Reviewing the 2019-20 New Orleans Pelicans

November 14th, 2020

by Alan Lu

The New Orleans Pelicans’ logo.
(Photo:
New Orleans Pelicans/Sports Logo History)

There was a lot of anticipation about how the Pelicans would do this past season, as they had drafted the number one overall pick in the 2019 draft in Zion Williamson, and they also traded superstar big man Anthony Davis in a package trade that netted them Brandon Ingram and Lonzo Ball.  They were a young team that wasn’t really considered a likely bet for the playoffs, but still it seemed like they had an outside shot at the postseason with the talent they had on the roster.

This season was a roller coaster ride for them.  Zion Williamson wasn’t healthy for many games, and there were questions about his weight and whether if he was in shape, but he played a solid 24 games for them when he was healthy.  The Pelicans struggled early on, but they received strong play from All-Star forward Brandon Ingram, and others such as Lonzo Ball also stepped up their games. 

They built up some positive momentum when Zion came back healthy prior to the Orlando bubble, but they dropped more games than expected when the regular season resumed and were one of the most disappointing teams in the NBA restart.  Head coach Alvin Gentry was let go at the end of the season, and the Pelicans have hired a new head coach, Stan Van Gundy to lead them into 2021.

New Orleans Pelicans’ star forward, Brandon Ingram (pictured with the ball in his hands) made his first NBA All-Star team in 2020.
(Photo:
Ashley Landis-Pool/Getty Images, via Ball Durham)

F Brandon Ingram – A-

2020 (NOP): 62 GP, 23.8 PPG, 6.1 RPG, 4.2 APG, 46 FG%, 39 3PT%, 85 FT%, 33.9 MPG, 18.8 PER, 5.1 WS

Brandon Ingram had his best season by far to date, and he made his first All-Star team in 2020.  He really excelled at shooting and scoring the basketball, and the multi-skilled forward really excelled on offense for his team.  He will still need to improve his defense, but he will likely be his team’s go-to scorer in 2021, as big things will be expected of him and Zion Williamson next season.

Projected 2021 Role/Expectations: Starting small forward on the New Orleans Pelicans
Projected 2021 rating:  3 stars (3.5 stars potential)

Side note: Will be a restricted free agent at the end of the 2019-20 season.

New Orleans Pelicans’ rising star forward, Zion Williamson was only healthy enough to play in 24 games, but he dazzled in most of those games this season.
(Photo:
Chuck Cook/USA Today Sports, via TalkBasket.Net)

F Zion Williamson – B-

2020 (NOP): 24 GP, 22.5 PPG, 6.3 RPG, 2.1 APG, 58 FG%, 43 3PT%, 64 FT%, 27.8 MPG, 24.1 PER, 2 WS

Zion Williamson missed a lot of time this season due to a torn meniscus, as his knee injury prevented him from playing for most of the year.  He did manage to get healthy enough to play in 24 games, and he had a solid rookie season when he was healthy.

He was very efficient as a scorer when he was on the floor, and he averaged 22.5 points per game as a rookie.  However, there were concerns that he was out of shape when he entered the Orlando bubble, and his playing time was reduced significantly there, as his play suffered a bit.  He will need to improve his outside shot, cut down on his turnovers, and also improve his defense in the meantime.  Right now, he could be a young superstar in the making, but the emphasis will be for him to stay healthy and prove that he can play a full season in the NBA.

Projected 2021 Role/Expectations: Starting power forward on the New Orleans Pelicans
Projected 2021 rating:  2.5 stars (4.5 star potential)

New Orleans Pelicans’ star guard, Jrue Holiday is a solid starting point guard that has been in heavy trade talks, as a lot of NBA teams are rumored to really want his services for the 2020-21 NBA season.
(Photo:
Brandon Dill/AP Photo, via Inquirer.Net)

G Jrue Holiday – B

2020 (NOP): 61 GP, 19.1 PPG, 6.7 APG, 4.8 RPG, 1.6 SPG, 46 FG%, 35 3PT%, 71 FT%, 34.7 MPG, 17 PER, 3.9 WS

Jrue Holiday is a veteran point guard and a one-time All-Star that played a solid all-around game for the New Orleans Pelicans this past season.  He was a steady, reliable point guard for his team, and he excelled at making plays on both ends of the court.  He will need to improve his jump shot in the meantime, but Holiday is a solid starter that will likely provide his team with meaningful minutes in 2021.

