The 2021 New Orleans Pelicans in Review

July 7th, 2021

By Alan Lu

Prior to the start of the season, with Zion Williamson fully healthy and ready to play with All-Star forward Brandon Ingram, and as they swung a trade to get Eric Bledsoe and Steven Adams, big things were expected in the Big Easy, as the Pelicans were at least expected to get to the play-in tournament under head coach Stan Van Gundy.

While forward Zion Williamson personally enjoyed having a very good season as he made his first All-Star team, his team, the Pelicans floundered and disappointed as a team this year.  They really struggled defensively as they won just 31 of their 72 games, and they ended up getting eliminated before the start of the play-in tournament.  Sometime during the 2021 NBA Playoffs, their head coach Stan Van Gundy resigned, marking a shocking, sudden, and disappointing end to the brief Stan Van Gundy era in New Orleans.

New Orleans Pelicans’ star forward, Zion Williamson had a tremendous second season in the NBA, and he averaged 27 points per game for the Pelicans and made his first All-Star team this past season.
(Photo:
Layne Murdoch Jr./NBAE via Getty Images, via Fansided’s Pelican Debrief)

F Zion Williamson
2021 (NOP): 61 GP, 27 PPG, 7.2 RPG, 3.7 APG, 61 FG%, 29 3PT%, 70 FT%, 27.1 PER, 65 TS%, 8.7 WS, .205 WS48

He had a tremendous second season in the NBA, and Williamson was able to make his first All-Star team.  He improved considerably, and he is a very athletic forward that excels as a scorer and playmaker on offense.  He’s established himself as a cornerstone, franchise player that will be the main building block of his team.

There are a few concerns, though.  A minor one may be his defense, as he’s still struggled to translate his defensive skills from college to the NBA level.  Another one is his lack of a reliable outside shot, and that remains his one significant flaw on offense.  Still, Zion Williamson has turned himself into being one of the best players in the NBA.

2021 Season Grade: A-
Expected 2022 NBA Role: Starting power forward on the New Orleans Pelicans
Projected 2022 NBA Rating: 3.5 stars (4.5 stars potential)

New Orleans Pelicans’ star forward, Brandon Ingram averaged roughly 24 points, 5 rebounds, and 5 assists per game for his team this past season.
(Photo:
Gary Coronado/Los Angeles Times)

F Brandon Ingram
2021 (NOP): 61 GP, 23.8 PPG, 4.9 RPG, 4.9 APG, 47 FG%, 38 3PT%, 88 FT%, 19.2 PER, 58 TS%, 5.3 WS, .120 WS48

Brandon Ingram had a solid season, as he excelled as a shooter, scorer, and facilitator, and he played well from an offensive standpoint.  He struggled a little more defensively, but Ingram is an athletic, versatile scorer that is one of the best players on the Pelicans’ team, and he can create mismatches that can swing in his team’s favor.

2021 Season Grade: B
Expected 2022 NBA Role: Starting small forward on the New Orleans Pelicans
Projected 2022 NBA Rating: 3 stars (3.5 stars potential)

New Orleans Pelicans’ guard, Lonzo Ball had a solid season, as he averaged roughly 15 points, 6 assists, and 5 rebounds per game, and he also made 38% of his three-pointers this past season.
(Photo:
Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images, via Fansided’s Pelican Debrief)

G Lonzo Ball
2021 (NOP): 55 GP, 14.6 PPG, 5.7 APG, 4.8 RPG, 1.5 SPG, 41 FG%, 38 3PT%, 78 FT%, 15.2 PER, 55 TS%, 3.2 WS, .089 WS48

He had a good all-around season.  Ball really thrived as a facilitator and rebounder this year, but he also showed off adequate shooting and defensive skills.  He’s not a high volume scorer, but he is a smart, skilled player that showed off a solid all-around game.

2021 Season Grade: B
Expected 2022 NBA Role: Starting guard on the New Orleans Pelicans
Projected 2022 NBA Rating: 2.5 stars (3 stars potential)

Ball will be a restricted free agent (RFA) at the end of the 2020-21 NBA season.

C Steven Adams
2021 (NOP): 58 GP, 7.6 PPG, 8.9 RPG, 1.9 APG, 15.1 PER, 60 TS%, 4 WS, .119 WS48

Adams was expected to have a significant impact on his team.  He rebounded the ball well and made shots around the basket efficiently, and he also passed the ball well.  However, he didn’t shoot very often nor block as many shots, and he didn’t seem to have nearly as big of a defensive impact as expected.

