Pelicans struggles highlight poor early season play

Blaise Noble-Schueller, Contributor

After an exciting offseason, the New Orleans Pelicans’ struggles seemed to be behind them, as the team went into the 2020-21 season hoping to emerge as one of the league’s best young teams and play well enough to grab a coveted spot in the Western Conference Playoffs. The team made numerous offseason moves to try and bolster the roster. Seven-year Pelicans guard Jrue Holiday was traded to the Milwaukee Bucks for Eric Bledsoe and the team also acquired Steven Adams from Oklahoma City. With the additions of Bledsoe and Adams, along with another year of experience for the team’s young core, the playoffs do not seem out of reach at all.

Both Adams and Bledsoe had significant contributions on their previous teams. Bledsoe has been a mainstay in the league for nearly a decade, averaging over 17 points per game six of the last 10 years and more than 20 points twice. Though Bledsoe’s best years were on the Phoenix Suns from 2013-17, he has shown that he is still able to score and be a force in transition at the guard position, fitting the Pelicans fast-paced game. 

Adams is also a widely respected name around the league. The whole package of a seven-footer with gorgeous locks, an infectious attitude and a man that is truly tough as nails cements him as one of the internets and league favorites. On top of that, Adams is a solid basketball player. He can tally a double-double in nearly any game and make some monster blocks and highlight-worthy screens just about every game. With Adams and Bledsoe on the roster the front office felt that they had put the team in a position where they could potentially get over the hump.

As the season began, the Pelicans believed that their hopes had finally come to fruition, as they started the season 4-2 behind some outstanding performances from some of their best players. It all seemed to come tumbling down, however, when the team managed to lose five in a row and eight of nine to leave them with a 5-10 record.

Though a five-game losing streak is not terribly uncommon, it is never a promising sign, especially considering that since the new year the Pelicans seemed to have regressed from last season. Their defense has looked downright awful and they’ve looked tired, lazy and out of shape down the stretch, with other teams simply outplaying them. 

The team’s sub-par performance has been noticeable on the court, but the Pelicans have also been the subject of several trade rumors from the season’s onset. Most notably, guard JJ Redick has supposedly voiced his displeasure and “wants out.” He has allegedly listed the New York Knicks as his preferred destination. Just last week, rumors started swirling about guard and former second-overall pick Lonzo Ball possibly being a trade piece. Bledsoe has had his name thrown into trade talks as well.

The NBA rumor mill never seems to be lacking headlines, so no one truly knows how serious these trade talks truly are. However, if the Pelicans’ front office chooses to move off of their recent acquisitions, it would feel like a major waste of time and resources considering how promising the season felt going in. 

It’s never fun to have to talk poorly about the local team, but there is good news that we can gather from this season. Everyone knows that this team lives, dies, wins and loses with forward Zion Williamson. The Pelicans’ future will go as far as Williamson can take it. This season, Williamson has shown that though there are still major injury and conditioning concerns he still has the talent of a top-10 player. He has crossed the 30-point mark multiple times this season to go along with an average of 7.6 rebounds per game. The best news for Pelicans fans about Williamson this season is the fact that he hasn’t missed any games due to injury, which has caused him to miss significant time thus far in his young career.

The Pelicans are currently three and a half games back of the eighth seed in the Western Conference. If they manage to ward off a season-ending stretch of bad games and the team can play better as a cohesive unit, the season may not be a lost cause. But, as mentioned before, the team will only go as far as Williamson does. Ultimately, if Williamson can continue to stay healthy, the Pelicans mid-season struggles may not matter in the grand scheme of things.