Projected 2021 Role/Expectations: Starting point guard of the New Orleans Pelicans
Projected 2021 rating: 3 stars

New Orleans Pelicans’ guard, Lonzo Ball had a solid season for his team, even though his team missed the playoffs.
(Photo:
Ashley Landis-Pool/Getty Images, via Fansided’s FS NBA)

G Lonzo Ball – B

2020 (NOP): 63 GP, 11.8 PPG, 7.0 APG, 6.1 RPG, 1.4 SPG, 40 FG%, 37 3PT%, 57 FT%, 32.1 MPG, 13.1 PER, 2.4 WS

Lonzo Ball had a solid season with the New Orleans Pelicans in 2020.  He was a triple-double threat on a consistent basis, and he really improved his ability to knock down three-point shots in games.  He also is a solid rebounder and defender, and Ball did a lot of things well when he was on the basketball court.  Ball will need to improve his ability to make shots inside the arc, as well as his free throw shooting.  Ball had a good season with the Pelicans, and he could be a starter for them once again in 2021.

Projected 2021 Role/Expectations: Starting shooting guard for the New Orleans Pelicans
Projected 2021 rating:  2.5 stars (3 star potential)

C Derrick Favors – B

2020 (NOP): 51 GP, 9 PPG, 9.8 RPG, 1.6 APG, 62 FG%, 24.4 MPG, 18.5 PER, 4.2 WS

Favors excelled as a inside scorer, rebounder, and interior defender for his team this year.  He was limited by injuries this year, and he will need to be more assertive on offense, but he still was quite effective as a player on both ends of the floor.  He will most likely earn heavy minutes for an NBA team somewhere in 2021.

Projected 2021 Role/Expectations: Starting center for the New Orleans Pelicans or another team in the NBA

Projected 2021 rating:  2.5 stars

Side note: Favors will be an unrestricted free agent at the end of the 2019-20 season.

G J.J. Redick – B

2020 (NOP): 60 GP, 15.3 PPG, 2.5 RPG, 2.0 APG, 45 FG%, 45 3PT%, 89 FT%, 26.4 MPG, 15.4 PER, 4.1 WS

J.J. Redick is a sharpshooter that excels at knocking down threes and he does a superb job of making shots efficiently to help his team on offense.  He also does a good job of moving off the ball to get open shots, which makes him very tough to guard.  On the other hand, he doesn’t really add quite as much in the other categories, so on good teams, he may be a situational use player.  Still, his tremendous ability to shoot and score the basketball makes him a valuable player in the NBA.

Projected 2021 Role/Expectations: Solid bench player
Projected 2021 rating:  2.5 stars

C Jaxson Hayes – B+

2020 (NOP): 64 GP, 7.4 PPG, 4.0 RPG, 0.9 BPG, 67 FG%, 16.9 MPG, 17.6 PER, 3.9 WS

Jaxson Hayes played very well for the New Orleans Pelicans, and he is a very athletic, rim protector who would be in line to be the team’s starting center if they decide not to re-sign Derrick Favors.  Hayes excelled as a finisher and interior defender for his team, and he had a solid rookie season in 2020.  He will need to work on his perimeter skills and rebounding, but Hayes could be due for a major minutes bump up, as he could see a significant increase in playing time on the Pelicans’ team next season.

