The New Orleans Pelicans completely made over their roster this offseason, but it’s their longest-tenured player and rookie who mean the most for their success during the 2019-2020 NBA Season.
Entering the 2019-2020 NBA season, the New Orleans Pelicans are trying to get their more-new-than-old roster back into the playoffs. They have a lot of talent, young and old, but two members who might be around the longest, Jrue Holiday and Zion Williamson, might have the biggest say in that discussion.
At media day, no two names were heavier in circulation than Jrue and Zion, which is fitting; one is an All-Star point guard and the other could is hyped as a potential all-time great.
Holiday and Williamson are sharing the floor for the first time. While Jrue is entering his eleventh season playing the world’s greatest basketball league, Zion is playing just his first.
Jrue turned just 29 in June, which still puts him at young veteran status. When you realize Zion turned 19 in July, you can’t help but feel the excitement for the vast amount of time he still has left in his career.
There is pressure on Holiday to soar this season, though he’s been a reliable, All-Star-caliber starter throughout his career, even going back to his days as a Philadelphia 76er. Even with the distractions surrounding the team a year ago, Holiday found a way to thrive. This season, there’s optimism he could do even more.
Last season, Holiday averaged 21.2 points, 7.7 assists, and 5 rebounds while shooting with a 52.3% effective field goal rate across 67 games. He averaged 35.9 minutes and was forced to act as the leading man after Anthony Davis stopped being interested in the New Orleans Pelicans.
In the past, Holiday claimed that Davis was 90% of the reason he stayed in New Orleans. Now that he’s gone, Holiday still seems to be committed to the Pelicans.
When discussing David Griffin’s work this offseason, Holiday said, “it seems like things are on the up and I’m glad to be a part of it.”
Given that the team has exciting talent around the roster, staying in the city should be appetizing for a player like Holiday, who will be given the keys and allowed to act as a leader.
Watching Holiday take this on this role is crucial for the Pelicans because he’ll be setting the stage for Williamson to ascend to that position for their squad.
“You pretty much just have to put it anywhere where the backboard is and he’ll catch it.”
After playing the leading man at Duke, or at least a part of a two-man head with RJ Barrett, Williamson will have to take a step back and play more as a contributor. He averaged 22.6 points, 8.9 rebounds, and 2.1 assists as a Blue Devil, which are mostly very impressive lines.
We’re already hearing the prophecy unveil itself through the NBA media grapevines. “You pretty much just have to put it anywhere where the backboard is and he’ll catch it,” Lonzo Ball said to Adrian Wojnarowski on The Woj Pod.
Zion was the first overall pick for a reason. Well, many reasons, but they’re two-fold.
On one end, Zion Williamson is a tremendous two-way basketball talent the likes of which we’ll just begin to see this season.
The other side is the human being that is Zion Williamson.
His teammates and the rest of the organization say incredibly generous things about him, which tells you a lot about a rookie who’s been hyped as the next LeBron James, Michael Jordan, Charles Barkley, you name it.
“I think he’s a beautiful human, he’s an incredible person,” said 13-year-veteran J.J. Redick.
Holiday called Zion as a “mutant” with positive regards to the rookie’s physical ability.
Jrue Holiday just called Zion Williamson a mutant.
So there’s that.
— Andrew Lopez (@_Andrew_Lopez) September 30, 2019
David Griffin said, “The hype makes him out to be something that he’s not. He’s not a focal point entity. He just wants to be ‘team’.”
After Davis, the last thing New Orleans basketball needed was another guarded personality. This city is charged by firey stars like Drew Brees, Tyrann Mathieu (LSU days), etc. Williamson has the style and flair to give New Orleans the hoops star they deserve.
— New Orleans Pelicans (@PelicansNBA) September 30, 2019
Zion has the chance to build something for the New Orleans Pelicans, a basketball culture like the city has never before experienced.
Ultimately, the veteran Holiday and rookie Zion can drive the New Orleans Pelicans into playoff contention
This is still the first year of a rebuild, so expectations can only be so high. However, when you’ve set a squad up with this much talent, fans can naturally only wonder if the refresh allows for a playoff battle along the way.
Perhaps if the Pelicans are at least competitive this season, fans will trickle back in, allowing for a tidal wave if the team peeks towards championship contention.
We don’t know how great Zion Williamson will be in the NBA, at least not until we see him up minutes in the regular season. How far along he seems early is a good measuring stick for how much success this team will have in their 2019-2020 NBA campaign.
As unconventional as it might be, the Pelicans need Zion to be very good if they want to sniff the playoffs this year. If they want to be more than a roll-over in the first round, they’ll need him to be even better.
These two are going to be asked by the organization, formally or informally, to drive this team to success.
For Holiday, it’s about finding chemistry alongside another generational talent. The New Orleans Pelicans were legitimately exciting when the two shared the court, something he developed alongside Davis. When they shared the court last season, Jrue and Davis had the highest net-rating of any two Pelicans. The duo had a 115.3 offensive and 106 defensive ratings, giving them a hefty 9.3 net rating.
How Holiday is able to adapt to making Williamson a more effective player will be interesting. He was definitely an asset to Davis’s production. In theory, it probably involves a lot of pick-and-roll. In practice, it’ll be a lot more complicated than that.
Something fans will want to see early in the regular season is some sort of cohesive plan of attack focused between these two players.
Both players are going to be in the city for at least the next three years; Zion has a four-year rookie deal and Jrue has three years and $80.4 million left on his extension from 2017. Unless one is traded (it seems unlikely), they’re going to be the central pieces of this organization.
In year one, there’s some hope for the playoffs. These two have the boom capable of taking this team to that level. If they’re able to gel and find an effective attack, this team is going to be hard to beat every night of the season.