2021 Season Grade: C
Expected 2022 NBA Role: Starting center of the New Orleans Pelicans
Projected 2022 NBA Rating: 2.5 stars

The Pelicans acquiring Eric Bledsoe was a clunky fit from the get-go. Bledsoe has never been known for his shooting, and they tried to pair him up with two other big men that also don’t have great outside shots either, in Zion and Steven Adams. With not enough floor spacing to go around, Eric Bledsoe turned in a disappointing season, as his numbers were down pretty much all across the board.
On the plus side though, the
multiple first round draft picks that the Pelicans received in the four team trade involving Bledsoe and Holiday was a nice haul for them.
(Photo:
Mark J. Rebilas/USA Today Sports, via SB Nation’s The Bird Writes)

G Eric Bledsoe
2021 (NOP): 71 GP, 12.2 PPG, 3.8 APG, 3.4 RPG, 42 FG%, 34 3PT%, 69 FT%, 11.5 PER, 53 TS%, 2.3 WS, .053 WS48

Bledsoe had a really disappointing season.  Known for being an athletic, scoring point guard, as he struggled to shoot or score the basketball, as he didn’t do it nearly as well as he had in years’ past, and he struggled to pass or defend compared to his previous seasons.  He used to dominate on the advanced metrics when he was with Milwaukee, but now that he played for New Orleans, it seems like his best days may be behind him.

2021 Season Grade: F+
Expected 2022 NBA Role: Starting point guard on the New Orleans Pelicans
Projected 2022 NBA Rating: 2.5 stars

New Orleans Pelicans’ swingman, Josh Hart averaged roughly 9 points and 8 rebounds for his team this past season.
(Photo:
Kim Klement/USA Today Sports)

G-F Josh Hart
2021 (NOP): 47 GP, 9.2 PPG, 8 RPG, 2.3 APG, 44 FG%, 33 3PT%, 78 FT%, 12.2 PER, 57 TS%, 2.7 WS, .097 WS48

He is a 3-and-D role player that had an up and down season for the Pelicans.  His three-point shooting really fell off this year, and he played just above average defense, but Hart passed and rebounded the ball well.  He is a smart, skilled role player that can fit into the team’s structure, and likely will re-sign if he can be brought back at a reasonable contract.

2021 Season Grade: C
Expected 2022 NBA Role: Rotation player on the New Orleans Pelicans
Projected 2022 NBA Rating: 2 stars (2.5 stars potential)

Hart will be a restricted free agent (RFA) at the end of the 2020-21 NBA season.

C Jaxson Hayes
2021 (NOP): 60 GP, 7.5 PPG, 4.3 RPG, 63 FG%, 78 FT%, 19.1 PER, 67 TS%, 3.5 WS, .176 WS48

Jaxson Hayes has been a very efficient backup center, but as he was drafted 8th overall in 2019, it has to be frustrating for him to not see his role expand, as he received less playing time than when he played as a rookie.

Hayes is a very efficient scorer, and he’s been a good shot blocker that has provided his team with above average defense, but he hasn’t passed or rebounded the ball that well.  Still, he is a very athletic center, and he could be ready to have his role expanded.  If he still factors large into the Pelicans’ plans, and if they plan to play at a faster tempo, the Pelicans could consider trading Steven Adams to move Hayes into the starting lineup, or to allow him to play more minutes off the bench next season.

2021 Season Grade: B-
Expected 2022 NBA Role: Rotation player on the New Orleans Pelicans
Projected 2022 NBA Rating: 2 stars (2.5 stars potential)

G Nickeil Alexander-Walker
2021 (NOP): 46 GP, 11.0 PPG, 3.1 RPG, 2.2 APG, 42 FG%, 35 3PT%, 73 FT%, 12.5 PER, 52 TS%, 0.7 WS, .035 WS48

Alexander-Walker had a relatively good season for himself, but it may have still be a bit disappointing from a macro-perspective in general.  Walker showed significant improvement as a shooter and defender, and he’s consistently shown solid rebounding and playmaking skills.  On the other hand, he still is only a middling shooter and defender compared to the rest of the league, and he hasn’t quite been the sharpshooter or scorer as advertised.  At this stage, he’s looking to be at the lower end of the dial amongst 3 and D role players in the NBA, but he’s shown enough to be able to get rotation minutes again next season.

2021 Season Grade: C+
Expected 2022 NBA Role: Rotation player on the New Orleans Pelicans
Projected 2022 NBA Rating: 2 stars

F James Johnson
2021 (DAL/NOP): 51 GP, 7.2 PPG, 3.5 RPG, 1.9 APG, 45 FG%, 26 3PT%, 59 FT%, 11.4 PER, 51 TS%, 1.2 WS, .055 WS48

Johnson did not shoot or score the ball well, but he still made positive contributions in the other facets of the game.  He’s an aging veteran that can pass and defend, but at this stage, it is uncertain if he will be able to hold down a rotation spot in the NBA next season.

