Season Preview

2023-24 NBA Season Preview: New Orleans Pelicans

Published October 24, 2023, 9:00 AMPolo Bustamante

Will the Pelicans finally get a full season with Zion Williamson?

The NBA Season is back! Just like your favorite superhero story, the NBA brings fun, entertainment, and a lot of uncanny subplots to unpack. That’s why NBA.com Philippines decided to preview the new season comic-book style. We pick out fantastic characters that will take the stage and new amazing arcs to watch out for. Bang! Pow! Boom! Let’s go!

What’s their superpower?

It’s kind of surprising that the injury-riddled New Orleans Pelicans still finished sixth in the league in terms of defensive rating. They gave up only 112.5 points per 100 possessions last season, good for sixth in the league. They were particularly good at locking up the paint while being able to contest 3-point shots. They allowed opposing teams to shoot 36 3-pointers a game, which made up roughly 42 percent of the shots taken by their opponents. But teams only hit 34 percent of their shots from beyond the arc against the Pelicans, a percentage allowed that led the league.

That’s because New Orleans has a core of tall, lanky athletic wings that can get to the perimeter quickly. Trey Murphy III, Dyson Daniels, Brandon Ingram, Nai Marshall, and Herb Jones are all 6’7” or longer. That’s a menacing group that uses their length to bother shooters. Their guards CJ McCollum, Jose Alvarado, and Devonte Graham might be on the short side, but their effort makes up for their lack of height.

With that same group back, and hopefully healthier (more on this later), the Pelicans are out to stake their claim as one of the best defensive teams in the league.

What’s their kryptonite?

While the Pelicans terrorized opponents on defense, they were way more tame when it came to their offense. They were a middling offensive team that ranked 15th in points per game and 11th in field goal percentage. They ranked in the bottom of the league in 3-pointers attempted at only 30 per game. Because of their struggles they finished at 21 in terms of defensive rating.

The Pelicans needed that one player that the defense could focus on so that the rest of the team could get good looks. That player was supposed to be Zion Williamson but he missed all but 29 games of last season. None of the other players on the team had the same gravity. As good as Ingram and McCollum are, defenses can be created to stop them. Defending a player like Williamson requires a whole new scheme.

The hope is that a healthy Williamson will be the answer to their offensive woes.

Who is their biggest hero?

When Williamson and the Pelicans were running rampant in the West early last season, the vibe of the team was different. New Orleans zoomed up to the top of the conference, way ahead of schedule for a young team like them. But they acted like they belonged. They were just oozing confidence with Williamson leading them.

When Zion went down, their energy shifted overnight. They became the Meh Orleans Pelicans. The electricity and excitement that Willaimson brought was sucked out of the team. It felt as if they were just going through the motions, running through another season without their franchise savior.

New Orleans needs Williamson badly next season. Beyond the 26-7-5 line he delivered, they need the swagger he brings to the team. It’s like he’s the magic amulet that makes the whole team believe they’re bulletproof. With him, the Pelicans look invincible.

Who is their biggest villain?

Williamson missed 53 games. Ingram missed 37. Jones was out for 16 games. The rest of the team was out for some stretches due to little bumps. Because of the rotating cast of characters due to injuries, the Pelicans could not gain any traction last season. It felt as if they were constantly restarting with a new group every night.

Health has been the biggest concern of New Orleans for the past three seasons now. Just when it seems like they’re finally putting it all together, a key player misses a stretch, pulling them back to the starting gate once again.

It’s becoming a legitimate concern for the team. How far they’ll go next season ultimately depends on who is available to play for the team.

How does their story play out?

The Pelicans are like a Choose Your Own Adventure book except you don’t get to choose.

If Williamson and Ingram can stay healthy, New Orleans can fight for a top three finish in the West. They’re that good… when healthy. If those two miss significant time once again, then next season will just be a photocopy of last season. 

The Pelicans are talented enough to make the play-in. But they need Williamson and Ingram to change the “in” to “offs”.