The New Orleans Pelicans are one giant full-of-promise question mark away from being a G-League team full of castoffs and discards who weren’t good enough for a 35-win Lakers team.
But when the question mark is Zion Williamson, whose ceiling is LeBron James and whose floor is Aaron Gordon (big, athletic guy who doesn’t translate dunk contest excellence into superstar performance in actual games), everyone wants to anoint New Orleans as the next Golden State Warriors.
Vegas seems to be splitting the difference, pegging the Pellies for 39 wins, 10th in the Western Conference, expecting them to miss the playoffs but make a spirited run along the way.
The team won 33 games last year as Anthony Davis established himself as the biggest Great Stats Bad Team guy since Chris Bosh, so is a committed and motivated Zion and a crap roster better than an angry Anthony Davis and a garbage roster to the tune of six wins?
Things that make you go “hmmm…”
2018-19 record: 33-49
2019-20 over/under: 39
The First Thing One Thinks Of…
Remember last year, when a guy put up a better rookie season by VORP than LeBron did and still managed to only get his team to 33 wins because his supporting cast was trash?
Or, if Luka Doncic (and his 3.6 VORP) doesn’t convince you, how about LeBron himself on that atrocious Cavs team that went 35-47 when the King was a fresh-out-of-high-school rookie in the Eastern Conference with a 3.1 VORP?
This is part of why I don’t think Zion is going to be the game-changer (at least not in his first year) that everyone’s anointing him as.
Yes, he’s the odds-on favorite for Rookie of the Year. Yes, his stats and highlights will be eye-popping. He might even match Luka’s 3.6 VORP from last year.
But a sulking Brow posted 4.9 VORP on a 33-win team and I just don’t see where the extra wins are coming from on the supporting cast.
The Lakers’ Castoffs
My disdain for Lonzo Ball is well-known around here; I’ve been calling him Dollar Store Russell Westbrook ever since Ball came into the league with plans on averaging a triple-double and a plug-awful True Shooting percentage (.444 as a rookie, .487 last year, which is complete trash.)
Sure, Ball has emerged as a capable defender (the biggest reason his catch-all advanced stats aren’t in Kevin Knox/Collin Sexton territory), but he’s such a terrible offensive liability that his team is playing 4-on-5.
All of this could be forgiven if the rest of the guys were any good, but Brandon Ingram is garbage too (minus-2.2 Offensive BPM and minus-0.3 VORP) and doesn’t have Ball’s saving grace of an All-Defensive ceiling (in another place and time, Ball could’ve been a perfectly serviceable Tony Allen clone, but he went second overall.)
Reading down this roster, it’s a who’s who of guys with incomplete-at-best games. You’ve got guys who can shoot but couldn’t guard a corpse (J.J. Redick), guys who can defend but would lose a game of 21 against the old-timers’ game guys (Ball, Josh Hart), and guys who can’t do either (Ingram, E’Twaun Moore, Darius Miller.)
As good as Jrue Holiday is, he was the second-best player on a 33-win team last year, and if Zion isn’t a superstar out of the gate, Holiday may be the only even fringe All-Star New Orleans has.
I just don’t see where the hype is coming from for even 39 wins. Well, I see the hype (OMG ZION IS LEBRON), what I don’t see is the justification.
Oh, and did anyone stop to think that it’s a lot harder to be good even with a great rookie in the West than the East? Luka and that historically great rookie year was only good for 33 wins.
I just can’t see a realistic universe where Zion, Jrue, and a G-League team come close to 39 wins. They lost Anthony Freaking Davis, for cryin’ out loud. They’re supposed to be vastly improved without him?
No. I can’t see it. Busted, busted, busted. Put New Orleans down for 30-35 wins, another lottery appearance, and a lot of cold, hard reality checks about how NBA basketball actually works. I’ve got the under on this one and feel safe making that pick.
NEXT: Dallas Mavericks.
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