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New Orleans Pelicans End Of Season Report

Pelicans Zion Williamson Injured Again
Photo by Jonathan Bachman

The Pelicans Flew Too Close To The Cuckoo’s Nest.

The 2022-2023 NBA regular season has come to a close. For the New Orleans Pelicans, it was a promising start that ended unfortunately in a play-in loss at home against the Oklahoma City Thunder. At the end of the season, the Pelicans finished with a 42-40 record, securing the 9th seed and entering the play-in tournament for the second consecutive year. Initially led by the talented trio of Zion Williamson, Brandon Ingram, and CJ McCollum, the Pelicans were poised to make a deep playoff run. However, injuries and other challenges stood in their way.

The absence of key players, particularly Ingram and Zion, greatly affected the Pelicans’ season. Ingram suffered a toe injury on November 25th, and Zion endured a hamstring issue in the beginning of 2023 that ultimately sidelined him for the remainder of the season. What’s oddly peculiar is that Zion reportedly had a full recovery towards the end of the regular season, yet formally made a decision not to return to the court because he did not “feel like Zion.” This left fans and analysts questioning the star’s mental health and commitment to the team.

Trade Deadline Failure

The Pelicans’ struggles without these two pivotal players were evident in their slide from a top 3 seed to as low as the 11th position in the Western Conference. During their downfall, the trade deadline offered the Pelicans an opportunity to bolster their roster and address their injury woes.

While the acquisition of Josh Richardson provided some depth, it fell short of significantly improving the team’s fortunes. Richardson is a reliable two-way guard, but didn’t make a serious impact on the floor as New Orleans hoped.

The possibility of landing Toronto Raptors’ OG Anunoby was an enticing prospect, but the steep asking price ultimately deterred the Pelicans from making the deal. In retrospect, the Pelicans’ trade deadline moves were more than underwhelming and deeply lacked the desired impact on the team’s playoff aspirations.


Due to numerous injuries, New Orleans slid from a top-five offense early in the season to 13th in the league, averaging 114.4 points per game. The season-long loss of Zion after 29 games and Ingram’s two-month absence resulted in the team ranking ninth in points in the paint with 53.3. With a predominantly young roster and fast-paced offense, the Pelicans ranked eighth in fast-break points per game at 14.7 and 10th in assists per game with 25.9. However, the young team’s inconsistency contributed to a 1.78 assist-to-turnover ratio, placing them 20th in the league.

New Orleans’ overall scoring hovered in the lower middle of the pack. Their shooting, free-throw percentage, and free-throw attempts per game were just barely within the top 10. The team ranked 14th in three-point efficiency at 36.4%. In hindsight, this may not have been a pressing issue. However, their three-point attempts ranked second to last in the league, as they did not attempt as many threes as other teams. They also ranked 24th in made three-pointers, making only 10.9 per game. Although the Pelicans ranked 11th in offensive rebound percentage at 24.9% and sixth in defensive rebound percentage, their second-chance points did not effectively contribute to their offense, particularly from beyond the arc.

Making threes in the NBA is very crucial in this current landscape if teams want to get over the hump and make the playoffs as a contender.

Grade: B


The Pelicans defense was actually stellar on the perimeter, as they were the #1 team in opponent three point percentage with 33.9%. Players like Trey Murphy III, Brandon Ingram, CJ McCollum, Jose Alvarado, and Herb Jones defended the three point shot well throughout the season. However, their interior presence was the main problem. They allowed a two point FG percentage of 56.7%, which was 26th in the league. Players like Jonas Valančiūnas needed better defensive help, given Zion’s absence. Being 16th in opponent fast break points doesn’t help either with their run-of-the-mill transition defense.

Aside from this issue, the Pelicans rebounding this season was actually very stellar, nearly in the top five in opponent defensive and offensive rebounding percentage, However, their lack of interior presence translated to being 24th in blocks per game (4.1)

As noted earlier, the Pelicans’ strong perimeter defense translated to their steals. New Orleans ranked second in steals per game with 8.3, showcasing the impressive play of their guards and small forwards.

