New Orleans Pelicans: Fans Should Temper Expectations for 2nd Half

(Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)
(Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images) /

The Western Conference playoff picture is starting to take shape and the New Orleans Pelicans are on the outside looking in.

Well, that was fast, after losing to Minnesota on the first game back after the All-Star Break the Pelicans are even further out of the play-in games (3.5 back as of Friday morning). This team isn’t winning anything important this season but that doesn’t make it a lost season, we just have to shift our focus and goals for the remaining games.

Coming out of the bubble, the Pels were a broken team. The trip to Orlando ruined the confidence and hype fans had. After a series of moves by the front office that left fans feeling cold, why did we think this team was in the running to make the playoffs? We let our hearts run the show instead of our brains.

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We should’ve lowered our expectations back in December, as a team built around so many players under 25 years old needed time to learn, develop, and grow (sometimes literally). Add in the complications of a shortened season, new coaching staff, and a schedule that sees the Pels playing games almost every other day, we should’ve seen this coming.

The second half doesn’t look any rosier just based on the calendar, I already looked at the Pels’ predicted performance in back-to-backs but there are other complications with the schedule that conspire to bring Pels fans misery. This biggest obstacle in New Orleans’ way is the limited days left to complete their games. The Pels will play 36 games in the second half in just 66 days. I did the math, that’s a game every 1.83 days (not ideal for rest).

New Orleans Pelicans: Tight schedule leaves little time to get better

The sneaky part of this compressed schedule is what this means for teams across the NBA when it comes to practice. Stan Van Gundy said the team will have 11 practices in the second half of the season. Let that sink in. A team where only three players have experience in the playoffs only gets 11 chances to work together and go over issues in a no-stakes setting. A tee-ball team has more than 11 practices over a two-month stretch.

Now I don’t mean to seem all doom and gloom because that’s not how I truly feel. This team has some very serious positives going for them, hello Zion Williamson, but also has some areas that need improvement. The offense has become one of the best in the league over the last month and a half. The defense on the other hand has stayed near the bottom of the league most of the season.

If the strides made on offense can get halfway to happening on defense, this team will be in a much better place and we can all start to worry about things other than the fit of young All-Star caliber players. Zion Williamson and Brandon Ingram have taken a lot of flak for their lack of impact of the defensive end and it’s not unwarranted, although that pairing is essentially even in terms of net rating (basketball-reference has them at -0.1 across 751 minutes).

Both of them have shown flashes of being better defenders than this in the past but even that comes with caveats. Zion was good at defense in college against some guys who will never get a look at an NBA roster, Ingram’s best defensive season came in his second season in the league, and neither was asked to shoulder the offensive load they are right now when they were good on defense.

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SVG has talked to both about to become an elite player they need to make an impact on both ends of the floor, something they haven’t done… yet. I’ve seen a lot of tweets about the fit of Zion and BI together, the main talking point seems to be that since neither is a good defender Ingram needs to be traded. Why? You’re not going to get someone nearly as good on offense as BI and there are diminishing returns when it comes to accumulated draft picks.

New Orleans Pelicans can’t count on the draft to save them

Yes, more swings at finding the next steal in the draft are important but NBA rosters only have 15 spots on them. Going into every draft with two or three first-round selections just means you won’t be giving any of the young players you draft a chance to prove themselves. Most players aren’t ready to contribute in their rookie year and having eight players on rookie deals all but ensures no veterans are coming in on below-market deals to improve the reserves.

But wait you can trade picks to move up in the draft or for the next unhappy superstar. You’re right on the second point, all those extra picks will help land a whale and hopefully, this front office has their sights set on the right addition. However, if the Pels aren’t able to trade for a superstar they can use them to move up, right? Not so fast my friend. Boston had three picks last year in what was a down draft and couldn’t package them to move into the top ten. I’d rather let the young guys learn.

The Pels weren’t winning a title this year anyway let’s all take a step back and reevaluate our goals for the remainder of the season. Let’s look at the things this team does well instead of only focusing on the negatives, otherwise, you may miss some really special moments from Zion and the rest of the young guns down on the bayou.

Next. Trade or Keep? Where each Pelican stands at the deadline. dark