Pelicans

Bubble Blunders Ultimately Paved New Era for New Orleans

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Overhyped?

When it was announced that the Pelicans would be going to Disney as one of the 22 teams invited to the Bubble, the media took off. The idea of Lakers-Pelicans first-round match-up was in the eyes of every NBA fan. Rookie sensation Zion Williamson against GOAT candidate LeBron James was expected to raise viewership and bring back the excitement of the NBA season that us fans had missed for months. In addition to this, pictures started surfacing of players who had gained muscle and weight due to having the break and time to focus on gains.

 

But that may have been a little premature.

The Pelicans were handed the easiest schedule of the teams in the bubble with a .495 strength of schedule. Six of their eight opponents were under .500 and they were only 3.5 games back from the 8th seed. It was almost like the NBA was pushing to get the young squad to face off against the Lakers.

Instead, the team proceeded to go 2-6, with back-to-back losses to the Utah Jazz and Los Angeles Clippers kicking off their Bubble bouts. It wasn’t that the teams they played in the Bubble had improved, but that the Pelicans had in fact declined.

The Negatives

Bye Bye Gentry

First, we must acknowledge Pelicans head coach Alvin Gentry. Well, former head coach. Gentry hit the chopping block on August 15th, two days after his last game in the Bubble.

This change of scenery was long overdue. He had only achieved one winning season in his five years with New Orleans, alongside Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins.

Besides his history with the team, his coaching in the Bubble was awful. It began in the first game against the Jazz, when he benched rookie star Zion Williamson in a close game.

Zion’s Improbable Battle for Rookie of the Year

Williamson was on a predetermined minute restriction for the first Bubble game. Gentry subbed him out with a four-point lead at the seven-minute mark in the 4th quarter–he was never to be seen for the rest of the game.

The Jazz took the lead and eventually won by two. Zion finished with 13 points in 15 minutes. I understand the notion of not wanting your future franchise player to get injured, but with the Pelicans fighting for the eight seed, this was a must-win game.

As for replacements for a new head coach, there are a few options. Even with Doc Rivers (PHI), Tom Thibodeau (NYK), Ty Lue (LAC) and Billy Donovan (CHI) off the table, the Pels still have plenty of good choices available.

Even with Stan Van Gundy the current frontrunner, another option could be former Nets head coach Kenny Atkinson. Atkinson has gotten a reputation for being the “point-guard whisperer” for his development of point guards over the years. With Lonzo Ball going into his 4th season and contract year, Atkinson could be the one to push him to new limits.

Big Baller Bust?

Coming into the Bubble, Lonzo Ball was playing the best basketball of his career. In the last five games before the hiatus, Lonzo was averaging 20.8 points, 7.8 rebounds and 7.8 assists per game. On top of that, the third-year guard was shooting 54% from the field and 48% from deep. This statline was on par if not better than the averages of Luka Doncic, LeBron James and Ben Simmons.

Does Lonzo Have a Future With The Pelicans?

Lonzo reportedly checked out mentally in the Bubble, sparking questions about New Orleans’ roster construction heading into next season. Ball severely underperformed in Orlando, averaging 5.6 points and 6.8 assists per game on a horrific 25% FG and 19% 3PT shooting.

It was difficult to watch if you were a Lonzo or Pelican fan. He sucked. Between not being aggressive enough and blowing easy layups, it almost seemed more beneficial to have him off the floor.

Following the Pelicans’ exit from the Bubble, Ball responded to the following Bleacher Report tweet that showcased one of his statlines. It was out of character for Lonzo, as he never is one to talk about his game on social media. Maybe this will be enough to make him work harder and prove his haters wrong.

The Positives

NAW’s Play

Despite the general turmoil, there were some bright spots in the Bubble for this young New Orleans franchise. Rookie Nickeil-Alexander Walker had his best game of his career in the last game of the season against the Magic. Walker dropped 29 points on 11/18 shooting along with seven assists. He also provided a much-needed scoring burst in the August 1st game against the Clippers with 15 points in 12 minutes on 85% shooting. His play in the bubble manifested potential for more minutes and a bigger role on the team for next season.

Zion’s still Zion

With the four-month break before resuming play, many people wondered about Zion’s health and weight. While his conditioning may have been a little rough as he jogged up and down the court, Zion was still the same beast he was before the shutdown.

Playing in only five of the eight seeding games — and only logging 25+ minutes in two games — Zion did not see the court as much as Pelicans fans had hoped he would. But when he did play, he didn’t disappoint. He had three 20-point games on 58% shooting, winning only one game against the Memphis Grizzlies.

Next season, expect Zion to average 24+ points with him being the first scoring option for the team. I also would like to see him attempt more threes as he has only 0.6 3PA per game throughout 24 career games.

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About Brian Hunter Vollman

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