As we are barreling towards another NBA season, we decided to get the Locked On Pelicans staff together to answer a few questions about our immediate impressions following the first preseason game against the Atlanta Hawks. Expect more posts like this as the season approaches!
QUESTION 1: What stood out to you about the first preseason game?
Rory: To state the obvious, Zion Williamson is a force of nature. We saw him tear through AAU kids, NCAA kids, and summer league kids like they were nothing, but to see him go up against actual NBA talent and not be remotely slowed down was the last little bit of confirmation I needed. Once he starts charging to the basket, I’m not sure it’s physically possible to stop him.
Luis: Lonzo and Zion already seeming to have great chemistry. I’m sure it’ll come along with everyone else soon, but it looks like it’s already pretty solid with them two of them. We should have known after the practice video of the sideline-out-of-bounds-last-second-alley-oop, but it was still nice to see early.
Jason: Zion is FAST. It’s been a while since I’ve seen him going full speed in the NCAA Tournament, so I forgot just how scary he looks bulldozing toward the rim. Lonzo hitting threes was encouraging; we’ll see if that continues. Nickeil Alexander-Walker seemed to already be making his case for the backup point guard spot. I also was encouraged by Jahlil Okafor’s play in multiple areas.
Raby: Not about anyone in particular, but just how many serviceable to good NBA players the Pelicans have on their roster. This sort of bleeds over into the next question, but I was impressed with the competency of deeper bench guys like Melli, NAW, and Okafor. The team has never been one who relies on strong depth, but it’s possible this year will be different.
QUESTION 2: With so many players showing potential, which player do you see being frozen out of the lineup when the season starts?
Rory: I can Brandon Ingram being moved to the second unit. His game tends to thrive when he is the focal point, which will be difficult when he’s sharing the court with Williamson and Jrue Holiday. Also, Lonzo Ball and Holiday’s perimeter shooting won’t be enough to effectively stretch the court, which may lead to Coach Gentry putting J.J. Redick into the starting lineup. Perhaps we should have a debate on Twitter about which one will be the better fit? I bet that’s something people will really enjoy.
Alex: Definitely could see Ingram being shifted to the second unit but I think it would be good for his development to not have to be the scorer while on the court. I’m really curious to see how Gentry finds minutes for the other guards and if he continues to play 3-guard lineups to get Moore and Hart some action. Seeing Lonzo with Hart and Moore to provide some shooting could work because Lonzo is big for a PG, but I just don’t see how you can get all these guards minutes.
Luis: To me, the easy candidates are Moore and Frank Jackson losing out to guys like Nickeil Alexander-Walker and Josh Hart. While Hart hasn’t quite had that moment like NAW did in the first preseason game, just his size and flexibility seems like it’d be more valuable over E’twaun who we saw play a lot (waaaaayyyy too much) of the 3rd guard in the 3 guard lineups.
Jason: Frank Jackson would be my first candidate, especially with how hungry Alexander-Walker seems to crack the nightly rotation. Jaxson Hayes also probably won’t see much time this season due to Favors and Melli ahead of him in the depth chart for the center position.
Raby: I’m a big fan of his, but I see E’Twaun Moore being out as he is the most tradeable asset of the likely candidates. He has a moveable and attractive expiring deal, and depending on how the season goes he may be the only player they feel comfortable parting with.
QUESTION 3: Zion impressed with his athleticism and fierce dunks, but his shot still looks a little shaky. Are you concerned?
Rory: Not in the slightest. No rookie comes into the league 100% polished, and Zion is still very, very young. His athleticism will be more than enough to make him immediately effective in the league, and the shot will come over time.
Alex: Didn’t Ben Simmons just sign a max and we haven’t even seen him make a jumper yet (AS OF NOW WE HAVE!!!- Luis)? The fact that Zion is tasting out his shot is good and his form should only improve as his body stops growing. Favors is actually an interesting comp as a guy that didn’t come into the league with any ability to shoot and started to make some threes the past few years. Zion doesn’t need to shoot like Steph to be impressive.
Luis: Not at all. Let him get his feet wet and used to the league this season before starting to worry about adding to his game.
Jason: Eventually a boost to his free throw percentage will be needed, since he’s clearly going to spend a LOT of time at the line. But for now, I’m not worried about the shot overall. He still looks like a man amongst boys on the floor.
QUESTION 4: Did the game change your feeling about the team’s playoff potential this season?
Rory: We all have the same “it’s just one preseason game” qualifiers, so I’ll say no. I thought best case scenario was sneaking into a seventh or eighth seed a few days ago, and I still feel that way. It’s a long season and the Pelicans won’t be this impressive night in and night out. I am starting to feel a bit better about this team’s ceiling a couple of years down the line now that we’ve seen a flash of its true potential, but it will still take a lot of work and more than a few more moves to get there.
Alex: What Rory said.
Luis: What Alex said..
Raby: IT CHANGED EVERYTHING! Nah, for real, what they all said. Preseason is preseason.