From the Basement | Zion should come back to Pelicans

Max Yazdian, Contributing Reporter

Zion Williamson
Matthew Tate

On May 14, 2019, the entire city of New Orleans celebrated as the New Orleans Pelicans won the draft lottery with just a 6% chance of doing so. While receiving the first overall pick is always a big deal, the 2019 lottery was special, as Zion Williamson, maybe the most hyped prospect since LeBron James, was the consensus No. 1 pick. 

However, it has been anything but smooth sailing since, as there have been constant rumors of both him and his family wanting him to leave New Orleans and go play in a bigger market. Williamson is wasting a great opportunity in New Orleans, and the Pelicans’ front office has done a great job putting a strong team around him. 

It is important to explore why Williamson is unhappy. According to reports, his family does not think the Pelicans provided him with the resources necessary to succeed. 

They have, however, surrounded him with very solid pieces. If he returns and is healthy next season, the Pelicans could make a large leap up the standings. 

The turning point in this situation was this year’s trade deadline when the Pelicans traded a slew of role players, a projected first-round pick and two second-round picks for CJ McCollum, Larry Nance Jr. and Tony Snell. 

The prize in this trade was CJ McCollum, who has been spectacular since arriving in New Orleans. He is averaging a career-high 26 points and six assists per game, while firmly putting the Pelicans in play-in position. The trade has also rejuvenated All-Star Brandon Ingram, who has been sensational since McCollum’s arrival. 

Additionally, the Pelicans traded for center Jonas Valanciunas this past offseason, and he has been a major upgrade at the center position. Valanciunas is averaging a double double this year, while also shooting 36% from the 3-point line. 

Despite some of the big names the Pelicans’ front office acquires, their most impressive work came from two unheralded rookies picked this year. 

The first is Herbert Jones, who was a second-round pick out of the University of Alabama. He came out of nowhere and will most likely make an All-Rookie team, and he is in serious consideration to be the first rookie since Tim Duncan to make an All-Defensive team. Jones leads all rookies in steals with 124 and is ranked third in the entire NBA. He is also third in blocks per game out of all rookies and has helped the Pelicans move from 23rd to 17th in defensive rating. 

Another huge part of that defensive uptick is the undrafted rookie out of the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets, Jose Alvarado. He won the Atlantic Coast Conference defensive player of the year but, due to his size, went unselected in this year’s draft. He has been a great energy player for the team and has stepped up in big moments, even getting a four-year contract extension

The Pelicans also have solid young players like Devonte Graham, Jaxon Hayes, Trey Murphy and Kira Lewis that could be assets in the future. While the new players are building a great foundation, the team’s draft capital can not be overlooked. 

The Pelicans own the Los Angeles Lakers pick this year, which is top 10 protected, and is currently projected to land at 8th overall. The team will also have multiple first-round picks in 2024, 2025 and 2027, which can be used to either add more young talent around Williamson or can be used in future trades. Overall, the Pelicans are building a great foundation around Williamson. He just needs to decide where he wants to continue his career.