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NBA Preview: Pelicans at Timberwolves offers chance to view new-look New Orleans team for first time

The first preseason game of 2021-22 is here!

2021 Las Vegas Summer League - New Orleans Pelicans v Cleveland Cavaliers Photo by Garrett Ellwood/NBAE via Getty Images

New Orleans basketball is back.

The Pelicans will face the Timberwolves tonight in Minnesota, and while the game’s only of the preseason variety, all fans are eagerly awaiting to catch a glimpse of this season’s potential.

Many negatives were written about the Pelicans in free agency, arguing the front office face-planted by failing to land a big name after clearing space on the cap sheet. Steven Adams and Eric Bledsoe were shipped out, and Lonzo Ball was not re-signed. Devonte’ Graham, Jonas Valanciunas, Tomas Satoransky and Garrett Temple were added — but at a potential cost of several first round draft picks as well as a pick downgrade.

Sacramento Kings v New Orleans Pelicans Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images

While the summer didn’t unfold as ideally as hoped, those who closely follow this team have not been nearly as dismayed. Reason being, the roster to begin the 2021-22 season looks to be the best group yet around Zion Williamson and Brandon Ingram in terms of fit and desire, there are no bad contracts and new head coach Willie Green feels like the right breath of fresh air.

The action witnessed in summer league supports a belief of the Pelicans being greater than a sum of its parts. The basketball wasn’t flawless, but a staunch effort in Las Vegas propelled the team to a 5-0 record.

There’s also been evidence of this same spirit being present ever since. Informal workouts in Nashville were reportedly a hit and the buzzword out of training camp has clearly been ‘energy.’

According to everyone that I talked to last week who were bystanders in practice, the players have been really getting after it, playing harder and more together than in any other preseason. Every player is seemingly on the same page, with the overarching theme being to win and win some more.

While the Pelicans will be without Zion Williamson (rehabbing from offseason right foot surgery) and likely Jonas Valanciunas (doubtful with a right thumb sprain), there’s still plenty to watch for Monday evening.

  • Will Brandon Ingram assert himself more than ever, including on the defensive end?
  • Which two players will start in the backcourt?
  • Will the team truly mimic the immense effort levels from summer league?
  • How will the new guys look, all of the available veterans but especially the two rookies in Trey Murphy III and Herbert Jones?
  • And lastly, which young players will show real improvement? Nickeil Alexander-Walker? Jaxson Hayes? Everyone?

Tonight may only be an exhibition game and Zion’s aura won’t be on the floor, but count me as excited to see what unfolds in Minnesota in a few hours time.

Who: New Orleans Pelicans (0-0) at Minnesota Timberwolves (0-0)

When: October 4, 7:00 p.m. Central

Where to watch: for in-market viewers, NBA League Pass for out-of-market fans

Where to listen: ESPN 100.3 FM

For more Pelicans talk, subscribe to The Bird Calls podcast feed on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher or Google Podcasts. You can follow this author on Twitter at @OlehKosel.