Coming off a truly satisfying finish to the 2021-22 campaign, expectations should be high for the New Orleans Pelicans.
The team bounced back from a 3-16 regular season start to climb into the play-in tournament. They emerged victorious in both win-or-go-home play-in games. They forced a playoff series against the Western Conference’s number one seed to six contests, requiring Chris Paul to be at his absolute best in propelling the Suns to the next round.
Not only do many attuned fans believe that the individual growth experienced by a number of key players on the roster over the last 12 months will lead to improvement, having the services of Zion Williamson, a historically efficient young player, should push the Pelicans to significantly greater heights.
Our friends at DraftKings currently give New Orleans the 15th-best odds of winning the 2023 championship at +3500. To be honest, that feels on the low side considering that’s about where gambling sites had ranked the Pelicans last offseason.
Brandon Ingram looked like a legitimate star when the lights were brightest. Herb Jones, Trey Murphy III and Jose Alvarado have undoubtedly elevated New Orleans’ ceiling and floor. So too has the acquisition of CJ McCollum. And don’t forget Willie Green’s impressive presence in the locker room.
Don’t be surprised if the Pels move up higher on betting lists in coming months, leapfrogging bigger question mark teams in my opinion.
The Raptors and Timberwolves sit with slightly better odds of winning the title, for instance, but are either of them a smarter bet in Las Vegas?
Toronto is running it back, with Otto Porter Jr. as the only new veteran addition. Scottie Barnes should take that proverbial next step, but I can’t overlook the fact that three of the four playoff losses to the 76ers came by 15 points or more. The Raptors don’t appear to have a legitimate first option for postseason battles and yet we’ve probably already seen the best out of Fred Van Vleet and Pascal Siakam. And is OG Anunoby still content with playing in Toronto?
Minnesota added Rudy Gobert this summer, and many expect Anthony Edwards will ascend to another level, but they’ve lost important depth in Patrick Beverley, Malik Beasley and Jarred Vanderbilt. Who is going to supply the necessary defensive grit and multiple efforts now? Can Gobert not be played off the floor in the playoffs?
Then there’s also the Lakers (+1100) and Nets (+1500) perched above the Pelicans. Are we supposed to pretend that Kevin Durant doesn’t want out of Brooklyn and Kyrie Irving can be counted on to lead a very thin roster?
The Lakers are an even riskier bet than the Nets, with Los Angeles possessing the sixth-highest odds of winning the whole enchilada. It appears Russell Westbrook isn’t departing any time soon. That’s bad news. Russ mixed poorly with LeBron James, who will turn 38 next December, and Anthony Davis, who has proven to be even more fragile than his playing days in New Orleans. For a team that needs help in a lot of areas, Lonnie Walker has been L.A.’s most notable free agent acquisition to date. Even fringe NBA fans know that’s not remotely enough.
If the stars align for New Orleans, it’s not difficult to envision them finishing higher than either the Mavericks (+1700) or Nuggets (+1600) too. Christian Wood isn’t moving Dallas’ needle higher than Jalen Brunson. Every person in Denver has their fingers and toes crossed that Jamal Murray and Michael Porter Jr. will be at the top of their games come playoff time.
Things have a way of quickly turning south in New Orleans and there’s little certainty about anything regarding the next season in late July. No one is forgetting these details. However, it feels as if the Pelicans are poised better than several of their neighbors on the betting lines to make some noise but it hasn’t been reflected properly, right?