The 2021-22 NBA season is set to tip off on Oct. 19 (ET). In preparation for the upcoming season, we're dedicating one day between now and the start of the season to each team in the league.
Up next is the New Orleans Pelicans.
2020-21 season record
31-41, 11th in Western Conference
Jonas Valanciunas, trade
Devonte' Graham, sign-and-trade
Trey Murphy III, No. 17 pick in 2021 NBA Draft
Herbert Jones, No. 35 pick in 2021 NBA Draft
Steven Adams, trade
Eric Bledsoe, trade
Lonzo Ball, sign-and-trade
|PG||Devonte' Graham||Tomas Satoransky||Kira Lewis Jr.||Jared Harper|
|SG||Nickeil Alexander-Walker||Josh Hart||Didi Louzada||Jose Alvarado||Trey Murphy III|
|SF||Brandon Ingram||Garrett Temple||Herbert Jones||Zylan Cheatham||James Nunnally|
|PF||Zion Williamson||Naji Marshall||Wenyen Gabriel||Daulton Hommes|
|C||Jonas Valanciunas||Jaxson Hayes||Willy Hernangomez|
Two-way: Daulton Hommes (forward), James Nunnally (forward), Jose Alvardo (guard)
Training camp/Exhibit 10: Jared Harper (guard), Zylan Cheatham (forward)
3 key storylines
Last season, the Pelicans wanted more toughness and defence in the frontcourt and brought in Steven Adams. While he solidified their interior, his fit alongside Williamson was less than ideal for their spacing.
The Lithuanian blossomed in his three seasons in Memphis and in 2020-21, he averaged 17.1 points and a career-high 12.5 rebounds per game on 59.2 percent shooting from the field and 36.8 percent from the 3-point line. His improved shooting from beyond the arc will give Williamson a lot more room to operate in the paint and expect him to increase his output from 0.9 shots from three per game.
In the past two seasons in Memphis, Valanciunas launched 148 3-pointers, after previously attempting 126 triples in his nine seasons prior. He can knock down triples but he still does his best work in the paint, ranking eighth in the NBA in points from post-ups.
The Willie Green era
Entering his third season in the NBA, Williamson has now had three different head coaches following Willie Green's arrival, replacing Stan Van Gundy.
Green, who spent time as an assistant coach with the Golden State Warriors and Phoenix Suns, faces a tough job of getting the Pelicans into the playoffs in a competitive Western Conference, and the early signs show he's ready to shake up the team's offence to get them there.
"For us, we want to be spaced out," Green said of the team's focus on getting up shots from the perimeter.
"But also, we have guys who are capable of shooting from that distance. A combination of that spacing and that ability to shoot is really tough on the defence to guard you. They have to guard guys who can shoot and have to guard guys who can guard our penetration."
Under Van Gundy, the Pelicans were 25th in the NBA in 3-point attempts per game (30.4) after finishing seventh the season prior (36.9). With the likes of Graham, Hart and Alexander-Walker attacking from the perimeter, Green has a plan to maximise their offensive foundations in Ingram and Williamson.
Year 3 of Zion
In his second season, Williamson was a force, averaging 27.0 points and 7.2 rebounds in 61 games on his way to being named an All-Star, showing off an expanded game as we got to see more of the experiment of "Point Zion."
While the athletic marvel still does most of his damage in the restricted area, Williamson is just scratching the surface of his game, evolving into a point forward who can create plays for himself and his teammates. This season, he says he's got even more up his sleeve, telling reporters on Media Day we can look forward to an added layer of shooting to his game.
"I guess the best thing I can say is, a lot of floaters, a lot of midrange shots," Williamson said.
"I worked on that a lot this [summer] because I'm a rhythm player. If I have the ball, I'll just create a rhythm, so the midrange shot for me feels really good. So, it's going to be a lot of that."
With even more space to operate alongside more shooting, Williamson looks on track to take his game to the next level.
5 games to watch
Nov. 8 at Dallas Mavericks
Luka Doncic vs. Zion Williamson ... enough said!
Nov. 13 vs Memphis Grizzlies
Any matchup against the Grizzlies is a must-watch with former AAU teammates Williamson and Ja Morant going head-to-head. After the pair went one and two in the 2019 NBA Draft, two of the future faces of the league will be battling for a long time to come.
Jan 20. at New York Knicks
Williamson under the bright lights of Madison Square Garden.
Knicks fans see Williamson as the one that got away after missing out on the No. 1 pick in 2019 and the Pelicans star has professed his love for playing at MSG, last season saying "New York is the Mecca of basketball. I love playing here."
Another subplot is the matchup against his former Duke teammate in Knicks shooting guard RJ Barrett.
Zion + MSG is must-see TV.
Feb. 27 at Los Angeles Lakers
One generation to another. Williamson was arguably the most hyped talent entering the draft since LeBron James and the meetings between these two generational superstars can't be taken for granted.
They've only played against each other three times (three wins for LeBron). Their first meeting this season will take place at STAPLES Center on national television.
This game is also a return for former Lakers Ingram and Hart, with Anthony Davis lining up on the other side.
March 24 vs. Chicago Bulls
Lonzo Ball returns to NOLA with his new-look Bulls squad for the first time after leaving the Pelicans in a sign-and-trade. The Bulls host the Pelicans in the second game of the season, but this one will hit different back in New Orleans.
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