How high can the Pelicans climb in the Western Conference?

Brandon Ingram #14 of the New Orleans Pelicans drives against Luka Doncic #77 of the Dallas Mavericks (Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images)
Brandon Ingram #14 of the New Orleans Pelicans drives against Luka Doncic #77 of the Dallas Mavericks (Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images) /
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New Orleans Pelicans, CJ McCollum
San Antonio Spurs guard Dejounte Murray (5) dribbles against New Orleans Pelicans guard CJ McCollum Credit: Stephen Lew-USA TODAY Sports /

The New Orleans Pelicans finished on a high note last season, battling their way through the play-in tournament to claim the 8th seed in the Western Conference.

With Zion Williamson returning to go along with rookie Dyson Daniels, and full seasons from CJ McCollum and Larry Nance Jr., optimism abounds in New Orleans.

Unlike last season when expectations were crushed by an abysmal start, the Pelicans will enter next season with their eyes on an NBA championship.

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The Western Conference is as open as it has ever been, with no clear-cut favorite heading into next season. So ho high can the New Orleans Pelicans climb in the standings?

The New Orleans Pelicans should stay ahead of these teams

There are eight teams that are either young, rebuilding or lost key players this offseason. Nothing is certain obviously, and a few of these teams could surprise, but the Pelicans have a good chance to finish ahead of this group:

  • Houston Rockets: An intriguing group of young talent for sure. I think they will be very frisky but are still probably a year away from making real noise in the Western Conference. Out of all of the “bad” teams, the Rockets are one to keep an eye on.
  • OKC Thunder: Same with the Thunder, who might finally be ready to compete after stockpiling young talent over the last few seasons and adding Chet Holmgren, who looked amazing in Summer League. I think the Thunder are going to make a leap, but not enough to bypass the Pels.
  • Portland Trail Blazers: Will adding Jerami Grant make that big of a difference to a team that struggled mightily last season? Will Damian Lillard be healthy? A lot of question marks in Portland.
  • Sacramento Kings: The Kings made the big trade last season and added rookie Keegan Murray along with a trio of shooters. The Kings could be interesting this season, but until I see otherwise, they are still the Kangz.
  • Los Angeles Lakers: Talk about question marks. The Lakers obviously have two of the best players in the NBA when they are healthy, but will they be? LeBron is entering his 500th season and Anthony Davis gets hurt brushing his teeth. They didn’t really add anything to make me think things are going to go differently unless they get 70+ healthy games from this duo. The Pelicans own their picks, so are hoping to see the Lakers slide even more.
  • Utah Jazz: The Jazz have already traded away Rudy Gobert and are reportedly listening to offers on Donovan Mitchell, so it’s hard to see them being better next season. If they trade Mitchell, they are headed to the lottery.
  • San Antonio Spurs: The Spurs are apparently rebuilding  after trading start Dejounte Murray. They have a lot of young talent but it feels like they will take a step back next season after losing Murray. You can never count out the Spurs and you know Popovich will have his young team playing hard and prepared.