Can the New Orleans Pelicans make the 2023 NBA Finals?
Updated: Sep 19
There are six NBA franchises to never make it to the NBA Finals, and two of them have never played in the conference finals. Incredibly, both franchises are linked to Charlotte, North Carolina.
One of these franchises is the New Orleans Pelicans, who used to be known as the Charlotte Hornets. The Hornets had to relocate to New Orleans and were later renamed the Pelicans once the Charlotte Bobcats changed their name back to the Hornets. The Pelicans, or the Pels for short, have not been known for consistent playoff success.
They’ve had first ballot Hall of Famers on the roster, including Chris Paul and Anthony Davis. But the Pels have never sniffed the NBA Finals. That might be changing, though, in 2023.
It wasn’t too long ago that Zion Williamson was rumored to want out of New Orleans. Lonzo Ball recently left the franchise via sign-and-trade. And for the sake of hardcore Pelicans fans, let’s not bring up how AD forced his way out of Louisiana’s most populated city.
But things are much better in New Orleans as we get closer to New Year’s Day. Even without Anthony Davis, the Pelicans have rebuilt the franchise in a big way, leading to the team being in first place in the Western Conference entering the middle of December.
So what exactly happened? Why are the Pelicans currently having their best season in franchise history? And is this finally the year where the Pelicans make it to the Western Conference Finals and NBA Finals?
We’ll answer all of those questions for ya. And if you have some time, make sure to subscribe below so that you don’t miss any of our NBA content.
For starters, what have they put in the water down in the Big Easy? Well, the answer to that question is simply Brandon Ingram. While not the five-tool player that Anthony Davis is, Ingram is a much better three-point shooter. By five tools, I mean a player who can create his own shot, shoots efficiently from the field, can rebound well, can defend, and can facilitate with the basketball.
Anyway, back to Ingram’s three-point shooting. Ingram has been great from three-point land this season. However, he lacks the attempts per game to be considered an elite three-point shooter. Entering the week of December 12th, Ingram is shooting close to 47% from downtown on four attempts per game. In comparison, Malcolm Brogdan from the NBA’s best-record Boston Celtics is shooting over 49% from 3 on 3.9 attempts per game.
When Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown are both on the floor, that duo forces the defense to key on them, allowing more open looks for Brogdan.
If you’re curious, the best three-point shooter according to a larger sample size is arguably Stephen Curry. Chef Steph is still shooting over 43.5% percent on almost 12 three-point attempts per game. Notably, Desmond Bane is shooting slightly over 45 percent on 8-and-a-half attempts per contest.
Still, Ingram’s 46.7 three-point percentage is one of the many reasons that other Western Conference teams are having trouble slowing down the Pelicans.
The other main reason for the Pelicans success is a healthy Zion Wiliamson. The Pelicans looked decent towards the end of the 2022 regular season, and they almost upset the No. 1-seeded Phoenix Sun during last season’s Western Conference Quarterfinals. Still, without Willamson, the Pelicans lacked that extraordinary big man who could dominate the glass with big dunks and rebounds.
Williamson is back and in full force for the Pels, and his mere defensive presence has definitely been the icing on a cake for a successful basketball team. Consider this: As of December 9th, Williamson is ranked 6th out of 68 players to defend 200 or more picks as the screener this season. With their franchise forward in the lineup, Williamson and the Pels allow .85 points per possession. Also, Williamson has held opponents to shoot under 38% from the field when he’s the contesting defender.
How about this for analytical statistics: Williamson is currently in the Top 10 for Player Efficiency Rating. Even more intriguing, the former Pelican in Anthony Davis leads the pack when it comes to P-E-R. Williamson is also in the Top 10 when it comes to Win Shares per 48 Minutes.
The fact of the matter is the Pelicans need Williamson in the lineup to compete for an NBA title. He’s back, he’s healthy, and the rest of the Western Conference is having trouble with either defending him or getting their shot off when the former Duke star is on defense.
But it’s not just Williamson. Last year’s trade for CJ McCollum gave the Pelicans a much-needed veteran star to help teach the young guys how to win games. The 31-year-old is no longer an All-Star. His three-point shooting has definitely taken a hit as we enter the year 2023, but he still shoots over 82% from the free-throw line. He averages 17.5 points per game as a nice third scoring option. Even though he’s a shooting guard by trade, he’s easily the team’s best passer with a team-best 5.9 assists per game.
You could make the argument that Ingram is the Pelicans’ best player, but honestly, the 1-2 punch of Ingram and Williamson has been immensely difficult for other teams to consistently gameplan for in 2022. Ingram is one of the best three-point shooters in the NBA, albeit on lesser attempts per game. In addition to that, he averages over 20 PPG, has slightly more blocks per game than Williamson, and has more assists per game than Williamson.
It’s not really a debate when it comes to isolation buckets. When the defense has restricted the passing lanes and backdoor cuts, Williamson leads the league in points per isolation percentage. Even if Ingram is the best player on the Pelicans due to his ability to shoot from long range, Williamson is definitely the team’s most important player.
So, I think that we answered two out of your three questions. What’s happening in New Orleans? Simply put, Williamson is healthy and has definitely put in hard work in the gym. In fact, Williamson has actually played in more games this season than Ingram.
And why are the Pelicans possibly destined for the best seed in the Western Conference? Once again, it has to do with Williamson’s health. However, I would like to point out that moving on from Lonzo’s contract has allowed the Pels to not have a roster spot wasted. We at Sports Broadcast Solutions wish nothing but the best for Lonzo Ball, but it’s quite apparent that he might not ever be the same player once (or even if) he returns to the court in Chicago.
Did the Pelicans see the writing on the wall when it came to Lonzo’s fragile knees? Probably not, but they definitely got the luck of the draw by trading Lonzo Ball when his stock was at an all-time high.
But the real question is, Can the Pelicans keep this up, maintain the No. 1 seed, and advance all the way to the NBA Finals? In one word: Yes. But of course, it’s more complicated than that. You see, Williamson’s freakish body type has always been susceptible to injuries. But if he can be healthy come playoff time, I don’t see another team who can keep up with the 1-2-3 punch of Williamson-Ingram-McCollum.
It’s a big if of course, and if he goes down with injury, the Pels could fall in the standings like the Bulls did once Lonzo Ball and Alex Caruso suffered major injuries. But as long as Williamson-Ingram-McCollum are constantly in the lineup, good luck to the Suns, Nuggets, Warriors, or any other team who they face in the playoffs.
Ingram is now another year older with a year of playoff experience in his belt. He’ll definitely be able to answer the bell if Williamson can’t do so in the postseason. And that’s a big if since Williamson is now in contention for the MVP Award.
Since November 30th, Williamson has scored at least 25 points, notched at least 6 rebounds, and shot no worse than 53% from the field. Oh, and his free-throw shooting is usually around 70% since November 30th.
Could the Pelicans lose in the first round of the playoffs? Possibly, but as long as Ingram and Williamson are healthy, good luck to everybody else.
But what do you think? Is this finally the year that the Pelicans make it to the Western Conference Finals and even the NBA Finals? Make sure to comment your thoughts below and subscribe to Sports Broadcast Solutions.