Which of these 3 Pelicans will make the biggest leap?

Los Angeles Clippers forward Marcus Morris Sr. (8) shoots against New Orleans Pelicans guard Trey Murphy III (25) and guard Jose Alvarado (15) Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports
Los Angeles Clippers forward Marcus Morris Sr. (8) shoots against New Orleans Pelicans guard Trey Murphy III (25) and guard Jose Alvarado (15) Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports /

The New Orleans Pelicans are hoping to improve upon last year’s 36-win season and have the roster in place to do it.

Obviously, the return of Zion Williamson will give them the biggest boost, especially after seeing him in early practice footage looking slimmer and faster than ever.

If Zion stays healthy and has the type of MVP-level season we think he could have, then he’ll be the single biggest addition to any team in the Western Conference outside of possibly Kawhi Leonard for the Clippers.

But it will take more than that to propel the Pelicans to the top of the standings in the West, as the conference is loaded and will be very competitive.

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They will also need internal improvements from guys who are already on the team and there are three young players who could really push the Pelicans over the top if they improve. We know what we’ll get from guys like Brandon Ingram, CJ McCollum, Jonas Valanciunas and even Herb Jones, so the difference between 45 and 50 wins might come down to the leap years from young role players.

So who is going improve the most?

Who makes the biggest leap for the Pelicans?

Jose Alvarado

The case for Alvarado:
Jose Alvarado played well in the playoffs and in international play for Puerto Rico. He was one of the best rookies last season when it came to steals and setting up teammates and early reports are that his shot has improved as well.

He did shoot the lights out in the FIBA World Cup qualifiers, and if that carries over to the season, he is going to earn the primary backup point guard role and could be more of a two-way threat, making the Pels’ second unit a force.

Jaxson Hayes

The case for Hayes:

This is a make-or-break season in many ways for Jaxson Hayes, who is still waiting on an extension offer from the Pelicans. Hayes could get minutes as both a power forward or a center, so coach Willie Green should be able to put him in favorable matchups at times. This will be his 4th season in the league, so he will hopefully have figured some things out when it comes to rotations and shot selection.

Hayes has shown that he can shoot 3-point shots, so if he can bump those attempts up and become more of a stretch, allowing him to play the four alongside Larry Nance Jr. at center, he could be a force in that role.

Trey Murphy III

The case for Murphy III:

Trey Murphy III has reportedly put on some muscle this offseason, which should allow him to play more physically and get run at both forward spots, possibly taking some minutes from Jaxson Hayes depending on the matchup.

He could also be one of the bigger beneficiaries of the return of Zion, as he is a knockdown 3-point shooter who should get more open looks with Zion taking all of the attention when he is on the floor with the bench. I suspect we’ll see offensive-minded lineups with Zion surround by shooters and one of them is going to be TMIII.

Murphy III came on down the stretch, had more work to do on his body, and should have a much bigger role as one of the only solid 3-point shooters the Pelicans have. I think he is going to make a huge leap this season, play closer to 20 minutes per game, and score in double digits for the Pelicans.

He’s my pick to make the biggest leap, with Alvarado coming in second.

Honorable mention: Naji Marshall (will have to fight for a rotation spot but could get there), Dyson Daniels (technically a professional last season in the G-League and could be a rotation player soon) and Willie Hernangomez (coming off an incredible MVP run in the FIBA EuroBasket tournament).

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