The New Orleans Pelicans have been a mediocre franchise at best since the franchise was known as the New Orleans Hornets back in 2002. Although there have been some stints in which they were playing competitive basketball, they were never able to get the job done even though some teams were built around players like all-time great PG Chris Paul, and arguably the best big man of the 2010’s decade Anthony Davis.
After trade rumors throughout the 2018-2019 season, the team traded Anthony Davis to the Lakers for a young core consisting of Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, and Josh Hart. The trade also included three first-round picks.
Although losing a young superstar in his prime is usually devastating to a franchise in any sport, this actually prepared the Pelicans for an even better future than they probably would’ve had if they had kept AD. They basically got a whole new starting lineup, all of which being young players brimmed with All-Star potential.
However, the final piece of the jigsaw came the day of the draft lottery. New Orleans only had a 6% shot at the first overall pick, but it the basketball gods smiled on New Orleans. They were awarded the first pick in the draft and did exactly what was expected, which was drafting the biggest prospect since Lebron James in Zion Williamson.
Zion has explosiveness and strength that we haven’t seen before, and his impact on the Pelicans was immediately noticed. He’s averaged 24 points and 7 rebounds since his debut against the San Antonio Spurs, and the Pelicans are winning about every other game they play meaning they are on pace to end up around .500, which I don’t think will be enough to make the playoffs.
I have high praise for the Pelicans, and I think that in just a few seasons they could be the team to beat in the West. They have so much young talent that’s already flourishing and will continue to do so. But they’re in a situation right now that I wouldn’t exactly call ideal.
The NBA is reformatting the playoffs for the restart, and it does give New Orleans a slightly better chance to make it, but they still aren’t the team that I would give my best odds at sneaking in a playoff spot. They are currently in the tenth spot in the West, which isn’t terrible, but even with a newly formatted playoffs that gives them slightly more hope, they aren’t the only team that is coming up on that lucrative final playoff slot.
The new format makes it so that if you can finish in the ninth spot of the conference and be within four games of the eighth seed, there will be a mini-series of sorts between the two teams. If the nine seed can win two straight games, they take the eighth seed’s spot.
If the eighth seed wins one, they maintain their position. This format benefits the teams that are in the ninth or tenth position in their conference and does quite the opposite for the teams holding onto that last playoff spot.
So if this benefits the out-of-the-playoffs teams, why don’t the Pelicans have the better odds here? There are going to be seven more regular-season games for the teams invited to Orlando, so don’t the Pelicans have a shot? The short answer to that is yes, New Orleans has an opportunity to make the ninth seed. But if you want my opinion, Portland has a better chance.
They don’t have the same team they did last year, but they have the two most important pieces plus a few others that were added that we’ll look at in just a second.
Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum are one of the best backcourts in the entire NBA. Steph and Klay are probably the only duo I’d put over them. They’ve also added Jusuf Nurkic, who’s a great developing talent at Center, and a veteran offensive threat in Carmelo Anthony. Other factors come into play as well like Hassan Whiteside, Trevor Ariza, and Rodney Hood are all valuable assets to the team.
The seven regular-season games are going to determine who winds up in what spot. There’s even a chance Portland or New Orleans could secure the 8th spot in the West and overtake Memphis. But when you realize we’re basically in the playoffs, things like clutch ability and experience are going to play a huge factor in this time of the year. When you look at that, no one on Memphis or New Orleans can stack up to Portland having Dame Time.
Health also plays quite a factor. Portland has a few players with recent injuries including Lillard, and Zion has had knee problems since college. Memphis is really the only team that isn’t riddled with injury history. Considering the break in the season, I don’t think it will play as large of a role as it would under normal circumstances. This gives me further reason to believe Portland will pull through.
But what about New Orleans? I said that they still have a shot and they definitely do. But if you want me to give them a chance compared to Portland, I’d probably give them close to a 35% chance.
They’re only a game behind Portland but like I said, Portland has the experience and clutch ability. They’re also coming off of making the Conference Championship last year, so you know they have a chip on their shoulder. I think Memphis will hold onto the eight seed though and will play a play-in game against Portland.
Although Zion is the X-Factor for New Orleans, Damian Lillard is the X-Factor for the Trailblazers, and we know what happens when they count on Dame Time…