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New Orleans Pelicans preview: Will Zion Williamson help this team realize its ceiling?

Here’s a look at the Pelicans ahead of the upcoming NBA season.

2023 Play-In Tournament - Oklahoma City Thunder v New Orleans Pelicans
Zion Williamson of the New Orleans Pelicans warms up before the 2023 Play-In Tournament against the Oklahoma City Thunder on April 12, 2023 at the Smoothie King Center in New Orleans, Louisiana.
Photo by Layne Murdoch Jr./NBAE via Getty Images

Ahead of the 2023-24 NBA season, DK Network is taking an in-depth look at all 30 teams. We’re going over all the big moves from the offseason, predicting the starting lineup, providing a fantasy basketball perspective, looking at relevant odds and assessing season expectations for each franchise. Here’s a look at the New Orleans Pelicans.

New Orleans Pelicans 2023-24 Outlook

Key additions: Jordan Hawkins

The Pelicans added some depth to their backcourt with Hawkins, who is coming off a national championship with UConn. He’s a player who can stretch the floor and has some upside as a 21-year old. We’ll see how much run he gets during the regular season.

Key departures: None

There wasn’t much to move around with this roster, especially since New Orleans didn’t have a clear trade chip to deal. Management likely wants to give this group a few more chances to get to the playoffs at 100% health, which has evaded the team in the last two seasons.

Projected starting lineup

CJ McCollum, Brandon Ingram, Zion Williamson and Jonas Valanciunas are locks. The question is whether the Pelicans go defensive with Herb Jones or put in a more conventional point guard like Dyson Daniels.

Fantasy basketball player to watch: Zion Williamson

Can the forward stay healthy? Williamson is a difference maker when he’s on the floor, averaging 25.8 points per game for his career. The Pelicans were one game behind the Nuggets for the No. 1 seed on January 3, the day after Williamson got hurt. They would slip to the play-in game as the No. 9 seed without him. That’s the difference the former No. 1 overall pick makes for this group.

Notable odds (via DraftKings Sportsbook)

Win total: 44.5
To make playoffs: Yes -150, No +120
To win West: +2500
To win NBA title: +5000

Season expectations

The entire season hinges on the health of Williamson. The hope is he can stay on the court for a majority of the regular season and the playoffs. If that does happen, the Pelicans believe they can compete for a championship. A more realistic expectation might be to win a playoff series.

If Williamson is in and out of the lineup and dealing with nagging injuries, those expectations get tempered significantly. Making the playoffs, given the strength of the West, would be a big accomplishment. We’ll see if the Pelicans package some of their second-tier players (Jones, Trey Murphy) to add another starter-level guy at the deadline.