2021 Season Grade: C (C w/DAL, C- w/NOP)
Expected 2022 NBA Role: Rotation player on an NBA team
Projected 2022 NBA Rating: 2 stars

Will be an unrestricted free agent (UFA) at the end of the 2020-21 NBA season.

C Willy Hernangómez
2021 (NOP): 47 GP, 7.8 PPG, 7.1 RPG, 1.1 APG, 56 FG%, 19.6 PER, 59 TS%, 2.9 WS, .163 WS48

Hernangomez excelled as a scorer and rebounder in the paint, and he provided solid minutes as a backup center.  He still struggled to defend, and he’s not really a shot blocker or an elite interior defender, but he could find a role as a backup center in the NBA next season, even if he doesn’t re-sign with the Pelicans.

2021 Season Grade: B-
Expected 2022 NBA Role: Rotation player on an NBA team
Projected 2022 NBA Rating: 2 stars

Will be an unrestricted free agent (UFA) at the end of the 2020-21 NBA season.

F Naji Marshall
2021 (NOP): 32 GP, 7.7 PPG, 4.6 RPG, 2.8 APG, 39 FG%, 35 3PT%, 71 FT%, 11.4 PER, 51 TS%, 0.9 WS, .061 WS48

Naji Marshall wasn’t expect to shoot or score well, but he showed off a better three-point shot than anticipated.  The most interesting thing is that he excelled as a facilitator, rebounder, and defender.  Right now, he is an athletic swingman that may project into a back end rotation role, but he could be a really interesting player if he can develop his three-point shot further into a key aspect of his game.

2021 Season Grade: A-
Expected 2022 NBA Role: Rotation player on the New Orleans Pelicans
Projected 2022 NBA Rating: 1.5 stars (2.5 stars potential)

G Kira Lewis
2021 (NOP): 54 GP, 6.4 PPG, 2.3 APG, 1.3 RPG, 39 FG%, 33 3PT%, 84 FT%, 10.3 PER, 48 TS%, 0.9 WS, .045 WS48

He is a speedy playmaker that received plenty of playing time in the second half of the season.  He’s seemed to have developed more as the season progressed, but his playing time may have seemed to come at the expense of his team’s ability to try to get to the play-in tournament.  If Lewis continues to develop at a slower rate than expected, then the Pelicans will have to decide if they would like to wait for him to develop, or if they will have to win games without him playing, and with him riding the bench instead.

Lewis did a much better job of distributing the basketball and limiting turnovers, and being turnover prone was one of his glaring holes in his game that he’s seemed to fix.  However, he didn’t shoot, rebound, nor defend well this past season.  He’s talented enough to get rotation minutes, and the Pelicans’ management may want him to play, but it’s not wholly certain if he’s ready enough to get minutes on a team that is talented enough to be a playoff-bound team next season.

2021 Season Grade: C-
Expected 2022 NBA Role: Backend roster player, possible backend of the rotation player in the NBA
Projected 2022 NBA Rating: 1.5 stars (2.5 stars potential)

F Wenyen Gabriel
21 GP, 3.4 PPG, 2.6 RPG, 40 FG%, 41 3PT%, 65 FT%, 9.8 PER, 53 TS%, 0.3 WS, .052 WS48

Gabriel is a very athletic combo forward that showed some promise in limited minutes this past season.  He showed off a surprisingly solid three-point shot, and he also was active as a rebounder and defender.  However, he struggled to make shots consistently from inside the arc, and he didn’t get many assists.  Still, he is a high-motor player that probably should played significantly more minutes last year, and he could project well into a bench role for the Pelicans next season.

2021 Season Grade: C+
Expected 2022 NBA Role: Backup roster player, possible backend of the rotation player in the NBA
Projected 2022 NBA Rating: 1.5 stars (2 star potential)

Gabriel’s contract is non-guaranteed for next season.

F Wesley Iwundu
2021 (DAL/NOP): 41 GP, 2.4 PPG, 2.2 RPG, 33 FG%, 12 3PT%, 84 FT%, 4.3 PER, 43 TS%, 0.0 WS, -.003 WS48

Iwundu is a very athletic swingman that plays hard, but the compliments stop there.  He had a terrible season in 2021, as he shot the ball really poorly, and he also did not pass nor defend very well this past season.  He’s a 3 and D role player that did neither very well, and it’s a wonder as to how he did not get cut by New Orleans at the end of the season, because he was so bad on offense for both Dallas and New Orleans, that it negated any positive effect that he may have contributed otherwise this year.

