We’ve met the Pelicans at a very strange time in their lives. On one hand, they’re just 21-32, on pace for the franchise’s worst record in six years. On the other, thanks to the carnage and chaos surrounding them at the bottom of the West, they’re also in line for a play-in berth. Various projection models peg New Orleans’s chances of staying in the West’s top 10 somewhere between 33 percent and 60 percent—even without Zion Williamson, its All-NBA juggernaut of a point-centerpiece, who’s yet to play a single second this season as he works his way back from a broken bone in his right foot.
Since the disastrous 1-12 start that seemed destined to submarine their season, the Pelicans have played .500 ball for nearly three months, the West’s eighth-best record in that span. That includes an 18-15 mark in games with Brandon Ingram, who’s playing arguably the best basketball of his career, averaging 22.8 points, 5.9 rebounds, and a career-high 5.5 assists per game; New Orleans has outscored opponents by 3.9 points per 100 possessions with Ingram on the floor since that 1-12 start, equivalent to the full-season net rating of the defending champion Bucks.
The glass-half-full take: With Ingram shining, Jonas Valanciunas continuing to throw up double-doubles, and second-round steal Herb Jones starting to pair his All-Defensive talent with an advancing offensive game (13.2 points per game on 52/39/89 shooting splits since Christmas), New Orleans has a team worth adding to, and maybe even one that can make some noise if Zion’s able to come back at any point for the stretch run.
The more pessimistic view: Parting with any of the young players or draft capital that the Pelicans accrued in the Anthony Davis and Jrue Holiday deals just to augment a middling team would be foolish. It would call to mind the bad old days in which an embattled general manager trying to build around a no. 1 overall draft pick made win-now moves that depleted the franchise’s asset cache, produced just one playoff appearance, and didn’t convince that generational talent to stick around anyway.
Faced with a choice…