After drafting Zion Williamson, signing free agents JJ Redick and Derrick Favors, and bringing in Brandon Ingram, Lonzo Ball and Josh Hart via the Anthony Davis trade, the New Orleans Pelicans had every expectation to not just make the 2019-20 playoffs, but perhaps secure a top-four seed.
Things didn’t go as planned.
For starters, Williamson missed the first three months of the season with a torn right meniscus. When he made his regular-season debut on Jan. 22, the Pelicans were the fifth-worst defense in the league and nearly a bottom-10 offense. They turned the ball over like crazy. Favors, a big part of what was supposed to be a versatile, stout defensive team, missed nearly a month in the early going, and over that span New Orleans dropped 10 straight games.
Even with Williamson in the lineup, they went just 10-9, but that record is deceiving. Zion was such a beast over his 19 games that there was actually talk that he could still threaten to win Rookie of the Year had the season gone uninterrupted, and the Pelicans hovered around a top-10 offensive and defensive team with the seventh-best net rating in the league after Williamson’s return. They gave the Lakers all they could handle twice.
All told, the Pelicans treaded enough water to head into Orlando with an opportunity to crack the postseason. When play resumes, they’ll sit three games back of No. 8 Memphis with the easiest remaining schedule of any team at Disney. That’s the good news.
The bad news is the Kings and Spurs are within three games as well, and the Blazers, though four games back in the loss column, are actually in better position with a slightly higher winning percentage that would give them the tiebreaker. New Orleans will play the first game back, against Utah, at 6:30 p.m. ET.
That game will air nationally on TNT, and it is vitally important that New Orleans get out of the gate with a win. There is almost no room for error with five teams fighting for one spot and eight games to play. So, that’s the scenario. Here’s what you need to know about the Pelicans — who’ll they be taking to Orlando, their full schedule and main storylines to watch — as the re-opening of the 2019-20 NBA season on July 30 draws near.
Players sitting out: N/A
All times Eastern
- July 30 vs. Jazz, 6:30 ET
- Aug. 1 vs. Clippers, 6 ET
- Aug. 3 vs. Grizzlies, 6:30 ET
- Aug. 6 vs. Kings, 1:30 ET
- Aug. 7 vs. Wizards, 8 ET
- Aug. 9 vs. Spurs, 3 ET
- Aug. 11 vs. Kings, 9 ET
- Aug. 13 vs. Magic, TBA
Zion’s dominance: The Pelicans are just under 14 points per 100 possessions better than their opponents when Zion is on the floor, by far the best mark on the team. Over 230 minutes, New Orleans’ presumed Orlando starting lineup of Lonzo Ball, Jrue Holiday, Brandon Ingram, Favors and Williamson is plus-26.3 per 100 possessions, and that’s not a number than can in any way be dismissed for the relatively small sample size. With Zion on the court, the Pelicans are a problem. By the time New Orleans hits the floor for its first game in Orlando, it will have been almost five months since they last played. Can Zion pick up where he left off? He certainly looks to be in good enough shape to do so.
Lonzo’s shooting: When the season was suspended, Ball was having a career shooting year at 39 percent from 3-point range, per Cleaning the Glass. His form is streamlined. His confidence is higher. He’s become an off-ball threat in a way he never really was with the Lakers. When this season came to a halt, Ball was one of just five players in the league averaging at least 12 points, seven assists, six rebounds and one steal per game. The other four are LeBron James, James Harden, Ben Simmons and Luka Doncic.
- That’s not to say he’s anywhere near the player any of those guys are, but he’s pretty darn good, and if he can keep this where it was when we last saw him, the Pelicans are going to be an even tougher out.