The New Orleans Pelicans have used the past week to completely revamp — and revitalize — their franchise by drafting Zion Williamson No. 1 on Thursday after trading Anthony Davis for an up-and-coming nucleus of players.
Williamson will be joined by Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, Josh Hart (via the Lakers deal), and draft picks Jaxson Hayes, Nickeil Alexander-Walker and Marcos Louzada Silva (via a draft-night trade with the Atlanta Hawks). All newcomers who can grow together alongside vet Jrue Holiday.
While their moves have grabbed headlines, the brand of basketball this young team can put out next season has unlimited entertainment potential.
USA TODAY Sports offers six ways the Pelicans could be the most exciting show in the NBA in 2019-20:
1. Lonzo to Zion alley-oops
In pre-draft interviews, Williamson credited Ball as being an "old school" point guard, meaning Ball's pass-first mentality has a contagious effect similar to Williamson's energy and rim rattling. The idea of the duo combining their best attributes — passing and dunking — has SportsCenter Top 10 written all over it. If there were a top-5 ranking for best alley-oop passers in the NBA, Ball would easily be near the top of that list. And suffice it to say Williamson's leaping ability has been documented. Expect both players to be must-watch in the open court.
2. A playoff team right away
Remember the Sacramento Kings in the 1998-99 season, when Jason Williams, Chris Webber, Vlade Divac and Peja Stojakovic were making highlight reels? That team became the league's most popular based on a mix of flair and high-octane offense. Expect the Pelicans to garner a similar popularity and become a playoff team right away. While New Orleans might not be in contending status, it likely won't be anywhere near the basement of the Western Conference. With a young roster, expectations will be high, but not through the roof — leaving room for a core group to develop chemistry and play without much to lose.
SportsPulse: Zion Williamson has been the talk of this NBA draft. But he isn’t the next LeBron James. In fact, he's something the NBA has never seen before.
Ingram's rise in the NBA has been gradual, but he's on the cusp of an All-Star campaign given his numbers and overall productivity. If he can stay healthy (he missed the last two months of the season with blood clots last year), there's no reason the former Duke star and Williamson can't co-exist with their versatile skill sets. While Ingram needs more touches, his length allows him to score in a variety of ways, and Williamson could be 0-for-10 from the field and still impact the game with hustle plays and put-back buckets. Two stars doesn't always leave enough possessions, but that shouldn't be an issue for these two Mike Krzyzewski disciples.
MORE NBA DRAFT COVERAGE:
- TRADES:Breaking down all the late-night moves
- GREATEST PICKS:NBA draft all-time top picks in each position
- DISAPPOINTING:Five biggest busts at No. 1
- TOP OF THEIR CLASS: Five best drafts
4. Small market underdog value
From the moment Williamson told fans in New Orleans, "let's dance," after he was picked No. 1, the Mardi Gras party has started early. New Orleans is one of the NBA's smallest market teams, and that inherently makes the Pelicans easier to root for in many cases for general fans than say, the Lakers, Boston Celtics or New York Knicks. More than that, the Big Easy has a uniquely passionate fanbase (ahem, Saints fans) that barely got its fandom going in the Anthony Davis era. Expect Williamson and a young cast to have an ideal marriage with a fanbase rich in culture and unafraid to make their pro sports team the center of their lives.
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