Lonzo and Zion among an exciting core for new-look Pelicans

Top draft pick Zion Williamson pairing alongside 2017 number two pick Lonzo Ball means the post AD-era begins in New Orleans with plenty to be optimistic about ahead of the new season this month, even in a stacked Western Conference…

You could excuse the collective excitement and anticipation once the Pels struck big in the draft lottery, meaning they would have a golden opportunity to revamp a stuttering franchise just months after their coveted All-Star departed for pastures new in Los Angeles.

While quick to temper expectations for Zion’s first NBA year, it’s understandable given the ever-increasing quality within their ranks. This is a generational player who averaged 22.6 points, 8.9 rebounds, 2.1 assists and steals alongside 1.8 blocks in a mightily successful college campaign with Duke last season, despite coming up short in the NCAA D1 tournament.

Zion announced himself early with three dunks in quick succession, registering 16 points with seven rebounds, three assists and steals on a memorable debut

With comparisons to a variety of players; LeBron James and Charles Barkley to Blake Griffin and Julius Randle, the 19-year-old is aware of his Hall of Fame ceiling, but also just how quickly critics will circle to label him a bust if he struggles early on.

It’s a similar path that followed Markelle Fultz and Zion’s new teammate Lonzo during a difficult two years to begin their respective NBA careers, plagued by injuries and questionable shooting mechanics. While the pair have been traded from their initial destinations in the league this year, there’s renewed optimism that both can thrive among different surroundings – more pressingly Lonzo in New Orleans.

Lonzo recorded nine points, seven assists, five rebounds and a block in 25 minutes against the Hawks overnight.

He had only ever lived in California before being moved as part of the Lakers’ mega package to land Anthony Davis this summer, but had this to say: “It’s been pretty easy, coaches are great, my teammates are cool and people in town love us so I’m here just trying to do my part.

We have a chance (to be good), we have a lot of talent and a new team where people have got to get to know each other, so we’ve got to start a little earlier.”

Refreshing perspective

That’s not to say the Pels don’t have intriguing options elsewhere in their ball club – featuring a mix of youthful exuberance and invaluable NBA experience. Josh Hart, Brandon Ingram and three first-round picks from the Davis trade shows they are building for the future in the West, where competition has intensified following a summer of league-wide change.

David Griffin was hired as their executive VP of basketball operations in April and his influence in recent months has warranted high praise by All-Star guard and creator-in-chief Jrue Holiday.

“I feel like Griffin came in and has changed the whole culture. Changed all the equipment, the facility, made it more compatible for us and even our training, medical staff. He really knows what he is doing, it’s been real cool.

If you watched any snippets throughout the draft process and Summer League, you’d get the feeling Griffin knows what he’s talking about and is genuine about his aspirations for them to improve – starting now.

They finished 33-49 last season and with two of their leading scorers (Davis and Randle) departing for pastures new, it’ll be intriguing to see how players mesh together with a first-choice starting five likely to be: Ball, Holiday, Ingram, Williamson and Derrick Favors.

Signing experienced shooter JJ Redick in free agency, as well as promising center Jaxson Hayes eighth overall in the draft, there’s plenty that can be worked upon.

Lonzo averaged almost 10/7/7 on 36% shooting with 1.7 steals per game in 17-18, with a slight decline in production – despite gradual shooting improvements – during his second year where he was sidelined through a troublesome ankle injury sustained in mid-January. He only featured in 52 games as a rookie, through shoulder and knee complaints.

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