Projected 2021 Role/Expectations: Solid role player on the New Orleans Pelicans
Projected 2021 Rating:  2 stars (3 star potential)

G Josh Hart – B-

2020 (NOP): 65 GP, 10.1 PPG, 6.5 RPG, 1.7 APG, 42 FG%, 34 3PT%, 74 FT%, 27 MPG, 11.9 PER, 3.1 WS

Josh Hart is a smart, skilled swingman that profiles to be a prototypical 3 and D type of role player in the NBA.  He’s also a very good rebounder for his size, and he’s been a solid defender on the court.  He will need to improve his shooting and shot creation skills, however.  Right now, he projects to be a rotation player on the Pelicans’ team in 2021.

Projected 2021 Role/Expectations: Rotation player
Projected 2021 rating: 2 stars (2.5 stars)

F-C Nicolo Melli – B-

2020 (NOP): 60 GP, 6.6 PPG, 3.0 RPG, 1.4 APG, 42 FG%, 33 3PT%, 74 FT%, 17.4 MPG, 11.4 PER, 1.8 WS

Nicolo Melli is a floor-spacing big man that played well early on, and his ability to knock down jump shots allowed him to earn regular rotation minutes for the Pelicans as a rookie this season.  Melli also possesses above average passing skills, and he is also an adequate on-ball defender. 

However, his shooting percentages dipped late in the season, and he will really need to improve his rebounding.  He’s also not really a shot blocker, and he doesn’t project to be an elite rim protector on the defensive end.  Though he played fairly well as a rookie in 2020, Melli will be turning 30 late in January in 2021, and there may be a slight concern of how many good seasons he can bring to the Pelicans before decline sets in.  Still, Melli’s ability to knock down outside shots will give him a chance to be a regular in the Pelicans’ rotation once again next season.

Projected 2021 Role/Expectations: Rotation player
Projected 2021 rating:  2 stars

C Jahlil Okafor – B

2020 (NOP): 30 GP, 8.1 PPG, 4.2 RPG, 62 FG%, 15.6 MPG, 18.3 PER, 1.3 WS

Jahlil Okafor played fairly well for the New Orleans Pelicans this season.  He excelled as an inside scorer for his team, and he also played unselfishly as he did a good job of passing the basketball this year.  He also rated as above average in defensive box plus-minus and defensive win-shares, which is a good thing considering that he hasn’t exactly been known for his defensive skills.  He will need to improve his rebounding and must cut down on his turnovers and fouls, and there are concerns about his mobility, but Okafor could be due for plenty of more minutes with the Pelicans or another NBA team in 2021.

Projected 2021 Role/Expectations: Fringe rotation player, backend roster player
Projected 2021 rating: 1.5 stars

Side note: Will be an unrestricted free agent at the end of the 2019-20 season.

G Frank Jackson – D

2020 (NOP): 59 GP, 6.3 PPG, 1.4 RPG, 1.0 APG, 40 FG%, 33 3PT%, 75 FT%, 13.5 MPG, 9.1 PER, 0.2 WS

Frank Jackson received a lot of playing time, but he struggled to make shots efficiently or do much of anything well consistently when he was on the court this year.  He’s a very athletic combo guard that may possess considerable potential, but that has not yet translated into solid, concrete production yet.  Next season, he will likely be fighting to crack a team’s rotation in the NBA.

Projected 2021 Role/Expectations: Fringe rotation player, backend roster player

Projected 2021 rating:  1.5 stars (2 stars)

Side note: Will be a restricted free agent at the end of the 2019-20 season.

F Kenrich Williams – C

2020 (NOP): 39 GP, 3.5 PPG, 4.8 RPG, 1.5 APG, 35 FG%, 26 3PT%, 35 FT%, 21.3 MPG, 7.5 PER, 0.9 WS

Kenrich Williams is a skilled swingman that excels as a facilitator and defensive specialist for his team.  He is not really a great shooter nor scorer, but his ability to facilitate, rebound, and defend has earned him plenty of minutes with the Pelicans over the years, and this trend may be likely to continue next season.

