5 things to look for before the Pelicans tip-off in Brooklyn Wednesday

The Pelicans went from bad to good a season ago and now they’re looking to go from good to great
Published: Oct. 19, 2022 at 12:17 PM CDT|Updated: Oct. 19, 2022 at 1:11 PM CDT
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NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - The NBA regular season is here and the anticipation for the Pelicans is likely the highest it’s ever been in franchise history due to the type of potential they hold.

In the past, it had been commonplace to “dunk” on the Pelicans as the joke of the NBA and say that no one was interested in the team. However, they’ve stuck around because the Pelicans faithful, a fanbase now colloquially known as the “Pels 12″ has followed their every move up to this point.

While Big Easy basketball’s good fortune may seem like it’s come out of nowhere, many know the current scenario is the result of slow incremental change. But if you’re just now looking to join the party or you just need a refresher, here are 5 things to look for before Wednesday night’s regular-season tip-off in Brooklyn.

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1. Zion Williamson (obviously)

Zion has been a superstar ever since his high school playing days and that’s because he’s one of the first youth basketball players that accumulated a mega-following online in the social media age. Before he ever logged in a minute at Duke playing college basketball, he was internationally recognized for his unusual combination of football player-like size and the quick and nimble skills of a point guard. Because of this, he’s always been projected to be a generational talent on a LeBron James-type of scale. The unfortunate early-career injuries have put those projects in doubt for critics, but after a season away and an offseason to get his mind and body right, we’ve been given the promise of a new-and-improved Zion. He’s shown up in shape and said all of the right things. Now it’s time to see how he’ll fit in on the court with a young team that’s already tasted the postseason.

It’s likely that in the early part of the season, we’ll see a version of Zion that’s similar to what we saw in his rookie year. In his first season, Zion played mostly as a traditional power forward, off the ball and receiving passes on pick-and-rolls. Even with the ball out of his hands, Zion still dominated his rookie season, averaging 22.5 ppg, 6.2 rebounds, and 2.1 assists.

After a month or two of regular season play, we’ll likely start seeing Zion with the ball in his hands and even initiating offense like a point guard once his handle gets reacclimated to the speed of the NBA. In year two when the Pels rolled out consistent “Point Zion” lineups, the star put up historic numbers, averaging 27 ppg, 7.2 rebounds, and 3.7 assists with a shooting percentage of 61.1 percent.

Getting anything close to a “year two” version of Zion should elevate the Pels’ much-improved roster full of shooters and cutters from the wings.

2. Rotations

As the Pelicans opened last season with a 1-12 record without Zion, first-year head coach Willie Green had to perpetually create rotations on the fly with whoever was available to right the ship. Now there are no doubts about who the Pels’ starting five are: Zion, Jonas Valanciunas, Herb Jones, Brandon Ingram, and C.J. McCollum.

Chemistry in the starting five is something to look for. Though the starting five didn’t play together during the preseason all units on the floor moved the ball with ease and communicated well on the defensive end.

Reserve standouts included sharp-shooting swingman Trey Murphy III, who got one start in the preseason, and point guard Jose Alvarado. A return for Zion also sent last season’s starting power forward Jaxson Hayes down to the second unit where he thrived in a bench role alongside high-energy center Larry Nance Jr. in the frontcourt. Although Hayes suffered an elbow injury that will likely sideline him until November, his placement in the second was just one of several examples of how deep the Pels’ roster can be. Last season’s starting point guard Devonte Graham will now serve a role as a scoring threat in the second unit, a role he looks comfortable in.

3. Dyson Daniels

The Pelicans were in the strange position of drafting in the lottery this offseason since the Lakers missed the playoffs. That Lakers pick was sent to New Orleans as continued spoils from the Anthony Davis trade. Drafted at No. 10 from G-League Unite, Australian product Dyson Daniels was impressive in the preseason, particularly on the defensive end. With Graham and Alvarado in the second unit rotation, the Pelicans have a logjam at guard so it’ll be interesting to see how much Green will trust a rookie to take minutes away from vets. However, Daniels’s defense looked miles down the road and Green had no problem handing over a starting job to Herb Jones a year ago, who quickly rose the ranks as one of the best defenders in the NBA.

Daniels is an early favorite to beat guys out for regular rotation minutes.

4. Brandon Ingram

Brandon Ingram isn’t going to shout for attention but he’s the true leader on the court for the Pelicans. He and Zion are both young but they are on different timelines. Ingram has been through all the hardships and woes, but he’s finally gotten a taste of the postseason after finding a home in New Orleans. Ingram took the extra step of organizing practices and workouts this offseason and pledges that the Pelicans will go beyond where they’ve already been. Ingram only played in the final preseason game but looked as if he’d missed no time at all, scoring 19 points and giving second efforts on defense.

Ingram could be a dark horse candidate for MVP or Most Improved Player this season and should definitely be a candidate for an All-Star selection.

5. How they measure up with league leaders

The Brooklyn Nets aren’t a great team and they’ll be without Seth Curry and Joe Harris Wednesday night. As we know, Kevin Durant very publicly wanted out this offseason and even expressed an interest in being dealt to New Orleans, only that the Pelicans refused to meet any deals that would send Ingram somewhere else. However, Durant is still an elite talent playing alongside Kyrie Irving and Ben Simmons. All eyes should be on how the Pels’ “Big 3″ of Zion, Ingram, and McCollum matches up with the likes of Durant, Irving, and Simmons.

Basketball is a game of matchups and all we know about the Pelicans right now is that they have the potential to be a matchup nightmare for anyone. Yet, we still need to see it play out as there will be little room in the Western Conference for lengthy losing streaks.

The Pelicans tip-off tonight in Brooklyn vs the Nets at 6:30 p.m. and it will air on Bally Sports New Orleans. It’s available for streaming on Bally Sports+.

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