Despite failing to land a playoff spot this season, there’s no reason for the New Orleans Pelicans to quickly hit the panic button. Sure, the Pelicans flopped in the bubble. But on-court chemistry is very difficult to build for a young squad who went almost four months of not playing together.
Having said that, the Pelicans are now looking into an important offseason that could catapult them to serious playoff contention next season.
Lock up Ingram as the team’s cornerstone
Arguably the brightest spot of their campaign, Brandon Ingram notched his first All-Star appearance while averaging 23.8 points, 6.1 rebounds, and 4.2 assists per contest. He has improved almost every weakness he had in his game, including three-point efficiency (39%) and free throw shooting (85%).
Ingram is also entering restricted free agency in the offseason, which will give the Pelicans front office the right to match any offer sheet from other interested teams. With the way the 22-year-old Ingram has already reached star status, re-signing him will be a no-brainer for the Pels. The 6-foot-8 small forward has not only grown into a multi-dimensional operator on offense, but he has also made huge strides on his defensive skills.
Improve inside defense
With Ingram, Jrue Holiday, Lonzo Ball, and Josh Hart lurking on the wing, the Pelicans undoubtedly have one of the best arrays of perimeter defenders in the league. But the team is still ranked at a lowly 27th in opponent points per game while placing 25th in giving up two-point field goals to opposing teams.
The Pelicans’ problems on the defensive end lie in their inability to protect the rim. No matter how uber-athletic Zion Williamson is, he is still finding his way in defensive coverages, and would sometimes get lost in the shuffle. Veteran big man Derrick Favors is still the great rebounder that he has always been, but he is not known to be an effective rim protector.
The rest of the Pels’ frontcourt stalwarts include an inexperienced Jaxson Hayes, an offensive-minded Jahlil Okafor, and a stretch big in Nicolo Melli. Hayes’ motor and athleticism make him a potential shot-blocker, but it remains to be seen if he will already earn big minutes next season. Marc Gasol, Serge Ibaka, and Hassan Whiteside will become unrestricted free agents, so the Pelicans might want to look into tapping one of those names.
Extend Lonzo’s contract
He may not have played his best basketball in the bubble, but there’s no doubt that Lonzo has bounced back from a forgettable sophomore year with the Lakers. Despite everything that has been said about his irreparable broken jumper, Lonzo has fixed his shooting form and is now producing a decent 37% clip from the three-point line.
On top of that, the 6-foot-6 point guard is also producing all-around numbers of 11.8 points, 6.1 rebounds, 7.0 assists and 1.4 steals per game in his first year with the Pels. He is making his teammates better on the court, and his unselfishness is the right form of leadership for a very young squad.
Lonzo is eligible to sign an extension in the offseason, and there is a plethora of reasons why the Pelicans front office should lock him up. Ball is only 22 years of age, and his jack-of-all-trades skillset is highly-coveted in today’s positionless basketball.