Projected 2021 Role/Expectations: Fringe rotation player, backend roster player
Projected 2021 rating:  1.5 stars

Side note: Will be a restricted free agent at the end of the 2019-20 season.

G E’Twaun Moore – D

2020 (NOP): 56 GP, 8.3 PPG, 2.3 RPG, 1.4 APG, 43 FG%, 38 3PT%, 69 FT%, 18.2 MPG, 11.3 PER, 0.9 WS

E’Twaun Moore was a regular in the Pelicans’ rotation this season, but he saw his shooting percentages take a hit, as he struggled with his efficiency at times, and he didn’t provide his team with much else other than outside shooting in 2020.  Right now, Moore’s jump shot gives him a shot to be in their rotation next year, but he will need to get back to where he used to be a season ago.

Projected 2021 Role/Expectations: Fringe rotation player, backend roster player

Projected 2021 rating:  1.5 stars

Side note: Will be an unrestricted free agent at the end of the 2019-20 season.

G Nickeil Alexander-Walker – D

2020 (NOP): 47 GP, 5.7 PPG, 1.9 APG, 1.8 RPG, 37 FG%, 35 3PT%, 68 FT%, 12.6 MPG, 8.9 PER, -0.2 WS

After having a very good sophomore season at Virginia Tech, the 2019 first round pick was expected to be a fairly solid contributor right away after impressing the Pelicans and NBA fans with a strong preseason.

Instead, Alexander-Walker hit a rookie wall…for pretty much the entire rookie season.  He really struggled to knock down shots efficiently, and it impacted pretty much his entire game in a negative way.  He did a decent job of making threes and of passing the basketball, but he really struggled to make shots inside the arc, and he also struggled to make his free throws.  He also didn’t really defend quite as well as expected, and he didn’t play nearly as well this season as anticipated.  In hindsight, people can easily make the argument that the Pelicans should have drafted Matisse Thybulle, Brandon Clarke, or Eric Paschall, but there’s hope that Nickeil Alexander-Walker can one day turn it around and be an effective 3 and D type of role player in the NBA.

Projected 2021 Role/Expectations: Fringe rotation player, backend roster player
Projected 2021 rating:  1.5 stars (2.5 stars potential)

F Darius Miller – Incomplete

2020 (NOP): DNP – Achilles injury

Darius Miller missed the entire 2019-20 season due to an Achilles injury, but when healthy he is an athletic swingman that can provide some decent minutes as a spot-up shooter off the bench.  He’ll need to be much more aggressive offensively, but he also has shown some passing and defensive skills over the years.

Projected 2021 Role/Expectations: Fringe rotation player, backend roster player
Projected 2021 rating:  1.5 stars

G Sindarius Thornwell – B+

2020 (NOP): 2 GP, 8 PPG, 2 RPG, 2 APG, 55 FG%, 50 3PT%, 50 FT%, 17.5 MPG, 14.7 PER, 0.1 WS

Thornwell had a fairly solid rookie season, but he really struggled with the Clippers in his second year, and then he was waived by the Cavaliers in trying out for them prior to the start of this season.  Thornwell was able to get onto the Pelicans’ roster late in the season for the Orlando bubble, and he also played very well for them, as he especially excelled as a scorer, facilitator and help defender for their team.  There might not be many minutes for him on the Pelicans next season, but he might have played well enough to stay in the NBA in 2021.

Projected 2021 Role/Expectations: Fringe rotation player, backend roster player
Projected 2021 rating:  1.5 stars

Side note: Was signed on as a substitute player for the Orlando bubble, will be a free agent at the end of the 2019-20 NBA season.

F Zylan Cheatham (Two-Way) – C+

2020 (NOP): 4 GP, 3.0 PPG, 2.3 RPG, 0.8 APG, 67 FG%, 12.8 MPG, 6.7 PER, 0 WS

Zylan Cheatham didn’t play much for the Pelicans this past season, but he excelled at making shots within the limited touches he received offense in 2020.