Grade: C


Overall Grade: C+

Despite receiving an overall grade of C+ for the season, the Pelicans demonstrated growth and development throughout the year that didn’t pan out down the stretch. Ingram, McCollum, and Valanciunas provided valuable veteran leadership, while young talents in Jaxson Hayes and Murphy showed considerable potential.

In the offseason, the Pelicans should focus on clearing cap space and acquiring players who fit Coach Willie Green’s system. It’s clear that the Pelicans roster desperately needs more three point shooters. Given the roster without Zion, the Pelicans possess the veteran leadership necessary to remain moderately competitive in the Western Conference, potentially achieving a sixth seed at best.

The Zion Question

The issue lies with Zion, who is slated to earn over $33 million next season as part of his supermax rookie contract, totaling over $207 million.

The former Duke phenom still exudes unmatched talent and abilities, Which make the Pelicans a surefire playoff team and potential Finals contender when he’s healthy. However, the health of Zion has been inconsistent, as he only played 29 games this season. In those games, Zion averaged 26 points and seven rebounds with an efficient 60% shooting from the field.

His total career since being drafted in 2019 includes a total of 114 games over four seasons. Not to mention his absence in the entire 2021-2022 season. While age isn’t a factor, his health remains a serious liability for the Pelicans’ future trajectory, given their limited cap space, with Ingram and McCollum both earning $33 and $35 million next season.

One option to clear cap space is trading Nance and/or incorporate Richardson in a sign and trade to better acquire players who can shoot the three-ball. Nance is set to make $10.3 million next season on his two-year deal, but his lack of production on the floor, averaging 6.8 points, 5.4 rebounds, and barely half a block per game in 21.2 minutes, doesn’t justify his salary.

Bright Spots

Despite the challenges faced this season, several Pelicans players delivered commendable performances. Ingram averaged 24.7 points, 5.5 rebounds, and 5.8 assists in 45 games, shooting an impressive 48.4% from the field and 39% from deep. McCollum, a consistent scoring threat, averaged 21 points on 43.7% shooting and 38.9% from beyond the arc in 75 games. In Zion’s absence, Valanciunas provided a solid presence in the paint, averaging 14.1 points and 10.2 rebounds in 79 games, while also displaying a respectable three-point shooting touch at 35%.

Trey Murphy III demonstrated significant improvement in his sophomore season, averaging 14.0 points per game with a 48% field goal percentage and an impressive 40% from deep. His performance in the 2023 NBA Dunk Contest further showcased his electric athleticism and potential. At just 22 years old, Murphy has a promising future ahead of him.

Moving forward, the New Orleans Pelicans must capitalize on their talented core and address the areas in need of improvement. Ensuring Zion Williamson’s health and commitment to the team is crucial, as his presence on the court can elevate the Pelicans to new heights. The team’s youthful roster, combined with the veteran leadership of players like McCollum and Valanciunas, creates an opportunity for long-term success in the Western Conference.

While the 2022-2023 season may not have lived up to the lofty expectations of Pelicans fans, there is still ample reason for optimism. By focusing on player development, addressing roster weaknesses, and ensuring the commitment of their star players, the New Orleans Pelicans can build a formidable team capable of making deep playoff runs in the years to come.

That’s IF and only IF Zion can stay healthy.



Jeremy Gretzer is a contributor on Back Sports Page. Along with receiving his MBA in Marketing, He has over a year in sports journalism, and has interviewed various NBA players such as Jarred Vanderbilt, Jabari Smith Jr. and Alperen Sengun. Gretzer has a podcast on YouTube called Cut The Nets which airs every Monday night along with his co-host Brian Ramos. For more on Jeremy, his Twitter is @Jr_Gretzer and Instagram (@J.r.gretzer).

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