The Pels will be younger, faster and hopefully have a better bench even though they will be a young and inexperienced team.
They have improved their shooting and defensive versatility, especially off the bench, where rookies Trey Murphy III and Herb Jones should help solidify the defense.
But the truth is that none of this will matter unless their two stars buy-in on the defensive end.
Can Willie Green get his stars to add to their game and improve the Pelicans’ terrible team defense?
Pelicans: Zion Williamson and Brandon Ingram have to lead on both ends
The hard fact of the matter is that the two best players on your team can’t be the team’s worst defenders if you want to succeed in the NBA.
If you look around the league, few of the superstars are sieves on defense. Last season, Zion Williamson did not move well or defend in space, was often late on rotations and really just looked bad at times even though he will occasionally have a highlight-reel block.
Brandon Ingram has all of the tools to be a good defender, and at times he can use his length to smother smaller opponents, but he often drifts and doesn’t give effort for the entire possession.
Stan Van Gundy failed to get much improvement out of either of them and if Willie Green can’t do better, the Pelicans are not going to take the next step as a team.
Your stars have to play defense
Kawhi Leonard is one of the best two-way players in the NBA, a lockdown defender who can also carry a team offensively.
There are a lot of guys who can score in the NBA, especially in this era where you can’t hand check or touch a guy on the perimeter, so what separates Kawhi from the rest is his elite defense.
You can put Leonard on the other team’s best guy and pretty much call it a night. Not only that, but his teammates feed off his energy and effort.
If your best player is out there diving on the floor, getting deflections and doing all of the little things, the other guys are going to notice and pick up their games as well.
It’s inspiring when your superstar plays with maximum effort on defense. Just go watch old footage of Michael Jordan, who often got the Bulls going with his defense, not by scoring. Jordan would put a guy in jail or get a steal, pump his fist like a madman and his team would respond.
I’ve seen nothing like that from Zion Williamson or Brandon Ingram in their young careers so far. If they really want to be leaders and win titles, they need to set the tone for the team. They can’t wait for guys like Josh Hart and Naji Marshall to lead the team defensively, as they are role players who aren’t going to inspire the other guys.
I hope Willie Green can get these two to buy-in on the defensive end and become competent two-way players who will inspire their teammates with effort.
Just being able to score is not enough.