The 2019-20 NBA schedule is out and the league has decided that the New Orleans Pelicans are the ninth most exciting and bankable basketball city this upcoming season.
The 30 nationally televised games have been understandably linked to the number one overall draft pick, Zion Williamson, and for good reason. The Duke phenom helped record the largest rated college basketball game in 11 years when he exited the Blue Devils 88-72 loss to the North Carolina Tar Heels with a knee injury.
After being drafted by the Pelicans, Williamson then drew record-breaking crowds and audiences in his nine-minute Las Vegas Summer League debut.
But lost in the buzz surrounding the Pelicans’ newest and most exciting addition has been one inescapable fact: The NBA expects the Pelicans to be good.
Zion has been considered by some to be the best prospect since LeBron James, a player consisting of the same level of hype as phenom as Williamson. LeBron drew only seven nationally televised games on ESPN and ABC as a rookie. Zion and the Pelicans have drawn 13.
Yes, this can both be linked to expanded television coverage as well as the addition of popularized former Lakers like Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram and Josh Hart but moreso than any of that is the expectations ESPN and ABC are placing on one Jrue Holiday to keep the Pelicans in the playoff race.
“The body is very much in a position that we’ve never seen,” Coach Mike Guevara, Holiday’s trainer said. “He’s stronger than he’s ever been. I think he has more control than he ever has in terms of his tempo, the way he changes his pace on the court.”
Holiday completed his most successful season to date with career-highs in points (21.1), rebounds (five), steals (1.6) and free throws (four) in 2018-19 as well as finish on the NBA’s second All-Defensive Team. Holiday also took more shots (17.4) than at any point in his career as his role soared with Anthony Davis playing just 56 games (many of which under 25 minutes).
Holiday will shoulder an even bigger burden this season. Though replenished with veteran and blue-chip caliber talent alike, executives from the coaching staff to front office have all put the onus and responsibility on Holiday.
“We got Jrue Holiday. We got a guy who should be in the running for the MVP next season,” one Pelicans’ assistant told me.
“(But) we really built this team around Jrue Holiday being our true leader,” a front office executive said.
Executive vice president, David Griffin couldn’t have been clearer in his stance on the matter:
“I really challenged Jrue,” Griffin told Sirius XM. “I told him ‘You can be the most underrated guard in the league for as long as you want to be, but I’d rather you want to be an MVP. He jumped out of his skin, but this guy is capable of far more than he’s done.”
The work that goes into becoming that leader both on and off the court takes place now during the doldrums of NBA news and media coverage when athletes can truly focus on taking the proverbial “next step.”
“He’s ready to step right into that role of being the guy, being number one,” Mike G continued.
Not many have given more to their franchise over the past few seasons. Holiday (29) already sits 40th among active players in minutes played and has committed 2,000 or more minutes in three successive seasons. Holiday finished fifth in minutes per game in 2018-19 (35.9) after finishing 12th in 2017-18.
“Watch out. The work precedes him. He’s put in countless hours this summer both on and off court. I’m excited and I think everyone should be excited about how he will handle his new role.”
If the Pelicans are going to prove worthy of 30 nationally televised games, it’ll take more than the draw of Zion. It’ll take a squad capable to remaining competitive throughout the entirety of the regular season. To do that, the Pelicans will need another breakout season from their star.
Can his offseason progress be a precursor to yet another step forward?
For more on this conversation with Coach Mike Guevara, check out our podcast link below! Please be sure to follow Mike @MrDoItMoving on Twitter and Instagram.
Let’s geaux, Pels!