But they got a good return from the Los Angeles Lakers, in particular forward Brandon Ingram, who was brimming with talent.
Now, Ingram is only the second-best player in town, thanks to a young star named Zion Williamson, and the Pelicans are on the rise.
Despite finishing just 36-46 last season, they made the playoffs by virtue of a come-from-behind win over the Los Angeles Clippers in the play-in tournament.
Pelicans hold off the Clippers despite blowing 16-point lead 🔥 pic.twitter.com/FpOYwuiKzh
— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) April 16, 2022
Once in the postseason, New Orleans gave the top-seeded Phoenix Suns a bit of a scare, playing them to a standstill through four games before falling in six.
Many are high on the Pelicans’ potential this coming season, but it is not exactly a lock they will make the playoffs again.
The Health Of Zion
Williamson is a very unique player, and his offensive dominance is unquestioned.
So far in his short career, he has averaged 25.7 points in 31.7 minutes per game while shooting 60.4 percent from the field, and he is amazingly efficient in the paint.
Zion Williamson has the most points in the paint per game (19.5) since Shaq in 2003 (19.6)
He’s only 20 years old 🤯 pic.twitter.com/wf0jWPWnLN
— Pelicans Nation (@PelsNationCP) June 24, 2021
But the question with him is whether he will stay healthy moving forward.
He already missed the first few months of his rookie season with a torn meniscus, and a Jones fracture in his right foot cost him all of the 2021-22 campaign.
When Williamson is healthy, the Pelicans are an interesting team, as they have three bona fide offensive threats in him, Ingram, and sharpshooter CJ McCollum.
In Jonas Valanciunas, they also have a center who can score, hit outside shots, rebound, and even play a little defense.
But they have a glaring hole in their roster.
Who’s Going To Run The Show?
The Pelicans don’t have a high-quality point guard who can dictate the pace, stabilize the team, get the ball where it needs to go, and score efficiently himself.
Late last season, McCollum ran the point for them, but he is a natural two-guard who does his best work playing off the ball and being set up by others.
Off the bench, Devonte’ Graham plays the point, but he averaged just 11.9 points and 4.2 assists last season, and even worse, he shot just 36.3 percent from the field.
In fact, in his four NBA seasons, he has never shot as high as 39 percent from the field for an entire season.
Without a true, top-flight point guard, the Pelicans become too easy to defend, especially come playoff time, and especially the glut of talented teams in the Western Conference.
The West Is Too Good
As of now, the Golden State Warriors, Phoenix Suns, and Los Angeles Clippers make up the top tier in the West.
Right beneath them are the Denver Nuggets and Memphis Grizzlies, while the Dallas Mavericks, Minnesota Timberwolves, and Los Angeles Lakers are lower-tier playoff teams.
If the Utah Jazz don’t trade Donovan Mitchell, they will also be in that category.
That’s at least eight teams, and it’s a stretch to say the Pelicans are better than any of them.
In all likelihood, they will be a play-in team again, and with the play-in tournament’s format, anything can happen when your chances of making the playoffs come down to one or two games.