Several teams have disappointed in the NBA restart, but none more than the New Orleans Pelicans. They entered the bubble in a virtual tie with the Blazers and Kings for the ninth seed in the West. Fast forward six games and they are officially eliminated from playoff contention.
The Pelicans were looking to be one of the most entertaining teams in the restart but ended up settling for most disappointing. Let’s take a look as to why.
Stats courtesy of Basketball-Reference
They Had the Easiest Schedule of Any Team in Orlando
New Orleans not only had the easiest of any Western Conference play-in contender, but of any team in the bubble. Outside of their first two games – which were the Jazz and Clippers – the Pelicans were slated to play solely sub -.500 teams.
Their schedule procured them the highest chances of any fringe playoff team to secure both the play-in spot (34%) and overall playoff qualification (14%). Instead of capitalizing on this opportunity, the Pelicans went 2-4 in their first six games. This includes an embarrassing loss to the struggling Kings, in which they allowed them to score 140 points.
The Phoenix Severely Outplayed Them
The now scorching Suns once had a 1% chance of achieving the ninth-seed play-in spot, and a daunting 0.2% chance of making the playoffs. They finished their restart with a record of 8-0 and nearly forced a play-in game with the Blazers.
New Orleans allowed a team riddled with injuries and inconsistent play to surpass them in the standings. Phoenix is playing without Kelly Oubre Jr., who was pouring in 18.7 points per game before his injury. The Suns also have a more arduous path, as they entered the bubble with the sixth hardest schedule.
Individual Players Have Underperformed
The Pelicans have one of the more promising young cores in the league, but they haven’t shown it in the bubble. In the last five games before the hiatus, Lonzo Ball was averaging 20.8 points while shooting 54% from the field and an astonishing 51% from beyond the arc. In his first five bubble games, the former number two overall pick averaged 5.8 points on 27% shooting from the floor, 23% from three, and an abysmal 33% from the stripe.
Most Improved finalist Brandon Ingram has shown glimpses of offensive brilliance but hasn’t been able to sustain it. He hasn’t been the clutch scorer the Pelicans so desperately need and has a proclivity to have lapses on the defensive end. Veteran guard Jrue Holiday is also inconsistent on offense, scoring in single digits in multiple games. His carelessness with the basketball is disappointing as well – he’s accumulated 16 turnovers in New Orleans’ last three games.
Rookie phenom Zion Williamson was on a tear before the season’s hiatus. In his 19 games, he led the Pels to a record of 11-8 and had a net rating of +10.4. New Orleans even tantalized fans prior to the restart by posting a workout picture that saw Williamson resemble Bane from Batman. Unfortunately, his stellar play did not translate to the bubble.
The Pelicans placed the generational talent on a strict minutes restriction. Their bubble opener saw Williamson play fewer minutes than his season debut – a debut in which he was coming off an injury. Aside from his fettered minutes, the rookie sensation looks out of shape.
He plays defense as if there are cinder blocks tied to his ankles, and his rebounding numbers have plummeted. In six games, he hasn’t posted a single block or steal, and the team has a horrendous 128.4 defensive rating with him on the floor. They play 33.9 points per 100 possessions better with Williamson on the bench.
Overall Lack of Energy
It’s one thing when a team loses a hard-fought match, but the Pelicans have lacked competitive fervor since arriving in Orlando. Against the Kings – a very disappointing team in their own right – the Pels became the first team since 2008 to put up 125 points, shoot 57% from the floor, and lose by 15 or more, according to ESPN Stats and Info.
In a must-win game against the Spurs, the Pels came out with zero sense of urgency. They found themselves down by 20 or more for much of the game, and their starting backcourt each scored in single digits.
The narrative surrounding the Pelicans going into the bubble has proven to be anticlimactic. They were supposed to compete for a matchup against LeBron and the Lakers in the first round, but instead they’ve disappointed us all. New Orleans is one of the most talented young teams in the league, but it’ll be interesting to see how they regroup for next season.
After the firing of head coach Alvin Gentry, New Orleans will look for a fresh start next season.