How the Philadelphia 76ers stack up against the Southwest Division

Ben Simmons | Philadelphia 76ers (Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)
Ben Simmons | Philadelphia 76ers (Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images) /
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(Photo by David Dow/NBAE via Getty Images)
(Photo by David Dow/NBAE via Getty Images) /

New Orleans Pelicans

New Orleans Pelicans Projected Starting Five:

The Mavericks aren’t the only fascinating team in the Southwest, as the New Orleans Pelicans will also bring one of the league’s more fun rosters into the 2019-20 season.  After winning the lottery in May, the Pelicans drafted consensus number one pick Zion Williamson as the new face of the franchise in the wake of the Anthony Davis trade. That trade also netted the Pelicans a haul of solid prospects, featuring Brandon Ingram, Lonzo Ball and Josh Hart.

For the same reasons as Dallas, the Pelicans are a very difficult team to project based on last season’s numbers.  I am not as bullish on Zion as some, at least in his first season. I think he will take time to mold offensively, and there are some concerns about his current fitness level.  With his jump shot still undeveloped, Zion should have a tough time in the paint against Al Horford and Joel Embiid, who can both match his physicality.

Jrue Holiday will be the Pelicans best player next season, and they will look to him to carry the load offensively.  Brandon Ingram will also provide a solid second option as a scorer and ball-handler. Richardson and Simmons will likely be tasked with Holiday and Ingram, leaving Tobias to guard whoever the third best wing player on the floor is.

I predict that Coach Gentry will opt for Ball and Holiday as the starting guards, but it is possible he goes with former Sixer J.J. Redick over Lonzo to add more shooting to that lineup. If that’s the case, Richardson and Zhaire Smith will need to chase Redick around the court, leaving Tobias to guard Brandon Ingram.

Embiid should have no trouble on either end with the center rotation.  Hayes is a rookie who is very athletic, yet very unpolished. Okafor and Favors will give up size and speed to JoJo, who always seems to enjoy going against former teammates.  If Embiid is dominating, coach Alvin Gentry could give the rookie Williamson a shot.  His strength and leaping ability would give him a fighting chance despite the height difference, but it may create foul trouble for the rookie.

The Pelicans will be feisty next year, and have their moments, but I don’t know if the pieces add up to a playoff team quite yet.  Their defense will be solid when Holiday, Lonzo, and Zion are on the court, especially if Zion plays as projected on that end, but they will still be exploitable in other areas.  As I mentioned earlier, I don’t know if Zion is ready to carry a heavy offensive load, and the lack of consistent shooting could cause them to stall when they don’t get out in transition.

That being said, this feels like a split series to me.  The Pelicans will play hard every night, and despite the talent advantage, they could catch the Sixers sleeping in New Orleans.