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The Bird Calls Podcast Ep. 141: Are the New Orleans Pelicans better than last season’s edition?

As the Pelicans approach training camp, The Bird Calls team discuss the incoming wings, the future of Liggins/Okafor, as well as compare this season’s squad to last.

NBA: Utah Jazz at New Orleans Pelicans Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

Wing the Alarm

The New Orleans Pelicans bolstered their wing depth in anticipation of training camp with three flyers on Garlon Green, Troy Williams and Kenrich Williams.

  • Garlon Green is the oldest of the bunch (27 years of age) but is the most experienced, having spent three years abroad. Last year with Belfius-Mons-Hainaut, he averaged 15.7 points, 4.5 rebounds and 1.7 threes on excellent shooting percentages. The stroke was particularly evident in Las Vegas as Green torched the nets for over a 60% clip from the field and the three-point line. In addition, he also displayed some solid athleticism — hops and spin moves shouldn’t come as a surprise because it runs in the family as his brother is former dunk champion Gerald Green!
  • Kenrich Williams, who followed in the footsteps of Green at Texas Christian, didn’t have a particular good 2018 Summer League with the Denver Nuggets (5.4 points, 41.9 FG%, 14.3 3PT%) after going undrafted, but his body of work as a senior in college was much more impressive (13.2 points, 9.3 rebounds, 39.5 3PT%). He was selected to a Sports Illustrated’s NBA sleeper list for being ready to enter the league with discernible characteristics, and a number of experts believed he was a shoe-in to be selected in the most recent draft. Pelicans’ fans should take to him immediately due to his unique style and haircut, “The Shag.” For more, check on this excellent article by Jake Fischer of Sports Illustrated.
  • Although he averaged 11.8 points, 4.0 rebounds and 1.2 steals in 20 minutes of action in Las Vegas, Troy Williams might be the most interesting guy on the board because he’s flashed his potential in regular season games before this summer. The former Indiana Hoosier left a particularly good impression with the Knicks last spring as in his second game in uniform he posted 14 points in 12 quick minutes that included two mean dunks. The 6’7 swingman averaged 7.5ppg in 17 minutes, with 3.5 rebounds, one steal, and 49% and 33% shooting from three.

DeAndre Liggins and Emeka Okafor

Will any of these developmental players be able to pass DeAndre Liggins on the depth chart, and earn meaningful regular season minutes?

According to HoopsRumors.com, Liggins and Okafor have already been partially guaranteed with more dates to come.

  • $100,000 of Okafor’s $2.45 million cap hit came to fruition on July 12th.
  • $75,000 of Liggins’ $1.8 million cap hit comes today, July 30th — $50,000 was already partially guaranteed.

While the Pelicans will almost certainly carry the two veterans to camp, does the organization still see a future for the soon to be 31 and 36 year olds?

Starting Lineup

The New Orleans Pelicans starting lineup has, and will continue to be, a hot topic of debate for fans this season.

On one hand, the Pelicans should want to further develop Jrue Holiday’s skills on the wing, where he enjoyed his most successful season to date playing off ball. Getting Jrue easy shots early, and the freedom to move away from the ball, gave the First Team All-NBA Defender confidence fans feared he may have lost late last season.

Should Head Coach Alvin Gentry risk regression by moving him back to the position of signal caller or should he take a flyer on Elfrid Payton, who up to this point has yet to prove readiness for the starting role?

Gentry could give Payton the opportunity early, and hope to recoup some of the former top ten overall’s pick value in front of his hometown faithful.

With E’Twaun Moore likely entrenched at the two or three due to his shooting and versatility on both ends, the question then becomes what to do with Nikola Mirotic and Julius Randle.

According to Joel Meyers on Sirius XM Radio, the Pelicans may elect to start Mirotic, Randle, and AD alongside one another, but the team at The Bird Calls sees a future with Mirotic coming off the bench early in the regular season, playing between 30-35 minutes per game, before upping his workload to close the regular season.

Among the newest additions, who will break out?

The Pelicans already have to start planning for the future with Nikola Mirotic, Julius Randle, and Elfrid Payton. With all three on ‘prove it’ deals and heading into a crowded ’19 free agent class, all three are expected to come to camp hungry to earn a payday.

If last offseason is any indication, the newest Pelican, Julius Randle, can be counted on to come ready to work:

Nikola Mirotic will look to follow up his dynamic ‘post shave’ progression by putting up similar numbers to the 22/11 on 53% and 41% he closed the regular season with and the 15/10/1.5/1 on 49% and 40% he put up in the postseason.

Elfrid Payton is the wild card in this scenario. Can he break the mold of his former unsuccessful stints in Phoenix and Orlando and become the dynamic back court stopper the Magic thought they were getting?

Have the Pelicans’ improved from last season?

An early look at the Pelicans’ predicted depth chart:

  • PG: Payton Jackson
  • SG: Jrue Moore Clark Liggins Bluiett
  • SF: Niko Hill Miller
  • PF: Randle Diallo
  • C: AD Ajinca Okafor

Last year:

  • PG: Rondo Clark Jackson
  • SG: Jrue Liggins Crawford Cooke
  • SF: Moore Miller Hill
  • PF: Niko Diallo
  • C: AD Okafor *Cousins Ajinca

The Pelicans lost veteran leader Rajon Rondo to the Lakers and DeMarcus Cousins to the Warriors and brought in Payton and Randle to replace them.

Randle has intriguing upside, but does he carry the All-Star potential of Cousins? While lacking the offensive potential, Randle does seem to fit next to Anthony Davis perfectly, and his athleticism and tenacity should allow Gentry’s offense to lead the league in pace once more.

Payton can certainly produce Rondo’s numbers, after contributing 13, 6.3 assists, and four rebounds in 44 games in Orlando last season, while shooting 52% and 37%, before plummeting to 43% and 20% in 19 games in Phoenix.

Defensively is where Pelicans’ fans should chiefly be concerned with Payton’s game. A soft spoken guy, Payton lacks the veteran presence of Rondo, and will need to improve his focus and recognition on that end. Offensively, the Pelicans’ should look to get him going early, much as they practiced with Holiday in ‘17/18. As his confidence grows, he may give the Pelicans valuable depth and an eventual starter at the point guard position.

In addition, the Pelicans’ hope their back court can improve with a healthy Frank Jackson, who showed explosiveness in his Summer League appearance. The Pelicans will also bring back Solomon Hill, healthy and in game shape for the first time since the ‘16/17 season that saw him defend Kawhi Leonard and Paul George successfully. His wing stopping potential could be a huge advantage for a team longer wings like Andrew Wiggins feasted on last season.

Darius Miller and Chieck Diallo should be more comfortable heading into the season, and most importantly, Jrue Holiday and Anthony Davis are one year closer to hitting the prime years of their apex in the NBA. Can AD take another step forward, and supplant NBA MVP, James Harden?

The cast of The Bird Calls answers this question and many more on our 141st episode.

Thank you to everyone who continues to tune in and Geaux Pels!