The New Orleans Pelicans are far from an ideal team in terms of fit, but they have proven through the years that they can hang with the best teams in the NBA from time to time and especially when the lights are at their brightest.
This season has been no exception as they have rattled off back-to-back wins in the NBA In-Season Tournament against the top two teams in the Western Conference, narrowly lost against the league-leading Minnesota Timberwolves, then annihilated a depleted Sacramento Kings squad.
New Orleans beat the Dallas Mavericks, 131-110, and followed up this impressive blowout win with a hard-fought 115-110 victory over the reigning NBA champion Denver Nuggets. They then lost 121-120 to Minnesota and won 129-93 against Sacramento.
Prior to this 3-1 stretch, the Pelicans had actually lost five consecutive matches dating back to their 123-105 loss to the Atlanta Hawks in early November. This marked the last game that their starting point guard CJ McCollum played in before it was revealed that he had a collapsed lung.
New Orleans initially struggled without their veteran leader, but it seems like this team has finally turned the corner and they have figured out how to maximize the remaining personnel on their roster.
In the Pelicans’ last four games, head coach Willie Green has deployed a tall starting line-up where 6’6 power forward Zion Williamson is their shortest player. This unit features three 6’8 players in Brandon Ingram, Herb Jones, and Dyson Daniels who all have a decent level of playmaking skills which allows them to take turns serving as their point guard. New Orleans’ 6’11 center Jonas Valanciunas rounds out this group as their tallest player and his improving ability to hit three-pointers makes them even more difficult to match up with.
The ability of these players to all handle some form of ball-handling and shot creation duties for this team is what makes them effective as they can have several points of attack on the offensive end. In their blowout win over Dallas, each member of their starting five had at least four assists, with Ingram leading the way with seven.
They followed a similar formula versus Denver as each starter had at least three assists, highlighted by Ingram, Williamson, and Daniels who combined for 21 as a trio.
Against the Kings, Williamson and Ingram scored at will, combining for 57 points while shooting 23 of 34 from the field.
Moving forward, it will be interesting to see how teams adapt to this tall Pelicans line-up. Their lack of shooting is one potential Achilles’ Heel, yet having shot creators like Ingram and Williamson to rely on down the stretch should allow them to overcome this.
Injuries seem to be par for the course for New Orleans over these past few years, but the many ways that they continue to innovate in order to make do continue to impress. This is the type of team that profiles as a potential dark horse winner of this NBA In-Season Tournament given their top level talent and unconventional line-ups. It will be fascinating to see if they can make it all the way and it will not come as a surprise if they wind up on top come the finale in Las Vegas next month.