2021 Season Grade: F+ (D- w/DAL, F w/NOP)
Expected 2022 NBA Role: Fringe roster player, possible backend of the rotation player in the NBA
Projected 2022 NBA Rating: 1.5 stars

G Didi Louzada/Marcos Louzada-Silva
2021 (NOP): 3 GP, 2.7 PPG, 1.0 APG, 1.0 RPG, -0.9 PER, 31 TS%, -0.1 WS, -.099 WS48
2021 (NBL): 20 GP, 8.8 PPG, 3.4 RPG, 1.9 APG, 39 FG%, 26 3PT%, 57 FT%, 10.0 PER, 47 TS%, 0.1 WS, .012 WS48

Didi Louzada played very well in his first NBA summer league in 2019, and I thought that the Pelicans would bring him over then.  He also played well in the NBL during the 2019-20 season, and I thought he would be brought over immediately afterwards.  Curiously, it was only when he had been shooting poorly in the NBL in his second season there was when the Pelicans decided to bring him over to the States.

Louzada had no time to get to know his teammates, and it showed as he put forth disastrous results in his rookie year in the NBA.  Louzada is a young player that probably needs a full season and some time in the G-League to get acclimated to the NBA game, and he didn’t get adjusted to it soon enough.  The athletic swingman still very much may project into a 3 and D role in the NBA, but there may be a very real concern that he might not get many more minutes in this league due to having made a pretty bad first impression in his short time in having played in the regular season.

2021 Season Grade: F+
Expected 2022 NBA Role: Fringe roster player, possible backend of the rotation player in the NBA (Rotation player in the NBA G-League)
Projected 2022 NBA Rating: 1 star (2 star potential)

Louzada has a team option that can be exercised by the club, and his contract is also non-guaranteed for next season.

F James Nunnally (Two-Way)
2021 (NOP): 9 GP, 1.7 PPG, 1.0 RPG, 38 FG%, 33 3PT%, 50 FT%, 8.3 PER, 54 TS%, 0 WS, .031 WS48

He was brought in towards the end of the season, but the veteran shooter hasn’t really established himself as being worthy to crack a team’s rotation in the NBA. 

He’s been a star in international basketball, but he hasn’t been able to find his footing in the NBA thus far, as he hasn’t consistently only played a sparse amount of minutes in this league in short stints.  If he wasn’t able to crack the rotation for Thibodeau in Minnesota, it’s unlikely that he would be able to do so anytime soon in this league, as his best chance may have a few years ago.

2021 Season Grade: D
Expected 2022 NBA Role: Fringe roster player, possible backend of the rotation player in the NBA (Starter in either the G-League or overseas)
Projected 2022 NBA Rating: 1.5 stars

No Longer With the Team:

G Isaiah Thomas
2021 (NOP): 3 GP, 7.7 PPG, 1.7 APG, 1.3 RPG, 33 FG%, 25 3PT%, 100 FT%, 2.4 PER, 41 TS%, -0.2 WS, -.179 WS48

It was great that Isaiah Thomas, the former two-time All-Star that once scored 53 points in an NBA playoff game, was able to latch on to play for the New Orleans Pelicans in the NBA this year.

Unfortunately, he just wasn’t very good at all for them in his ten-day audition for them, as he didn’t leave enough of an impression to be able to stick around longer.  That’s a shame, because he used to be a very good player in the NBA.

2021 Season Grade: F
Expected 2022 NBA Role: Fringe roster player, possible backend of the rotation player in the NBA (Starter in either the G-League or overseas)
Projected 2022 NBA Rating: 1.5 stars

C Will Magnay
2021 (NOP): 1 GP, 0 PPG, -35.1 PER, 0 TS%, 0 WS, -.787 WS48
2021 (G-League): 10 GP, 9.1 PPG, 5.4 RPG, 1.8 APG, 1.4 BPG, 58 FG%, 30 3PT%, 58 FT%, 16.6 PER, 68 TS%, 0.5 WS, .117 WS48
2021 (NBL): 12 GP, 3.8 PPG, 4.3 RPG, 1.8 APG, 40 FG%, 47 FT%, 7.3 PER, 44 TS%, 0.0 WS,.007 WS48

The Australian-born center didn’t make enough of a lasting impression to get much playing time in the NBA.  He bounced around various leagues, and he seemed to show enough promise in the G-League to stay on a two-way contract, but the Pelicans had let him go during the middle of the season. 

