Teams the New Orleans Pelicans should try to avoid in the first round

Zion Williamson, New Orleans Pelicans. Jaren Jackson Jr. & Dillion Brooks, Memphis Grizzlies. (Photo by Justin Ford/Getty Images)
Zion Williamson, New Orleans Pelicans. Jaren Jackson Jr. & Dillion Brooks, Memphis Grizzlies. (Photo by Justin Ford/Getty Images) /

With the NBA regular season set to end on Sunday, it’s right about that time to start thinking about the playoffs.

This is especially true when your team is in the mix for a playoff seed. And while it is still far from a sure thing that the New Orleans Pelicans secure one of the eight spots in the Western Conference, things have been trending in the right direction for them, as they currently have the eighth seed (meaning that they will get two chances to win one game in the NBA Play-In Tournament).

On top of that, they are only a half-game back from the fifth seed in the conference, so they theoretically could move up the standings to try and face a more favorable matchup. But that begs the question: what exactly are favorable matchups for the Pelicans?

For this exercise, we are going to assume that superstar Zion Williamson – who has been out since January 2nd with a strained hamstring – will be healthy and ready to go for the postseason (recent reports suggest that it is trending in that direction).

We will operate under this assumption because, let’s face it, without Williamson the team likely doesn’t have enough ponies in the stable to keep up with any of the top-4 teams in the conference.

With Williamson healthy, the team’s two biggest weaknesses are outside shooting and rim protection.

Normally, Williamson is such a dynamic interior force that the Pelicans don’t need elite outside shooting to have an elite offense. The Pelicans were eighth in the league in Offensive Rating before he went down with the hamstring injury.

When that shooting becomes a problem is when they face a team with enough big bodies on their roster to clog up the paint in a way that hinders Williamson’s ability to acquire shots at the rim and draw free throws. These kinds of teams force the Pelicans to beat them with their outside shooting – something the team has struggled to consistently accomplish this season.

One such team that poses this problem is the Memphis Grizzlies. The Grizzlies give up the third-lowest number of points in the paint per 100 possessions (46.8) in the entire league (per This season, they have beaten the Pelicans in two of their three meetings. Ironically enough, their only loss to New Orleans this year came in the one meeting where Williamson didn’t play (November 15th).

The second weakness is something we’ve discussed ad nauseam on this website before. As currently constructed, this team is sorely lacking in the area of rim protection, which is a massive concern because rim protection is the factor that plays the largest role in a team’s defensive success.

Tying this back to bad matchups, the Pelicans (with or without Williamson) will theoretically have a tough time beating a great interior scoring team four times in a seven-game series.

With this in mind, the aforementioned Grizzlies and the Denver Nuggets would both be teams that the Pelicans should avoid facing off against in the first round. The Grizzlies are first in the league in points in the paint scored per 100 possessions (57.3); meanwhile, the Nuggets are second (55.4).

Some might push back on the second team listed here, as the Pelicans just beat the Nuggets by nearly 20 points this past Thursday. However, in that game, the Nuggets were without their two-time MVP, Nikola Jokic. When Jokic plays, the Nuggets are 2-1 against the Pelicans this season.

So, if the Pelicans can manage it, their best bet is to end the season as the sixth or fifth seed (remember, they are a half-game back from both those spots), that way they can face more favorable matchups in either the Sacramento Kings or the Phoenix Suns.

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