Projected 2021 Role/Expectations: Depth forward, fringe roster player
Projected 2021 rating:  1 stars (2 star potential)

G Josh Gray (Two-Way) – D

2020 (NOP): 2 GP, 1.0 PPG, 1.0 RPG, 1.0 APG, 50 FG%, 11.5 MPG, -5 PER, -0.1 WS

He barely played for the Pelicans, and Gray did not make a meaningful enough impact for them when he was on the floor.  Considering that he’s played in parts of two seasons without making any noticeable impact, it’s doubtful that Gray would be a regular rotation player in the NBA next season.

Projected 2021 Role/Expectations: Depth forward, fringe roster player
Projected 2021 rating:  1 star

The New Orleans Pelicans tapped former Orlando Magic head coach, Stan Van Gundy to be their new head coach for the upcoming 2020-21 NBA season.
(Photo:
Rocky Widner/NBAE via Getty Images, via NBA.com)

Head Coach:
Stan Van Gundy – 2020 season grade: Incomplete
Head Coaching Career: 523-384, 48-43 in his playoff career

Just recently, Stan Van Gundy was announced as the new head coaching hire of the New Orleans Pelicans for the 2020-21 NBA season.  Having spent this season as an TNT analyst for NBA basketball games this year, Stan Van Gundy is best known for getting the 2009 Orlando Magic to the NBA Finals to face off against the Kobe Bryant-led Los Angeles Lakers, and the Magic played valiantly before losing to the Lakers in 5 games that year. 

Stan Van Gundy was known for his offensive innovation in 2009 as he started two tall, versatile forwards in the starting lineup, Rashard Lewis and Hedo Turkoglu alongside defensive ace and center Dwight Howard to complement him, and with the solid play of point guard Jameer Nelson and other various role players, the 2009 Orlando Magic made a deeper playoff run than anyone else could imagine.  Stan Van Gundy’s teams also tend to be defensive-minded and gritty, and when given a solid roster, he can take them much further than expected.  With the Pelicans, he has his work cut out for him, but there’s a lot of hope that he can take them far as the new leader and voice for their team.

Projected 2021 Role/Expectations: Head coach of the New Orleans Pelicans
Projected 2021 rating: 2.5 stars

Former Head coach:
Alvin Gentry – 2020 season grade: C
2020 (NOP): 30-42, missed the playoffs
Head Coaching Career: 510-595, 17-13 in his playoff career

Forever known as the head coach that got the 2010 Phoenix Suns to the Western Conference Finals, Alvin Gentry had an up and down 2020 season this year.  Individually, he got solid years out of Brandon Ingram, Lonzo Ball, and Zion Williamson, but his team won just 30 of 72 games, and they struggled in the Orlando bubble.  Because of that, there were plenty of people that wondered why Zion was so out of shape there.

The Pelicans were very disappointing down the stretch in the bubble, and they really struggled defensively next season.  There are plenty of skeptics that question Zion’s work ethic stemming from his large weight and lack of conditioning or playing time in the Orlando bubble, or if that was strictly from management’s orders.  Some wonder if he has what it takes to play a full season in the NBA while staying healthy, but it didn’t help that the Pelicans still really struggled to defend in the bubble when Zion was on the floor.  He still turned in a good season, but at the end of the 2020 season, there are many people that are wondering if maybe the Pelicans should have drafted Ja Morant with the first overall pick in 2019 instead.

Projected 2021 Role/Expectations: Assistant coach for an NBA team somewhere
Projected 2021 rating: 2 stars

The 2019-20 New Orleans Pelicans’ season grade: C-

The Pelicans were a solid offensive team that appeared to be hitting their stride when Zion finally got healthy midway through the season, and they were building up momentum just before the season was suspended.  Also notable, was that Brandon Ingram made his first NBA All-Star team in 2020.

When the season resumed, they were thought to be able to reel off wins in the Orlando bubble due to their talent, but they could never quite gel late in the regular season.  They had injuries, and others were out of shape, and they could never get the cohesive or their team to defend as well as expected.  The Pelicans were disappointing in the Orlando bubble, and shortly after the regular season ended, the Pelicans fired Alvin Gentry at the end of the 2019-20 season.

