By Jalon Dixon, Columnist
The New Orleans Pelicans will be filling stadiums across the country as their new group of young, dynamic playmakers look to put the rest of the NBA world on notice.
When discussing the Pelicans, most will focus on this year’s first overall pick, forward Zion Williamson, and how his athleticism will make him a special player at the next level. Understandably so, Williamson will be entering the season with high expectations as the Internet sensation now fills the shoes of center Anthony Davis as the guy in The Big Easy.
Despite the weight of the basketball world bearing down on him, Williamson is entering a situation unlike any other first overall pick since perhaps 1997 when Tim Duncan was drafted by the San Antonio Spurs. Most first overall picks enter the league on a struggling team lacking direction and seeking a player who can “save the franchise.” The Pelicans, on the other hand, have geared up a group of young, athletic players paired with some savvy veterans to build a real infrastructure around the young star to thrive and maybe even experience some winning early.
New Orleans may have lost a perennial all-star Davis, but in a way, this offseason has actually made them a better team. Through acquiring guard Lonzo Ball, forward Brandon Ingram and guard Josh Hart in the trade that sent Davis to the Los Angeles Lakers, the Pelicans add three unique players will skills that allow them to impact the game on a nightly basis.
Ball provides astounding defense and court vision that allows him to initiate the fast break off steals and find the open man on the run for easy points. Expect a possible revival of “Lob City” with Ball and Williamson leading the show. Also, the pairing of Ball and veteran guard Jrue Holiday gives the Pelicans a combination of height and length that could make this duo one of the best defensive backcourts in the league right out the gate. Ingram and Hart provide two scoring threats that can also shoot the three-ball at an efficient rate which opens the court up for players like Williamson to drive to the basket at will. This young core looks like the real deal and are the pillars of the Pelicans’ future.
This team also had a few draft picks and veteran signings that really add a new dimension to the roster. In the draft, the Pelicans selected combo guard Nickeil Alexander-Walker and center Jaxson Hayes who both showed their worth early in summer league. Both Alexander-Walker and Hayes averaged over 15 points per game in the NBA Summer League while also showing great on-court chemistry that could make them a good one-two punch off the bench.
In free agency, beyond all the rumor mill of possibly resigning with the Philadelphia 76ers, the Pelicans were able to steal away guard J.J. Redick, a three point sniper who can help with floor spacing and provide shooting off the bench. Also power forward Derrick Favors was picked up, solidifying their depth at the big man position and adding another mentor to help in the maturation process of such a young roster.
The most important and maybe even the main reason this team will be so dynamic is because of the coaching of Alvin Gentry. As part of the coaching tree that learned from Houston Rockets’ head coach Mike D’Antoni, there’s only one way Gentry likes his teams to play: Fast. Simply put, the coaching philosophy is based on a high tempo offense where the team likes to score as fast as possible. Fast break points, three-point shooting early in the shot clock and athletic finishes at the rim are all things that make this offense go. With a passer like Ball, shooters like Ingram and Reddick and athletic rim finishers like Williamson and Hayes, this team has the chance to be one of the most dynamic offenses in NBA history.
In the gauntlet that is the Western Conference, this new and improved version of the Pelicans may not be a playoff team just yet. But despite that, this team has the talent and the exciting play style to be must-see TV for all 82 games.