The New Orleans Pelicans tip off their preseason schedule tomorrow, and though the games don’t count, there will be plenty at stake.
Coach Willie Green summarized his training camp as “competitive,” which you would expect from a team with a loaded roster and a lot of guys trying to jockey for minutes.
Preseason is not going to solely determine who gets them, but it sets the tone and there are several players other than Zion Williamson who will be under a microscope.
As coach Green is tinkering with configurations and matchups, there are a couple of guys who have plenty to gain or lose with their showing in preseason.
New Orleans Pelicans preseason: Player with the most to gain
Dyson Daniels is a guy who has plenty to gain in preseason, as he played just eight minutes in Summer League, so New Orleans has not had much chance to see him play outside of practice.
He appears to be healthy and ready to go, and a strong showing from him in preseason could put to rest any fears that the rookie is not ready for the rotation.
He started at guard for the second unit in the open practice, and word around camp is that the rookie is far more NBA ready than people might think. I think coach Green will experiment with different combinations early in the season, but if Daniels defends and competes at a high level, he may be able to win that backup guard spot ahead of Devonte’ Graham.
Willie Green has shown he will lean towards defense and Daniels gives the Pelicans a much bigger and more versatile defender on the perimeter. If Daniels also knocks down a few shots and handles the ball well in preseason, that spot might be his right away.
Daniels is going to play this season, there is no doubt of that, but a big showing in preseason might accelerate his emergence in the rotation.
Player with the most to lose
Jaxson Hayes is the guy who has the most to lose in preseason, as he is not only fighting for a role and minutes, but also for a new contract.
I don’t think either of those things will be decided by how Hayes performs in preseason, but it could put him in a bad position.
Hayes started 28 games last season and was mostly a mainstay in the rotation, but there is a lot more competition this year. Zion is back, and will take Hayes’ spot in the starting lineup, but he also has Larry Nance Jr., Willy Hernangomez and even Trey Murphy III to contend with for minutes.
With Nance Jr. and Hernangomez on board, there is no guarantee Hayes will see minutes at backup center and Nance Jr., TMIII and Naji Marshall will be pressuring him for minutes at the backup power forward spot as well.
There’s also the matter of Hayes’ contract, as he is headed into the last year of it and has still not worked out an extension with the team. Again, the team is not going to make this decision based on preseason, but if Hayes struggles and other guys are clicking, it might make them feel a little more comfortable just letting him play it out to see what happens.
Preseason games don’t count in the standings, but they do give teams more data when it comes to rotations and possibly even future contracts.