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Evaluating the 2021-22 season for the New Orleans Pelicans

From a 3-16 start to the first round of the playoffs. Our staff weighs in the grade the season.

NBA: Playoffs-Phoenix Suns at New Orleans Pelicans Stephen Lew-USA TODAY Sports

The New Orleans Pelicans 2021-22 season is over after the hard fought 4-2 series defeat at the hands of the Phoenix Suns. As the second round begins in earnest, and two weeks from the NBA Draft Lottery, we got the whole crew together to discuss this season.

Let’s begin with a big picture wrap-up.

Was the New Orleans Pelicans 2021-22 season a success?

Kevin Barrios: A

Unquestionably. Here are somethings that we were given this year that we’ve asked for for over a decade — an identity, a locker room leader, a dynamic wing (we had this already, but he took another huge step forward), a defensive mindset, defensive flexibility, depth, veteran leadership, the promise of long-term success, a paradigm shift in team reputation and most importantly — FUN basketball.

Travis Tate:

What a complicated question! Even if not measured as a success by a strict Win-Loss accounting, their ability to win two play-in games with a completely rejuvenated fanbase without Z all year shows me they have made an organizational improvement. The output from BI, CJ, and their young guys is enough for me to call it a success, but with much higher expectations coming. Like, should we demand 50 wins next year?!

Charlie Gonzalez: A+

The 21-22 season was an absolute resounding success. Primarily for two reasons; the hiring of Willie Green and the draft selection of Herbert Jones.

Choosing Coach Green to steward the team going forward has been the culture changing move EVPOBO David Griffin has been championing for 3 years. He sets the tone from a leadership standpoint, has shown a willingness to be flexible and adapt in *most* situations and has developed effective game plans in tough win or go home environments. He is everything any team would want in a head coach, but specifically so important to a small market yearning for identity.

The drafting of Herb Jones needs to be side by side with the hiring of Green. Jones entered the All Defensive Team discussion in his rookie season and without high acclaim. Most of us were fairly surprised, and even disappointed, when he was taken 35 in last years draft. But the phenomenon of #NotOnHerb was simply not a foreseeable event. Jones’ ability to function as a one-man defensive wrecking crew covered up mistakes of his teammates while also getting them to raise their game. His constant effort, commitment and intensity, while drawing the toughest assignment on a nightly basis, rubbed off on his teammates who stepped up despite mostly low tier defensive reputations. Truly, I believe Jones is the kind of winning player who does so much more than his stat line and will make an outsized impact throughout his career.

There are more developments that add on to the grade for this team: the end result of the Jonas Valanciunas trade, Trey Murphy’s development, nabbing the Lakers lottery pick, adding CJ McCollum and Larry Nance, Grand Theft Alvarado. But I believe all will pale in comparison to the impact Green and Jones will have on the franchise for the immediate future. A+ indeed.

Jamile Dunn: B+

In my humble opinion the 2021-22 season was an unmitigated success. If forced to put a grade on the season I would give it a B+. For me that grade is not really about how far they went in the postseason, instead it’s about all the things we learned about this team along the way that bodes well for future seasons.

In one season we learned:

  • The Pelicans found the right coach
  • Brandon Ingram could be the next super star
  • Herb Jones is a dynamic NBA talent
  • Trey Murphy and Jose Alvarado are serious contributors moving forward
  • CJ McCollum and Larry Nance are perfect fits for this roster

The biggest takeaway of all is that this team can be successful in the future with or without Zion Williamson in the lineup. In past seasons we would have been delighted to see one of these types of developments in a single season. To top it all off this young roster went toe-to-toe with the number 1 seed, believed they could win and nearly did.

I’ve had some serious criticism for the Pelicans front office in recent years, but it’s really hard to find too many foibles in many moves made this season. Still, I must admit I don’t always love their process of getting to the destination but no team improved their outlook moving forward more than the Pelicans in 2022.

Even better, the team managed to reconnect with its passionate fanbase. We now see players interacting with fans online and in person. Players singing the cities and organizations praises to whomever will listen and publicly announcing their desire to stay with the team. My goodness what a difference a year makes.

David Fisher: A

From 3-16 to a playoff berth and a vigorously contested series against the best team in the NBA? Unmitigated success. Willie Green was an incredible addition. This team changed the narrative around the franchise and connected in a way no other NBA team has to this city. The 2021-22 New Orleans Pelicans are beloved both in Southeast Louisiana and outside of it. Acquiring CJ McCollum and Larry Nance Jr. at the trade deadline pushed things up another level.

Jonas Valanciunas proved to be a workhorse. He stretches the floor more than his reputation, but its what he does inside that changed the mentality of this Pelicans team. New Orleans is a tough team now. That’s because of Jonas Valanciunas. The Pelicans are one of the best rebounding teams in the entire league thanks to Valanciunas. That shows up every night.

Three rookies played high leverage minutes for two straight months as the team battled their way into the play-in tournament and through it to the first round. Herb Jones looks like one of the best defenders in the league right now, as a rookie. Trey Murphy III was burying threes in the fourth quarter of playoff games, as a rookie. Jose Alvarado took on the assignment of guarding one of the greatest point guards in league history, as a rookie.

Brandon Ingram elevated himself, and his teammates. He’s not a stats All-Star anymore. He’s an All-Star, period. Ingram makes the game easier for everyone else in a Pelicans uniform. He is the unquestioned leader on and off the floor. And in the playoffs he showed the world who he is and what he can do.

Oleh Kosel: A+

The aim in most minds over last summer was for the New Orleans Pelicans to make the playoffs. They reached that goal, but the manner in which they accomplished that feat was simply astounding.

Following the news of the broken bone in Zion Williamson’s foot and that awful 3-16 beginning to the regular season, all hope appeared to be extinguished. Everyone wrote them off. But then something wonderful happened. They wound up one of only four teams in NBA history to reach the postseason after such an inauspicious start.

The Pelicans closed out the campaign with a 33-30 record, climbing over five franchises to reach the Play-In Tournament. They proceeded to officially end the seasons of the Spurs and Clippers and make things interesting against the best team in basketball during the first round of the playoffs.

In addition to earning the respect of the Suns and millions of national viewers, the Pelicans proved they belong on the big stage — all without the face of the franchise in uniform.

A strong argument can be had as to whether Williamson or Brandon Ingram are most crucial to the success of the Pelicans; however, one thing is for certain: the future is bright. With 11 players on the roster appearing in their first postseason and a rookie head coach on the sidelines, New Orleans never melted in the spotlight. Instead they showed that they belong and there’s legitimate reason for greater hope down the road.

The combination of Willie Green; the stars in Zion, BI and CJ McCollum; the role players in Larry Nance Jr., Jonas Valanciunas and Naji Marshall; and the rookies in Herb Jones, Jose Alvarado and Trey Murphy, New Orleans should be considered a deep, good team on the rise. And that’s not counting whatever improvements may be in store for Jaxson Hayes, Devonte’ Graham or Kira Lewis Jr.

The fact that the Pelicans achieved so much and were able to flaunt their talent after starting well behind the eight ball, should leave no doubt. This season was a resounding success.