New Orleans Pelicans: The youth movement is now, time to lean in

New Orleans Pelicans, Brandon Ingram (Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images)
New Orleans Pelicans, Brandon Ingram (Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images) /

The youngest players for the New Orleans Pelicans are not only the future, but also the “now”. It’s time to lean in fully into the Pelicans’ youth movement.

It’s been evident this season, but especially since the All Star break, that this Pelicans team is better when those who haven’t reached the age of 25 yet are on the court. Most of them are too young or just barely old enough to drive through a daiquiri shop legally. It’s high time the Pels coaching staff leans into this movement and gives the young guns a chance to shine.

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We all are well aware of the ability and play of the Pels’ two biggest names: Brandon Ingram and Zion Williamson.

At just 23, Ingram has been a bright spot the two seasons he’s been with the  New Orleans Pelicans. A few questionable games and decisions the past month or so is uncharacteristic of Ingram.

It was evident in Sunday’s game against the Nuggets that whatever funk he was going through the past few games is exactly that: in the past. His eight points in the last two minutes of the game were crucial to the team’s big win. With 30 points on nearly 48 percent shooting, Ingram was key in getting this much needed victory.

Couple that with is 36 points against his former team in a huge win, Ingram has seemingly looked as if he’s in “beast mode” and isn’t backing down.

Moving on to Zion, the not yet 21-year old who has scored 20 or more points on 50% shooting for 21 straight games now. He and Shaq are the only players to achieve this stat in the shot clock era.

It’s not how many points he is scoring, although those points are needed in the wins. It’s the other things Zion is doing on the court that showcase his improvement. He even hit a crucial three during Sunday’s game!

Zion is not even close to hitting his ceiling yet. And I, for one, am going to enjoy watching him play for the New Orleans Pelicans for years to come.

However, it’s not all the guys not yet or barely old enough to drive through a daiquiri shop that is going to get this team to the next level. They do need a couple of veterans, or elder statesmen if you will.

The ability for Steven Adams, at a ripe old age of 27, to be the elder statesman is a role he is seemingly relishing. And he’s leading by example with his tough play and ability to forget a bad play and turn it into an excellent one.

Then there’s fan favorite Josh Hart. He’s barely 26, but is a veteran of this team, especially when you compare him to BI and Zion. His hustle is well known but the way he’s stepped up this season has not only made him a fan favorite but a key to the Pelicans success.

With just 2 points against the Lakers on Tuesday, you’d think that was a less than stellar outing. But it’s Hart, and that one line on the stat sheet tells quite the opposite of his impact on that game.

New Orleans Pelicans: the youth movement is now

Second year guard Nickeil Alexander-Walker is seeing increased playing time and showed what he can do as the floor general the past two games. The 23 year old has been off in a few games, no doubt.

On Sunday, he made the most of his opportunity to fill in for an injured Lonzo Ball. His 20 points on 8-of-15 shooting was third best against the Nuggets. Even more impressive was that he had just one turnover in 31 minutes of playing time.

Then against the Lakers, his second start in a row yielded 18 points, 7 rebounds and 3 assists. More importantly, he was +20 during his 34 minutes in the game.

Those who play with him know the kind of contributions he’s making to the team and are making note of it publicly.

I’ve made no secret my adoration of Jaxson Hayes, the third member of the 2019 first round draft class. The 20 year old has been a human highlight reel the past few games. Let’s hope whatever caused his shaky play earlier in the season is 100% in the past.

Speaking of 100%, he was perfect from the line (7-7) against the Lakers on Tuesday.

Then there’s the most recent first rounder, Kira Lewis, Jr. He continues to show his speed on the court and fans are taking notice. The almost 20-year old is making key plays for this team every time he is on the court.

On Tuesday, he made more plays and had 16 points in total, a career high.

He told reporters after the game that he’s “more comfortable” now, as he’s gotten more reps as the season has progressed.

Back to Ball, I’m not focusing much on him as it seems to be more of a reality that he’ll be traded by the deadline. But he is arguably having the best season of his young career and if he does indeed stay, it’s only looking up for the Pels’ future.

I’m normally one that wants to focus on this year and winning now. For years, all I’ve heard from Pelicans fans was that the front office was building towards the future. My question has always been: What about this season?

Quite frankly, talking about the future is a disservice to those on the team now and those of us paying a ton of money for season tickets… for THIS year.

But knowing there is a group of young talent putting in the work and continuously improving gives me hope that we not only will close out the season stronger than we started but also sets a tone for years to come. That’s something New Orleans Pelicans fans can be excited about.

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