Pelicans focus on building chemistry with Zion; acknowledge expectations

Pelicans players and personnel speak of high potential but say there is work to do
New Orleans Pelicans power forward Zion Williamson (1) jokes with center Jaxson Hayes (10)...
New Orleans Pelicans power forward Zion Williamson (1) jokes with center Jaxson Hayes (10) during the NBA Pelicans basketball media day in New Orleans, Monday, Sept. 26, 2022. (AP Photo/Matthew Hinton)(Matthew Hinton | AP)
Published: Sep. 26, 2022 at 2:51 PM CDT|Updated: Sep. 27, 2022 at 5:53 AM CDT
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NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - Coming off of a postseason that included one of the strongest comeback campaigns in the NBA, the Pelicans are back to build on that success and infuse a superstar into their lineup who put up historic numbers before missing all of last season with a foot injury.

To emphasize the newfound enthusiasm for what is likely the most anticipated Pelicans season in franchise history, franchise owner Gayle Benson sat in the front row for the team’s Media Day on Monday (Sept. 26).

While the Pelicans are just now starting to see hard measurements of success under VP David Griffin’s reign, he noted that the seeds of what is happening now started with the Anthony Davis trade. He gave credit to the under-the-radar long-term extension signed by Brandon Ingram shortly after being traded from the Lakers as a factor that made it possible to sign extensions for C.J. McCollum and Zion Williamson in the offseason.

“Resources won’t be the reason why we can’t go where we want to go,” Griffin said about the team’s spending on players’ salaries.

Griffin also praised Benson for being a supportive team owner focused on success.

“Our guys are coming to the gym at 7 in the morning. They know all eyes are going to be on them,” said GM Trajan Langdon.

While Griffin, Langdon, and head coach Willie Green all praised their players’ work ethic this offseason, they also lightly tempered expectations to a degree. Not only do the Pelicans have to build upon their success from a season ago, but they also have to build chemistry with a superstar that averaged 27 ppg, 7 rpg, 3 apg, and shot 61 percent from the field. They have to get Zion Williamson on the same page fast, and they also have to do it in a stacked Western Conference.

“We have a number of guys that can score 20 ppg,” Green said. “There’s going to be some nights where it’s your night and some nights where it’s one of your teammates’.”

While there is much to figure out in a short span of time, Green did say that the roster features talents with versatility and that should only serve as a benefit when it all gets smoothed out. He also said he’s considering all options when testing lineups, and those experiments even include inserting Zion as a small ball center in some closing lineups. However, as for now, all ideas are fluid coming into training camp starting on Tuesday (Sept. 27).

Despite being faced with acclimating a superstar in the starting lineup and first-round pick Dyson Daniels into the reserve rotation, Green did note that most of the roster is returning with valuable experience. The team’s run to turn around a 1-12 season start and win the Play-In Tournament before putting a scare in top-seeded Phoenix in the postseason is something Green says sets a standard for this franchise.

Green’s “You’ve got to Fight” speech that went viral during the come-from-behind win over the Clippers in the Play-In was inspired by his personal desire to win that game. Looking back at it, Green said he even had a moment of doubt but then decided to rally his troops.

“We want to be able to respond when the opportunity presents itself...I needed to hear it and they needed to hear it,” Green said.

For Zion, who sat on the sidelines due to injury, it’s simply about returning to the game he loves. At media day, he described wanting to be out there with the team and how that’s sparked a hunger to get this season underway. Zion was reflective on this offseason and the team’s workouts in Fort Lauderdale. Vowing to not take the game for granted, he said he found “true resolve” in the game of basketball this summer.

Zion even admitted that he now has to learn how to play in a lineup alongside Brandon Ingram and C.J. McCollum, but noted that their “big 3″ should have the complimentary skills to be a matchup problem for opponents.

Though McCollum hasn’t been in New Orleans for very long since being traded to the Pelicans midway through last season, he has emerged as the vocal leader of the team. When asked about likely assuming primary ball-handling duties, McCollum said it’s just about adapting.

“I’m a product of my environment and I did what I have to do in every environment,” McCollum said.

Even though there is a lot of noise and hype surrounding the potential of these Pelicans, players and personnel echoed the same reoccurring themes. They tempered expectations and noted how this situation would be different from those of the past.

The Pelicans begin training camp Tuesday and will hold an open practice free to the public in the Smoothie King Center this Saturday, Oct. 1 at 2 p.m. Tickets can be claimed here.

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