In the first round of the NBA playoffs, the New Orleans Pelicans faced a stiff challenge in the Phoenix Suns, owners of a league-best 64-18 regular season record.
The Suns are the defending Western Conference champions and the favorites in the minds of many to capture the championship.
Even though the Pelicans seemed to have a good chance of getting swept by Chris Paul and company, they fought hard, taking Game 2 in Arizona, and they then claimed Game 4 to tie the series at two wins apiece.
New Orleans fell in Game 6 on Thursday, 115-109, but it took a masterclass by Paul, who made all 14 of his field goal attempts en route to 33 points.
The future seems bright for the Pelicans, but they need one more piece to become a legitimate playoff team.
A Good Point Guard Could Complete The Puzzle
In Brandon Ingram, the Pelicans have a young star who is seemingly starting to come of age.
Brandon Ingram in his 1st ever Playoff Series:
27.0 PPG – 6.2 RPG – 6.2 APG – 0.7 SPG – 0.3 BPG – 47.5 FG% – 40.1 3P% – 83.0 FT% – 58.4 TS%
All while playing against the 64 Win Suns with a DPOY Candidate checking him. He is definitely a Star pic.twitter.com/Qvhiz6t68Y
— KBs GOAT (@KbsGoat) April 29, 2022
He had three straight 30-plus point games in the series against the Suns, including a 37-point, 11-rebound, nine-assist explosion in New Orleans’ Game 2 victory.
Ingram is one of the league’s better one-on-one scorers and he is a master at getting buckets from the midrange.
Even with crowder defending Brandon Ingram is just money from the midrange it’s crazy!! pic.twitter.com/DYobXkmdAH
— Hooper ❤️🏀🐒 (@BookerTheGoat) April 28, 2022
At midseason, the Pelicans traded for CJ McCollum, a sharpshooting off guard who has a history of going off in big games.
He averaged 24.3 points in 26 games with his new team while shooting 49.3 percent from the field and 39.4 percent from 3-point range.
New Orleans also looks strong in the middle with Jonas Valanciunas at the 5, who gave them 17.8 points and 11.4 rebounds in 30.3 minutes a game this year.
But their biggest weakness is the point guard position.
Their starter there is Devonte’ Graham, who averaged just 4.2 assists and shot a paltry 36.3 percent from the field in the regular season.
Point guard is the most important position in basketball, and it is akin to the quarterback position in football, both in terms of importance and job description.
A high-level point guard along the lines of Jrue Holiday or Lonzo Ball, both of whom played for the Pelicans a couple of years ago, would give them someone who can push the pace and get the ball to their best offensive players in the right spots at the right time.
The Big Question Mark
But other than the point guard slot, the million-dollar question for New Orleans is the health and status of Zion Williamson.
When it took him with the first pick in the 2019 NBA Draft, there were already questions about his durability and health.
He missed all of this season with a foot injury, and in three years in the pros, he has played in only a grand total of 85 games.
When Williamson has been healthy, he has been nothing short of a force to be reckoned with in the paint, averaging 25.7 points a game on 60.4 percent shooting.
Zion Williamson was an all-star last season averaging 27/7/4 on 61% FG.
Healthy Zion is a generational talent pic.twitter.com/ynyqnfxBIa
— Hilltop Hoops (@HilltopNBA) March 5, 2022
If he finds a way to stay relatively healthy, and if the Pelicans get someone solid to run the show, they could have the makings of a contender.