He went back to play in the NBL, but he didn’t play very well overseas, as he struggled with his shot far more than he did in the G-League, and he also didn’t rebound nor was nearly effective as a defender there.

2021 Season Grade: D-
Expected 2022 NBA Role: Fringe roster player, possible backend of the rotation player in the NBA (Rotation in either the G-League or overseas)
Projected 2022 NBA Rating: 1 stars (2 stars potential)

The 2021 New Orleans Pelicans were supposed to contend for the playoffs this past year under head coach Stan Van Gundy. Instead, this team was a considerable disappointment. While Zion ended up making his first All-Star team, the Pelicans underachieved, as they were unable to make it to the play-in tournament and they ended up missing the playoffs once again.
(Photo:
Tony Dejak/Associated Press, via Bleacher Report)

The Pelicans’ Former Head Coach:
Stan Van Gundy
2021 (NOP): 31-41, did not make the playoffs
Coaching Career: 554-425, 48-43 in his playoff career, 1 NBA Finals Appearance in 2009 with the Orlando Magic

I had expected the Pelicans to firmly contend for a playoff spot in the West, but the Pelicans fell significantly short of their expectations.  Zion had a good year, but they struggled as a team overall.  The Pelicans didn’t defend very well, and their veterans that they acquired through trades, Eric Bledsoe and Steven Adams, didn’t perform nearly as well, while their younger role players either struggled right out of the gates, or seemed to have stagnated in their development.

The Pelicans have a solid core to work with in Zion and Brandon Ingram, and they have some interesting role players such as Lonzo Ball and Josh Hart, but they will need to find a coach that will have a creative and cohesive system to be able to bring these unique talents all together so that they can both develop and win in the future.

2021 Season Grade: D
Expected 2022 NBA Role: TV Analyst, maybe back on TNT
Projected 2022 NBA Rating: 2 stars

A Brief Summary of the 2020-21 New Orleans Pelicans’ Season:

The Pelicans didn’t fare nearly as well as expected, but they received a very strong season out of Zion Williamson.  While Stan Van Gundy won’t be around next year, they have a bright future as long as they have Zion, and they will need to find a coach that can help them steadily push forward in the future.

The 2020-21 New Orleans Pelicans’ Season Grade: D+

The New Orleans Pelicans’ Projected 2021-22 NBA Rotation

Projected Starters:
C Steven Adams
F Zion Williamson
F Brandon Ingram
G Lonzo Ball
G Eric Bledsoe

Key Reserves:
F Josh Hart
C Jaxson Hayes
The 10th Overall Pick of the 2021 NBA Draft

Others competing for a spot in the rotation next season:
G Nickeil Alexander-Walker
F Naji Marshall
F Wenyen Gabriel
G Kira Lewis
The 35th Overall Pick of the 2021 NBA Draft
The 40th Overall Pick of the 2021 NBA Draft

Other players that are currently projected to be on their next season’s roster:
The 43rd Overall Pick of the 2021 NBA Draft

Others:
The 53rd Overall Pick of the 2021 NBA Draft – Likely a stash pick, or a player that ends up on a Two-Way Contract

Impending Restricted Free Agents:
G Lonzo Ball – Expected Back
G Josh Hart – Expected Back

Impending Unrestricted Free Agents:
F James Johnson – Not Expected Back
C Willy Hernangomez – Not Expected Back

Projected Players Cut From Next Season’s Roster:
F Wesley Iwundu
G-F James Nunnally
G-F Didi Louzada

Projected Offseason Plan for the New Orleans Pelicans:
The New Orleans Pelicans may have some cap space to work off of, but their roster doesn’t completely fit together.  Neither Zion, Steven Adams, or Eric Bledsoe can shoot, and they will need more shooters on their roster to complement Zion.

They may have to trade Steven Adams or Eric Bledsoe, and not even Jaxson Hayes may fully complement Zion, either, as the Pelicans don’t have enough outside shooting.  They also didn’t defend well as a unit.  In free agency, they’ll need more shooters and defenders.

In the draft, they could look to get wing players and point guards that may fit this description, and they also could look to get the best player available.  They have a luxury of having 5 total draft picks in 2021, so they can maneuver around to how they see fit. In addition, the Pelicans will need to hire a new head coach in the offseason, and they will need to find someone that can creatively use the talents of Zion and Brandon Ingram while also finding a way to get the Pelicans to win more basketball games next year.

The 2022 New Orleans Pelicans’ Expected Win-Loss Record and 2022 Season Prediction:
39-43, 10th in the Western Conference

Expected 2022 Season Outcome:
The Pelicans could end up in the play-in tournament next year, and they will likely try to get the 7th or 8th seed in the West next season.

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