Everyone likes a good sleeper. Who will be the New Orleans Pelicans most surprising contributor during the 2018-19 season?
Kevin: Solomon Hill
The obvious candidates are Elfrid Payton, Frank Jackson, Solomon Hill and Jahlil Okafor. Payton and Hill are seen as gambles or mistakes by many, but remember, they are in line for major minutes. In the case of Payton, he is replacing a player whose value to the team is hotly debated among fans and media, but was seen as a safer bet. I believe in Elfrid, and while my expectations have been lowered for Solomon, I also believe that with two same-sized legs, slight improvement on offense and a more confident mentality, he should be ripe to give Alvin Gentry productive minutes on the wing.
Okafor comes in with a skill set that doesn’t necessarily fit the Pelicans style of play, but he was blue chip enough to make him the third overall pick in the draft. He’s an excellent low post scorer that can go over both shoulders, back you down and be that guy you let cook for a few minutes a game like how the Thunder used to use Enes Kanter. He’s similar to Kanter in that he isn’t know for his ability to defend. However, with Jah knowing this could be his last chance to stick in the NBA, his work ethic and maturity — which were often in question — seem to be getting corrected. He’s reshaped his body, is working on running and trying to stretch his range. He’ll struggle to find minutes behind a healthy Davis, Randle and Nikola Mirotic, but when the opportunities come, he seems more ready than ever to make them count.
Then there’s Frank Jackson, whose workout videos, summer league performance and praise from work out coach Mike G — who compared Frank to Bo Jackson and Reggie Bush — is working the saliva glands of everyone in New Orleans. However, Frank is an unknown nationally. With only Ian Clark and Jarrett Jack stiff-arming him for minutes, Jackson could quickly become a media darling with his running and dunking ability should he earn 15-20 minutes per game on a winning Pelicans squad.
Frank is my choice nationally, but locally I’m going to go with Solomon Hill, as he and his contract are oft-vilified and he has a clear path at getting minutes at the three. Should he re-emerge as a positive defender and become a more efficient scorer, he could rewrite his reputation.
Jamile: Frank Jackson
It sounds like people around the Pelicans are pretty excited about the potential for second-year rookie Frank Jackson. After battling injuries last season, Jackson appears to be back at full strength heading into the 2018-19 season. The rookie gave us a tantalizing reminder of his talent during his brief appearance at the NBA Summer League, where he showed off impressive explosiveness and a silky smooth shooting stroke.
Given the relative lack of trade assets the Pelicans possess, the team sorely needs a developmental success story to provide some solid minutes on the cheap. If Jackson’s aggressive attacking style can provide a spark for the second unit, it could help New Orleans maintain leads — which will be crucial against high-powered Western Conference offenses.
Preston: E’Twaun Moore
Moore shouldn’t be a surprise given his seven years of NBA experience, but all too often, he is often the forgotten cog in the Pelicans’ engine that makes beautiful things possible on both sides of the ball. In addition to his stellar postseason defense of Damian Lillard, CJ McCollum, and Klay Thompson, Moore is one of the game’s best shooters and team’s most underrated finishers.
Moore has a bevy of moves to work with when attacking the paint and did so with remarkable efficiency. Moore’s 53% and 45% left and right corner three-point shooting stroke is well known, but his 65% success rate inside of five feet is an afterthought.
E’Twaun Moore simply produces without acclaim. 82 games played, 51% from the field, 43% from three on four three-point attempts per night. The guy gets it done every single night, whether he gets noticed or not.
Zachary: Elfrid Payton
I can’t wait for all the “actually, Elfrid Payton is good” pieces. Payton has averaged about seven assists per-36 minutes over his career playing for awful Orlando and Phoenix teams. Now he’s on the best team he’s ever been a part of, with one of the best two-way guards as his backcourt running mate, and he’ll be able to feed the ball to, at worst, the fifth best basketball player on Earth. Payton is back home, and most importantly, he cut his hair so his vision will finally be unobstructed — which I assume can only help moving forward.
Oleh: Frank Jackson
I was tossing around a few names in my head, but after viewing NBAtv’s season preview of the Pelicans, the answer became crystal clear.
To include four players on unguaranteed contracts — one who faces impossible odds, and another long odds of making the roster out of preseason — but forget the 31st pick from the 2017 Draft who is slated for a significant role in the rotation is plain sad!
Asides the disrespect factor, “The Ferrari” is ready to show off the specs. In what little action I’ve witnessed, he possesses all the tools to contribute as a rookie and his skill set looks to be a great fit for this team. Either Mirotic or Randle will be the Pelicans sixth man, but Jackson is lightning in a bottle who will make his presence felt in plenty of games.
Travis: Frank Jackson
I’m a believer and have been since the Pelicans selected him in 2017 Draft. I like his combination of skills, defensive competitiveness, athleticism and size. If he can make some shots, defend, rebound and stay healthy, look for Frank to make an impact with his floor game sooner rather later.