Led by Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram and Zion Williamson, the New Orleans Pelicans were expected to take the next step to playoff contention in 2020-21.
New Orleans made its way to the NBA restart at the Orlando bubble last season with a chance to make the postseason. Instead, the team struggled under then-head coach Alvin Gentry — posting a combined 2-6 record in eight seeding games.
The decision to fire Gentry and replace him with a respected head coach in Stan Van Gundy coupled with the trade of Jrue Holiday seemed to set the stage for Ball upping his game. In turn, the Pelicans were hypothetically set to become playoff contenders.
Through the first 13 games of the 2020-21 season, that has not come close to being realized. New Orleans sits at 5-8 on the campaign and really doesn’t look anything like a legit playoff contender in the Western Conference. Set to become a restricted free agent, this has raised questions about the 23-year-old Ball and his future with the Pelicans.
Once Zion Williamson made his NBA debut with the Pelicans about a calendar year ago, it really seemed like Ball was hitting his groove. Just check out the guard’s splits before and after Williamson made his debut.
The numbers might not look too much different. However, Ball was a much more efficient player once Williamson joined him on the court. That showed up both in the highlights and when it came to advanced stats. His shooting improved, including from distance. Ball also saw a marked improvement in defensive win shares and overall win shares.
Again, this seemed to set Ball up well heading into a make-or-break second season with the Pelicans. It has not come to fruition for the former No. 2 pick.
After being inactive for three games due to knee soreness, Ball returned to action on Tuesday. He recorded a mere seven points and four assists on 0-for-4 shooting from three-point range. This is just a representation of recent struggles on the guard’s part.
It’s possible Ball just isn’t a fit in Van Gundy’s system. It’s also possible that the Pelicans’ two point-guard lineup that includes the recently acquired Eric Bledsoe isn’t working. Whatever the reason, this young point guard is running out of excuses.
Let’s be honest for a second, shall we? Ball was not the centerpiece in the package that came to New Orleans in the blockbuster Anthony Davis trade ahead of last season. That came in the form of All-Star forward Brandon Ingram, who has more than lived up to expectations with the Pelicans.
Ball was more of a means to an end. Speculation immediately came up that he could be packaged to another NBA city in a trade for more assets. Those rumors did not die down this past offseason before Jrue Holiday was ultimately dealt to the Milwaukee Bucks.
Right now, the New Orleans Pelicans are still likely looking at getting a first-round pick and change in exchange for Lonzo Ball. Whether that value changes moving forward depends heavily on how he performs ahead of the March NBA trade deadline.
What we do know is that the Pelicans have a fellow point guard in Eric Bledsoe who seems to have meshed better with Williamson and Ingram. They also have a traditional two-guard in that of second-year player Nickeil Alexander-Walker, who is performing at a high clip as a sophomore.
It’s now high time that the New Orleans Pelicans trade Lonzo Ball. This marriage isn’t working. A clean break for both sides makes the most sense.