3 things the Pelicans need to become championship contenders

Apr 16, 2024; New Orleans, Louisiana, USA; New Orleans Pelicans forward Zion Williamson (1) dunks
Apr 16, 2024; New Orleans, Louisiana, USA; New Orleans Pelicans forward Zion Williamson (1) dunks / Stephen Lew-USA TODAY Sports
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2. A true rim protector

Chet Holmgren was a force in the Pelicans first-round playoff series.

Time and time again the Pelicans tried to summit Mount Holmgren, and time and time again they failed to reach the apex. Holmgren dominated the Pelicans on the defensive end and exposed the Pelicans lack of size and mobility on offense.

Jonas Valanciunas has been a pillar of consistency in New Orleans. He played all 82 games in 2023-23 and gave the Pels solid minutes every single night. You knew exactly what you were getting from Valanciunas. Nothing more, nothing less.

The nothing more is the problem.

Valanciunas is a solid player, but his game is built for the bruising style of the 1990s, not the spaced out, fast paced modern NBA. Every team still alive in the second-round of the West has either an All-Star big man (Jokic, Gobert, Towns, Holmgren), or a hyper-active center that can both space the floor, finish in the dunker spot, and defend the rim (Dallas' rotation). Valanciunas can do one of those three things well. Jonas is a useful player, but it's time for him to be useful elsewhere.

Zion Williamson's defensive limitations have been well-documented. What he brings on offense, he gives away on defense. The Pelicans need to pair Zion with a defensive-minded center that can make up for his lack.

In any potential deal with Cleveland for one of their guards (Mitchell or Garland), New Orleans should throw some extra assets to see if Jarrett Allen could be thrown in. If not Allen, New Orleans should explore moving money around (Ingram or McCollum's contract) to sign Brooklyn Nets center Nic Claxton to a deal. Both of those players would fit seamlessly next to Williamson and shore up the Pelicans leaky interior defense.