There is no way. The Pelicans are not able to straighten out the project or with all the facilities in the world. Neither in the season in which Zion Williamson’s rise to stardom occurred nor in the one in which, with being, no longer eighth, but tenth, did you have playoff options, they have managed to take a step forward. For now, year II after Anthony Davis has been the same as the first, but with a greater blush, without the excuse of Zion’s injury or the promptness of the project. Stan Van Gundy has not achieved what Alvin Gentry could not and the team has been left with two legs of noses, far from the final phase and even from that play-in for which they had to overcome teams, a priori, less talented , like Grizzlies or Spurs. All have been ahead of the New Orleans franchise, which has a summer of reflection before it in which they will have to do everything possible to tie the bases of a jump that has to take place immediately so as not to be overshadowed by drastic decisions that turn what seemed upside down, a couple of courses ago, one of the templates with the longest run of the NBA.
For the Pelicans, a season is ending that never began. The hopeful start (4-2) was done without a game and preceded the first bad run of the course, but not the last. Stan Van Gundy’s team lost their next five games in a row and eight of nine.; Since then, he has always rowed against the current, with very brief hopeful moments and excesses in the form of bad play and rather great little conviction. The moments of good play have been fleeting and the lack of understanding of the squad, an obviousness that has not been resolved even with the departure of veterans come to nothing like JJ Redick, who in the winter market set course for the Mavericks. The one who did not come out at that time was Lonzo Ball, who was not even in the best moment of his career (14.6 + 4.8 + 5.7 and 37.8% in triples) has managed to be the solution. Of course, its good statistics will allow it to be coveted in the market (He will give up a player option of more than 14 million dollars looking for a bigger contract) and head to quieter lands, away from the noise that has always been around him (LaVar has not done him any good) and with his brother LaMelo now monopolizing the spotlight. It will be one of those that comes out.
Lonzo’s goodbye (which will occur except for surprise) will allow Van Gundy to give more power to Zion, which he already uses to raise the ball on many occasions. That, and the good work of the base from the outside, has unblocked the attack on occasions, but with Brandon Ingram things look worse and worse: the forward traces the statistics of last year (23.8 points per game), but it has continued the wave of bad play that developed in the final part of the last year and that made us forget the All Star that he became that same year. Ingram needs more ball and creates his own shots, and it is difficult for him to adapt to Zion and wait outside while his teammate, who only tries 0.6 3-pointers a night, monopolizes the area with his bulky body. The rapport between the two is almost mandatory if we take into account that Ingram was given a contract (which has begun to charge this year) of 158 million dollars in five years and that Zion will be, tied to the franchise, at least until 2022-23 (team option, the next will be player). The possibility of one of the two leaving seems, for now, distant. But if things stop working, David Griffin and his second, Trajan Langdon, will have to find solutions.
A bad present and an uncertain future
It doesn’t end there: the Pelicans are 31-40 with just one game left. It is the same record as the Kings, with whom they share hardships, and behind only they have the Timberwolves, Thunder and Rockets, three teams that compete for the best round of the draft (some, with little dissimulation) and not a playoff spot . The 2018 Conference semifinals are already a distant memory and since then, the franchise has chained one negative record after another: the first, in the middle of the farce Anthony Davis, who showed off the era of empowered players to force his exit, which he achieved in summer. The next two, in the vain hope that Zion would change the fate of a small market. The star (we can already define him as such) has averaged 27 points per game and is, finally (the wait has not been very long, but patience is always short), the great player he promised to be. He takes the reluctant compliments of Shaquille O’Neal, he has added 20 games above 20 points and 70% in field goals, and until April he averaged 19.7 points in the paint, something that nobody had achieved since 2001-02. Who? Shaq. Of course, this year’s All Star has been deserved and, if your physique respects you, it will be the first of many. But the Pelicans have failed to capitalize on their talent and turn it into victories, the ultimate goal of any team.
More. With Zion unleashed and complaints from the franchise about how little protection umpires have over their star, the Pelicans have been a wreck. Because yes, they have five players over ten; and yes, some promising discovery like Nickeil Alexander-Walker or Kira Lewis. But his inner game is a disaster (Steve Adams has not worked, Jaxson Hayes has not been what he promised and the wrong doing of both has given minutes to a Willy Hernangómez that has curdled a quite acceptable season), they have great scoring power ( the fourth best in the West) that contrasts with the constant defensive disagreements (the fifth worst defense of his Conference, the seventh in the NBA) and have no sense or direction. It is true that they are third in rebounds (Van Gundy brand) and tenth in assistsBut they have the fifth worst 3-point percentage in the league (in the middle of the triple era) and the second-worst free throw percentage (only the Thunder are worse). And the net rating is negative. Again.
In short, little or nothing to scratch for a team that has not managed to play either the playoffs or the play-in. He has not been worth the wave of good comments that Ingram dragged, the secondary or Lonzo’s improvement. Neither is Zion’s level. Nor, of course, the arrival of a Stan Van Gundy whose job this year is dangerously close to what he did in Detroit. and light years from the one who raised his Magic reputation to the skies. The Pelicans have the project at a key moment and will have to take the final step next year if they do not want to run into problems, that Zion begins to get impatient and ends up forcing the transfer in an image that we have already seen in the past (close) in other franchises. For now, the young player (he turns 21 on July 6) is much higher than his teammates and the shirt he wears, one that represents a team immersed in a huge sports and structural crisis. The Pelicans must take advantage of their star level to get out of the well and forget a season from which few positive things can scratch. They should do it, mainly, because the small market excuse falls short of someone like that on the staff. And because time is infinite. But patience, never. And even less in the NBA.