Pelicans now second in West behind deep bench

Benny Greenspan, Staff Reporter

In a Western Conference that is as open as it has ever been, the New Orleans Pelicans are starting to cement themselves as a legitimate contender. They currently stand at a 15-8 record, good for second place in the Western Conference. The Pelicans have won four straight, as well as nine in their last eleven, with their “big three” of Zion Williamson, Brandon Ingram and CJ McCollum only playing together in two of those 11 games. 

That being said, the main phrase that has defined this Pelicans season has been “next man up,” with the Pelicans young role players continuing to step up for head coach Willie Green in the absence of their stars. The main example of this has been Jose “Grand Theft” Alvarado, who has become a deadly three point shooter in addition to being a pesky defender off the bench. Alvarado is shooting 40.4% from three this season, and is coming off a career high 38 points in the Pelicans win over the Denver Nuggets. 

The other rising young star for the Pelicans is Trey Murphy, who has averaged 16 points in the last 10 games, filling in the void left by injuries. Murphy has also shot 41% from three-point range this season, serving as the ultimate “three and D” player and playing off of the Pelicans offensive initiators such as Williamson and McCollum. 

Another role player to mention is Larry Nance Jr., who coach Willie Green has praised mainly for being able to get stops on the defensive end. At six feet, seven inches, Nance has been able to guard all five positions on the court and is often placed alongside Alvarado in the lineup during crunch time due to his defensive prowess. 

Defense has been another reason behind the Pelicans early success, as they currently are ranked third in the league in defensive rating, second in steals per game at 8.8 and ninth in defensive rebounding. The Pelicans have many ways to go at teams defensively, with tough on ball defenders such as Alvarado and rookie Dyson Daniels to rim protectors and rebounders such as Zion Willliamson and Jonas Valenciunas to versatile freak athletes such as Herb Jones, Larry Nance and Trey Murphy who can switch everywhere across the court. 

Finally, it would be hard to mention the Pelicans success without talking about Zion Williamson’s ability to impact the game on both ends. After the win against the Denver Nuggets, Nuggets coach, Michael Malone, said that guarding Williamson “takes a five man effort.” While Williamson can burst to the rim like no other, he has proven that he is more than just a scorer, averaging five assists in the last 10 games. The increase in running plays through Williamson has benefited the Pelicans recently, and it will be interesting to see if that changes when both Ingram and McCollum are healthy. 

With Ingram and McCollum close to returning to the lineup, Willie Green will have to figure out the right rotations and lineups for this to succeed. The Pelicans have thrived so far due to the amount of versatile players they can bring in, and finding the perfect balance between each of them will further establish them as a threat to make a deep run in the playoffs and possibly make it out of the West. 

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