The New Orleans Pelicans got their first win of the preseason against the Chicago Bulls, winning 129-125 on the road in the Windy City.
The Pels came out sharp and with a ton of energy, scoring 40 points in the first quarter and pushing the pace every time they got the chance. The Pelicans put a ton of pressure on the rim and shot just under 50 percent as a team. The smaller Bulls could do little to contain the Pelicans around the rim no matter who was in there.
The Pelicans were flying around on defense, getting deflections, steals and then trying to turn them into early offense.
Zion Williamson made his much-anticipated return and didn’t disappoint. He was moving well, putting in the effort on defense, and scored 13 points in just 15 minutes, reminding everyone just how dominant he can be when he’s healthy.
Even with Brandon Ingram and Trey Murphy III on the bench, the Pels showed off a deep roster and just about everyone chipped in. There were some pleasant surprises in the Pelicans’ win that bode well for the season.
Pelicans vs. Bulls: 3 pleasant surprises
The Pelicans’ bench
I don’t think this is a complete surprise, as the Pels’ bench really started to emerge late last season, but they looked fantastic last night. Everyone was flying around and getting their hands into passing lanes, ending in13 steals for the Pelicans.
Willie Green noted that everything starts with the defense, as New Orleans’ bench was able to get out and run, getting some dunks and 3-point shots in transition. This group is going to change the momentum of games when the Pels get down early and build on leads when they get off to a good start.
With so many guys competing for spots, everyone has stayed sharp and is working hard to earn minutes, and this bench is going to be a weapon.
One of the storylines of the offseason was the lack of extension for Jaxson Hayes and what that might mean for his future with the team. It’s a make or break season for Hayes with the Pelicans and if he plays like he did last night, he might make New Orleans regret not extending him.
Hayes ended the game with 14 points, six rebounds, three assists a block and steal and really made an impact on both ends. Hayes was active defensively and on the boards and then running the floor like a gazelle, which led to some easy dunks in transition. He made 7-of-8 shots and showed how his combination of size and athleticism can be a weapon in the fast break.
The big test for Hayes will be playing like this consistently, as he not only has to play with this level of energy on defense but needs to do it efficiently and under control to reduce mistakes. It was a great start for Hayes, but now we have to see it night in and night out.
Another question of the offseason was how Devonte’ Graham fits into the Pelicans rotation. If they are going to play Jose Alvarado as the backup point guard, can Graham hold down that shooting guard spot defensively? There’s also questions about Graham’s shooting, as he is coming off a subpar year, hitting just 34 percent from long range.
Graham played with both Alvarado and Dyson Daniels at different points last night and ended with 21 points and five assists as the lead scorer off the bench. He was 3-of-8 from long range and also got the line eight times, hitting all of them. If Graham is aggressive offensively, he can be a bench weapon for the Pelicans, who lack a real “go-to” scorer in the second unit.
Graham, Alvarado and Daniels all showed how they can break down a defense and play together, which is probably going to leave Kira Lewis Jr. on the outside of the rotation looking in.