As the calendar flips to 2023, most of the NBA title favorites such as the Bucks, Celtics, and Nuggets have been making their case during the season's first quarter. However, there is always a new team that enters the mix and this year, it's the New Orleans Pelicans. After sneaking into last year's playoffs, they've taken a significant step forward thanks to the return of Zion Williamson. There are obviously a lot more games left but this team is seriously good enough to win a round or two.
After a strong showing against the 64-win Suns in last year's playoffs, New Orleans has stormed out the gate to begin the season. They are currently sitting in third place of the Western Conference with a 21-12 record. A big reason why they've been so successful is that they have one of the league's most well-balanced rosters. Young players such as Williamson and Brandon Ingram and veteran acquisitions like C.J. McCollum have all been making significant contributions because they all know their roles.
Zion Williamson has unquestionably been the most important player of the Pelicans. Viewed as a franchise-altering pick, Williamson has dealt with numerous injuries, and even though he's played well when he was healthy, the team often lost. But now Williamson is playing like an MVP candidate, and the Pelicans are winning, which is the combination fans have waited to witness since the day he was drafted. Williamson is currently averaging 25 points and seven rebounds, while seemingly defying gravity in some way every game. It would not be a surprise to see him make the All-NBA first team at the end of the regular season.
In addition, Williamson's supporting cast is arguably one of the best in the league. On offense, Ingram and CJ McCollum are two crafty players who can score in various ways, and hit big shots down the stretch. Their defensive standouts consist of two sophomore players in Herb Jones and un-drafted guard Jose Alvarado. Jones is a tough wing defender thanks to his freakishly long wingspan, while Alvarado makes his mark with his IQ and tenacious hustle.
If there's any concern, it could be the lack of a true point guard. McCollum may be productive at the position in the regular season, but he has usually played shooting guard his whole career and opposing defenses could affect his decision making.
Other than that, they have all the tools to make a deep run. Their roster as a whole consists of many players who have at least one year of playoff experience. Even though Williamson has yet to appear in a playoff game, he is used to the spotlight and will certainly thrive. When they go into the playoffs as one of the best in the west, don't be surprised.