneak peek at the Pelicans’ roster, which is largely unchanged from last season, along with three key storylines to keep an eye on as the season progresses.

Key changes

  • Additions: Dyson Daniels, 8th overall pick
  • Losses: Tony Snell


  • Guaranteed contracts: CJ McCollum, Brandon Ingram, Jonas Valanciunas, Zion Williamson, Devonte Graham, Larry Nance Jr., Jackson Hayes, Dyson Daniels, Garret Temple, Kira Lewis Jr., Trey Murphy, Willie Hermangomez, Herb Jones, Naji Marsall, Jose Alvarado
  • Training camp invites: Zylan Cheatham, Daekwon Plowden, John Petty Jr.
  • Bilateral deals: John Butler, Dereon Sibron

Key Top: Keep Zion Healthy

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This is priority number one, two and three for the Pelicans. If they don’t, they won’t go anywhere. If so, there is something potentially special about New Orleans.

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Williamson only managed to play 85 games in the first three years of his career, but the Pelicans still granted him a five-year extension worth at least $193 million, with a chance of that figure jumping to $231 million.

It’s not in vain. When he was on the court, he was great. Make it historically great. In the 2020-2021 season, his only record-breaking season to speak of, Williamson entered the NBA annals as the only player in history to average over 25 points per game on at least 61 percent shooting, and in fact in fact, his figures were clearly lower. better than even this tasteless standard: 27.0 points per game with a true hit percentage of 0.649. He was 20 years old.

Now he is 22. He seems to be in incredible shape. And he will work hard as a point guard. Yes, you heard right. This won’t be the first time we’ve seen this, but it’s been a long time, so forgive me if you forgot that the last time we saw Zion play, he was kicking a ball across the floor and running around with a pickaxe. -roll.

True, it was under Stan Van Gundy, but expect to see a lot of it under Willie Green as well. Zion has game instincts and a way of playing that belies his style. His rotational movement to get to his left side is messy. He’s cunning in between and will almost certainly hit the paint as a downhill hitter, which requires the help and follow-up rotations every NBA offense strives to create.

Two seasons ago, Zion, including passing, scored almost one point for pick-and-roll possession, according to Synergy. If you like the traditional back attack, how about having CJ McCollum screen Zion and open threes? Yes please.

On the half court, despite being unconventional, point guard Zion makes perfect sense to just get the ball into the hands of your best player, who has shown he has what it takes to use that creative freedom effectively.

Next: enough protection?

New Orleans ranked in the top 10 defensemen in the last two-plus months of last season. Every coach says defense is a priority, but Willie Green did it honestly. Efforts will be made across the board and the bench could wreak havoc with Herbert Jones (already one of the best defensemen in the league) and Alvarado (a thorn in the side of every point guard just trying to get the ball out). without being harassed within an inch of your life) securing things, but can a starter block bring the same two-way energy every night?

The last time we saw Williamson and Brandon Ingram play together, they were both bad defenders. Williamson, in particular, was exceptionally bad most of the time. The good news is that Williamson’s presence will take some of the scoring pressure off Ingram, which in turn should allow him to put more energy into defense.

Ingram improved his defense a lot last season. The Willie Green effect was real to him. Williamson and McCollum should be at least average guards and hopefully Jonas Valanciunas can provide cover work, but with the Pelicans running out of the aforementioned starting lineup that will be devoid of a traditional point guard, they will be versatile and athletic. the perimeter – especially when Jackson Hayes registers – with Jones as the core.

Again, if you haven’t gotten your ticket to the Jones bandwagon yet, sorry. It’s filled to capacity with a mile-long waiting list. As a rookie, Jones did some of the hardest defensive jobs on the planet, and he did just as well in the playoffs. According to the BBall index, Jones’ match difficulty was the hardest of any rookie and the fourth-hardest in the league last season, and yet despite scoring the highest level of scorers each night, Jones scored more defensively than anyone. from newbies. since 2009. (In fact, he was No. 1 in points saved among all defensive wings and No. 7 in the entire league according to the BBall index.)

After all, New Orleans doesn’t need to be an elite defense. But if he can flirt with the top 10 rankings, the offense will, or at least should be, more than powerful enough to put them among the top teams in the league by points difference.

One More Thing: Ingram’s Game

Playing without a traditional point guard is possible only if there are wings worthy of extended creative roles. We talked about Williamson as the initiator, and Ingram also plays an important role in this equation.

Ingram, who was one of only 11 players to average at least 22 points, five assists and five rebounds last season, honed his facilitator instincts each of his three seasons with New Orleans, culminating in 28.6 percent assists ( 97th percentile among all attackers). ) last season, according to Cleaning the Glass.

You are no longer surprised when Ingram, who can actually see the floor in his height, does an extended reading and makes a first-class pass. He doesn’t just create for others as a by-product of his appreciation; he seems to be looks for pennies now. The way Ingram makes life easy for Williamson, and vice versa, will go a long way to show us what level of threat this postseason will bring to New Orleans.

Games broadcast on national television

If you’re not in the New Orleans market and don’t plan on shelling out for League Pass money, but want Zion Williamson to play as often as possible, mark these 11 nationally televised games on your calendar.

  • October 25 vs. Dallas (TNT)
  • October 28, Phoenix (ESPN).
  • November 15 vs. Memphis (TNT)
  • January 31 Denver (TNT)
  • February 7 vs. Atlanta (TNT)
  • Feb. 10 vs. Cleveland (ESPN)
  • February 15 Lakers (ESPN)
  • March 1, Portland (ESPN).
  • March 8 vs. Dallas (ESPN)
  • March 28 Golden State (TNT)
  • March 30 Denver (TNT)


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