The New Orleans Pelicans’ Projected 2020-21 NBA Rotation

Projected Starters:
C Derrick Favors* (UFA)
F Zion Williamson
F Brandon Ingram* (RFA)
G Lonzo Ball
G Jrue Holiday

Key Reserves:
G J.J. Redick
C Jaxson Hayes
G Josh Hart
The 13th Overall Pick of the 2020 NBA Draft

Others competing for a spot in the rotation next season:
F-C Nicolo Melli
C Jahlil Okafor* (UFA)
F Kenrich Williams* (RFA)
F Darius Miller
G Frank Jackson* (RFA)
G Nickeil Alexander-Walker
The 39th Overall Pick of the 2020 NBA Draft
The 42nd Overall Pick of the 2020 NBA Draft

Other players that are currently projected to be on their next season’s roster:
The 60th Overall Pick of the 2020 NBA Draft
Zylan Cheatham (Two-Way Contract)
Josh Gray (Two-Way Contract)

Players that will be Restricted Free Agents:
Brandon Ingram
Kenrich Williams
Frank Jackson

Players that will be Unrestricted Free Agents:
Derrick Favors
Jahlil Okafor
E’Twaun Moore
Sindarius Thornwell

Projected Players Cut from Next Season’s Roster:
Zylan Cheatham, Josh Gray

2020 NBA Draft Picks:
#13, #39, #42, #60

Projected Offseason Plan for the Pelicans:

The New Orleans Pelicans had a roller coaster of a year, and when Zion was healthy in the regular season, they seemed to be making a late push for the playoffs.  They also had a very good season from first-time All-Star, Brandon Ingram.  However, the Pelicans underperformed in the bubble, and were quickly eliminated from playoff contention, which led to then head coach-Alvin Gentry’s ouster. 

First and foremost, it’s imperative that the Pelicans look to bring back Brandon Ingram, and signing him will be their top priority.  Ingram and Zion Williamson are their two best players, and they will be building their team around them.  In the draft, they will probably look to surround the team with shooters to complement Zion, because Zion isn’t really an outside shooter and will need others to help space the floor.  Players that could fit this criteria that may fall in this range could be Aaron Nesmith, Josh Green, and Saddiq Bey, while there is a chance that others rated slightly higher such as Obi Toppin, Tyrese Haliburton, and Devin Vassell could also fall to them.  They also could look to draft a big man in case if they do not re-sign Derrick Favors.

They also could take the best player available, even if that means drafting someone at his position, because Zion Williamson hasn’t exactly proven that he can stay healthy or play heavy minutes throughout the season.  The Pelicans have almost $30 million to spend according to Spotrac, but they will likely use all or most of that cap space on Brandon Ingram and also maybe on Derrick Favors, which would leave them little room to spend on free agents elsewhere.

Expected Regular-Season Record in 2021*: 33-39, 11th in the Western Conference

Expected 2021 Season Outcome: They will compete for the 8th seed in the West, but it will be a tough challenge for the New Orleans Pelicans to make it to the postseason.

(* – The asterisk denotes that the expected regular season win total is adjusted for the 72-game schedule that the NBA will play for the 2020-21 season.  The initial projection for the Pelicans was for them to get 38 wins in an 82-game season.  Also, the projected record does not take into account for the NBA draft or free agency, as those events have not happened yet.)

In case if you need the rubric for my player rating system of projecting NBA players for the 2020-21 season, here is the link. In addition, Basketball-Reference, RealGM, and Spotrac were vital information sites that I used to look at player and team statistics, as well as contract information.

Side note: Also, the letter grades attached to the player name was my grade for their 2019-20 season, as it is my judgment of their performance and whether or not they met or exceeded my expectations, and didn’t have much bearing on my projection of how they will perform for the 2020-21 NBA season.

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