Entering the 2022-23 NBA season, New Orleans Pelicans fans expect a big jump in the standings with the return of a healthy Zion Williamson and the maturation of a lineup that pushed the Phoenix Suns to six games in the opening round of the Western Conference playoffs.
How close are the Pels to a legitimate championship contender?
To answer that, there must first be an understanding of the components of an NBA championship team. After looking at the past decade of champions, some trends stand out.
This is part three of a five part series identifying the keys to victory.
(All) Star Power
It should come as no surprise to any fan of the NBA that it truly is a star-driven league. With only ten players on the field at a time, the influence of an incredibly talented athlete is greater than in any other team sport.
Many teams have ‘stars’. It’s hard to look across the league landscape and not find at least one player on every roster who doesn’t stand out. The problem for most teams, though, is that while the league is as talented as ever, there aren’t enough stars to make ends meet.
One is not enough to make a team relevant. Two can get a franchise in the playoffs. But if a team wants to hold up the Larry O’Brien trophy at the end of the season, they need a relative cache of premium players.
As of 2013, the average NBA champion roster includes 4.6 current former All-Stars, 3.5 All-NBA team members, and 3.3 All-Defense team rosters.
Only one team, the 2021 Milwaukee Bucks, was able to complete the postseason gauntlet with fewer than three All-NBA players; though the one they had was a two-time MVP and Defensive Player of the Year in the form of Giannis Antetokounmpo.
What does that mean for the New Orleans Pelicans?
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It means no one should plan a championship parade down Canal Street just yet.
Brandon Ingram (2020) and Zion Williamson (2021) each have one All-Star Game appearance, and either or both should be considered strong prospects for being selected this season, but no one else on the roster, including CJ McCollum, has deserved that honor.
— NBA TV (@NBATV) July 6, 2020
Making it even more difficult is that the guard and center positions in the West are packed with talented players, and much of the Pels’ rotation is populated by players who lack sufficient name recognition or history of team success.
In the franchise’s history, dating back to the 2003-04 season, only Baron Davis, Chris Paul and Anthony Davis have earned All-NBA recognition, and the Pelicans/Hornets have had more than one All-Star in just four seasons (2003-04, 2007-08, 2008-09, 2017-18).
Again, Williamson and Ingram should be battling for All-NBA status, but is anyone else doing that?
While Herb Jones turned out to earn more than an All-Defensive team nod last season, he was snubbed. Jones is by far the Pelicans’ best all-round defender and can effectively guard just about any position on the floor. His name has made its way into competitive circles, although team success will be a major factor in whether or not he gets his comeuppance this season (see: Holiday, Jrue).
— Bally Sports New Orleans (@BallySportsNO) April 29, 2022
New Orleans’ other top defenders, Trey Murphy III and Jose Alvarado, are both reserves and their chances of being honored outlast Murphy’s considerable span.
This season’s edition of the Pelicans is arguably the most talented group the team has ever assembled.
Even if they play to their full potential, getting more than a glimpse of the Promised Land of basketball probably isn’t enough.
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