The 2020-21 NBA season is set to tip-off on Dec. 23. To get you ready for the year to come, we're dedicating one day between now and the start of the season to each team in the league.
Today, we take a look at New Orleans Pelicans
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2019-20 season record
30-42, 13th in Western Conference
Steven Adams, Trade (Oklahoma City)
Eric Bledsoe, Trade (Milwaukee)
Willy Hernangómez, Free agency (Charlotte)
Wenyen Gabriel, Free agency (Portland)
Kira Lewis Jr., No. 13 pick in 2020 NBA Draft
Jrue Holiday, Trade (Milwaukee Bucks)
E'Twaun Moore, Free agency (Phoenix Suns)
Derrick Favors, Free agency (Utah Jazz)
|PG||Lonzo Ball||N. Alexander-Walker||Kira Lewis Jr.||Tony Carr|
|SG||Eric Bledsoe||J.J Redick||Sindarius Thornwell||Rawle Alkins|
|SF||Brandon Ingram||Josh Hart|
|PF||Zion Williamson||Nicolo Melli||Wenyen Gabriel||Jarrod Uthoff|
|C||Steven Adams||Willy Hernangómez||Jaxson Hayes||Ike Anigbogu||Will Magnay|
As per training camp roster announced by the team
3 key storylines
Zion's sophomore leap
Injuries, minutes restrictions and the league's hiatus made for an up-and-down rookie season for Zion Williamson, but despite the setbacks, the high-flying 20-year-old showed plenty of promise.
In just 24 games, Williamson filled it up, averaging 22.5 points, 6.3 rebounds and 2.1 assists on 58.3 percent shooting from the field. With an offseason now under his belt, he is primed to show the league what he can do at full flight, telling reporters this week he's ready to play without any restrictions.
"I think it definitely will be different because, well, it was tough, man," Williamson said. "When you're going through rehab and when you're finally able to step on the court, three minutes goes by, four minutes by and … you gotta get subbed out. It was a lot."
"I tried to make the most of the situation and I think I did the best that I possibly could. But it's going to be a lot different."
If Williamson can stay healthy and build on his impressive rookie season cameo, the sky is the limit.
New recruits and a new head coach
New head coach Stan Van Gundy has made it clear that defence is the priority for the Pelicans this season after they ranked 21st in defensive efficiency last season.
"Day 1 you want to set the tone," Van Gundy said at practice. "For us, it was defence, first and foremost. I thought it was important this year, with me coming in new, that we went right to the priority first. Today we wanted to get a defensive mentality and how we wanted to play on the defensive end of the floor."
While they had their struggles creating offence in the halfcourt at times last season, the Pelicans are a force in transition with Ball and Williamson excelling at pushing the pace and catching teams napping.
If they're going to be a team that leans into a faster style of play, then a strong defensive foundation will only create more opportunities to get out on the break. Whether it be crashing the defensive glass or forcing turnovers, the key to the Pelicans success this season will lay on the defensive end.
While they lost Jrue Holiday, the Pelicans added two solid defensive players in Eric Bledsoe and Steven Adams, who bring plenty of toughness and experience on that side of the floor.
Can they make a playoff push?
The Pelicans have only made the playoffs twice in the past nine seasons, with their last appearance coming in 2017-18.
They entered the Orlando bubble hoping to squeeze into the play-in tournament, however, a poor 2-6 record saw them finish 13th in the Western Conference.
With a healthy Zion Williamson, Brandon Ingram coming off an All-Star appearance, plus the additions of Bledsoe and Adams, the Pelicans have a strong mix of youth and experience to make a push in 2020-21.
They'll face plenty of competition to sneak into the postseason with teams around that 7-12 range all making improvements over the offseason, including the Minnesota Timberwolves, Phoenix Suns, Memphis Grizzlies and Sacramento Kings, plus the return of the Golden State Warriors.
5 games to watch
Jan. 8 vs. Charlotte Hornets
Lonzo and LaMelo Ball made history in becoming the first brothers ever to both be selected in the top five of the NBA Draft. With the youngest Ball brother now in Charlotte, their first NBA matchup is going to be special.
Jan. 11 at Dallas Mavericks
With Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis leading the Mavericks, this game could well be a preview of the future of the Western Conference.
Jan. 15 at Los Angeles Lakers
Lonzo Ball, Josh Hart and Brandon Ingram will have a point to prove against their former team, the defending champion Los Angeles Lakers, who traded them in a package for Anthony Davis last offseason.
Jan. 29 vs. Milwaukee Bucks
After spending seven seasons in New Orleans, fan-favourite Jrue Holiday is now a member of the Bucks and can expect a warm welcome back. Newly-acquired guard Eric Bledsoe will also be squaring off against his former team.
Feb. 6 vs Memphis Grizzlies
Rookie of the Year Ja Morant vs. Zion Williamson pegs two of the most exciting young players in the league against each other in a battle that is sure to create endless highlights.
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