The New Orleans Pelicans season didn’t end with the results they would have preferred but there is a ton to be excited about for the franchise moving forward. In Stan Van Gundy‘s first season leading the charge, the Pelicans finished with a 31-41 record.
That left them two games behind the San Antonio Spurs for the 10th and final play-in tournament spot in the Western Conference. Before the NBA trade deadline, they shipped J.J. Redick and Nicolo Melli to the Dallas Mavericks in exchange for Wesley Iwundu, James Johnson and the Mavs 2021 second-round draft pick. Both teams received a trade exception in the deal while the Pelicans also received cash.
The move made sense, as the Pelicans season was on track for the NBA Draft lottery at that point. They added a second-round pick in the upcoming draft to their already deep arsenal of draft picks for a couple of players that weren’t going to be around long-term anyway. Despite significant rumors leading up to the deadline, the team elected to not ship out point guard Lonzo Ball.
Make sure to check out all of our other NBA Team Season Recaps.
While the Pelicans had bigger goals in mind in terms of their final record after adding Eric Bledsoe and Steven Adams in the off-season they were unable to reach those goals. A lot of promise was displayed in the process, though. Zion Williamson and Brandon Ingram have all the makings of a dominant one-two punch in the coming years.
Williamson specifically took a massive leap from his rookie campaign. He proved a lot of doubters wrong about the impact he can make at the NBA level. While Ingram’s numbers took a slight dip it was in favor of Zion and not a direct case of him falling short.
Adams and Bledsoe appeared like they might not be the best fits next to the Pelicans young duo for much of the season. That could be something the team looks to fix moving forward. They combine to make a lot of money and it does not line up with the production they provided this year.
Team Award Winners
MVP – Zion Williamson
Zion is the only real option here. His second NBA season saw him take a significant step forward and by the season’s end, it felt as if he was dominating on a nightly basis. That is because he was more often than not. Williamson finished the year leading the team in scoring at 27 points per game. He did that on 61.1 percent shooting from the field. He also chipped in 7.2 rebounds and 3.7 assists each game.
Remove him and you lose the motor of this team. It’s clear he is the face of the franchise and it is clear those around him are aware of that as well. It seems like a good situation and he is the no question about it MVP of the Pelicans.
Defensive Player of the Year – Lonzo Ball
Ball led the Pelicans in steals by averaging 1.5 per game, though that has little to do with his spot here. This is about the defensive energy he provided over the course of the season and the pest he is to opposing guards for every minute he shares the court with them. Learning from a player like Bledsoe should only help Ball continue to get better on that end of the floor.
He’s a defensive force and will continue to be exceptional on that end moving forward. Ball is one of the rare guards in the league that can set the tone for an entire team’s defense as a perimeter defender.
Sixth Man of the Year – Josh Hart
Hart was the Pels leading scorer off the bench this season with his 9.2 points per game. Much more impressively, the fourth-year wing chipped in 7.9 rebounds per contest coming off the bench. Listed at six foot five, the rebounding element of his game makes him a very rare player in the NBA in terms of what he can do and what he brings to the table.
His versatility made him a lethal weapon off the bench for Stan Van Gundy. The fit he had in rotations and his skillset is hard to find and could make the Pelicans lock him up long term moving forward.
Biggest Surprise – Nickeil Alexander-Walker
Alexander-Walker entered the league after being selected seventeenth overall in the 2019 NBA Draft. He came in with talent but saw little time his rookie season and the plan seemed to be more focused on a long-term approach with him than rushing him into action early. For one reason or another, that changed in his second year. He saw a big bump in minutes and production across the board. He quickly displayed why the team is and should be high on him and appears to have a bright future in the league.
Biggest Disappointment – Steven Adams
Adams struggled in his first year in New Orleans, which might be an understatement. His 7.6 points per game are the lowest scoring he has produced since his rookie campaign when he put up just 3.3 per game in very limited minutes. By failing to average double digits he broke a four-season streak of averaging double-digit points. He obviously is not a scorer but it’s a good way to display how much less of an impact he had in general.
Adams also struggled at the charity stripe, shooting under 50 percent for the first time in his career. He connected on just 44.4 percent of his free throw attempts. His rebounds and blocks were down as well. It’s fair to wonder how he fits in New Orleans moving forward.
The Pelicans would love to have more lottery luck but that would be incredible considering their luck that helped them draft Zion just two years ago. Assuming something doesn’t happen that moves them up into a top draft spot, the Pelicans have to make decisions on players like Adams and Bledsoe to decide what their long-term fit is.
Most importantly, though, will be the restricted free agency of Ball. It’s not known exactly how they feel about him in their long-term plans and he is certain to have suitors. The New York Knicks and Chicago Bulls have long been interested in the defensive-minded guard. Either franchise could throw him a nice chunk of money to sign an offer sheet with them. The Pelicans will have a big hole to fill if he walks.
Follow Garrett Brooks on Twitter @Garrett_Brooks1
Main Image Credit: Google Images