As a member of the media as well as a member of the fanbase, it’s been troublesome to watch the 2022-23 season for the New Orleans Pelicans so far.
With a group of injuries from key players, off-shooting nights, inconsistent play, and other charades that have occurred during the year, the expectations for this team have been shot out the window.
Following a quality win over the Mavericks on March 9, I asked head coach Willie Green if there was a sense of urgency in the locker room, to which he simply responded, “Yes.” Although I am positive Green believes this and maybe most of the players do too, it’s not even close to the same as last year.
There was an aura around the 2021-22 Pelicans team, especially after starting the season 0-12 before turning things around and ultimately making the playoffs. They were the epitome of young and hungry with every game being played hard. Even if the scoring was off, the defense soared. Everybody across the league feared playing last year’s New Orleans squad – with or without Zion Williamson – because it was a known fact that they were always going to bring their best.
“Team ball” was present in virtually every game in 2021-22 with stars emerging such as Jose “Grand Theft” Alvarado with his sneaky steals, Larry Nance for his unbelievable postseason performance, Herb Jones as the defensive master, Trey Murphy III with his high-flying dunks, CJ McCollum for his calming veteran nature, Jonas Valanciunas grabbing a double-double every game, and last but certainly not least, Brandon Ingram who knocked down big shots when the team needed them most. There were several players who provided quality time on the floor a year ago, but has that intensity now been lost?
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To start, the defense is lacking with the paint being just the start of the problem. Valanciunas and backup center Willy Hernangomez are not getting enough minutes due to foul trouble or not being included in the scheme while Nance has struggled with injury since the All-Star break.
The Pelicans have not held a team under 100 points since Dec. 26 in a 113-93 win over Indiana. On the season, they have held just five teams under triple-digits, in comparison to 16 at this point last year.
McCollum, Murphy, and Jones have more bad nights shooting than good ones while Ingram is in or out depending on how he feels that day. Alvarado is out for another few weeks. Kira Lewis plays decent at times; however, he isn’t terribly noticeable on the floor. Dyson Daniels shows positive signs, but at the same time, he’s a rookie with all but guaranteed growing pains.
On Dec. 30, the Pelicans were 23-12 and tied atop the Western Conference when Williamson went out with a hamstring injury. Since then, they have gone 10-24 with their most recent loss coming to a Lebron-less Lakers on Tuesday.
Picking and choosing games to play – which stars across the league tend to do nowadays – is a recipe for disaster that needs to be handled by the NBA and Commissioner Adam Silver. For New Orleans specifically, Williamson needs to find himself and look to see if he really wants this.
It’s an 82-game season plus playoffs, and for the team to be successful, Williamson needs to be present in at least half of them. In four professional seasons, the former Duke star has participated in just 114 out of 296 games, playing in just 38.51 percent of his team’s games. Williamson is undoubtedly one of the best players on the court when available, but it’s up to him to find ways to be available more often.
It’s no secret that the inconsistent play is beginning to affect the production on the court. Head coach Willie Green may not be on the hot seat yet and he shouldn’t be, but the ceiling is getting lower and lower, and the aura needs to be brought back whether the return of Zion ignites it or not, something has to give.
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