New Orleans Pelicans are the NBA bubble’s biggest disappointment, and it’s not close

Photo by Ashley Landis-Pool/Getty Images
Photo by Ashley Landis-Pool/Getty Images /

The New Orleans Pelicans have been a massive disappointment in the NBA bubble.

Heading into the NBA restart, the New Orleans Pelicans and Portland Trail Blazers felt like the biggest threats to steal the Memphis Grizzlies’ playoff spot.

Thanks to rules stipulating that the ninth-place team would force a play-in scenario if it came within 4.0 games of the 8-seed in the standings, and with the Pelicans only 3.5 games back before seeding games in Orlando even began, dreams of watching Zion Williamson go head-to-head with LeBron James in his first ever playoff series seemed realistic, if not preordained by the basketball gods.

And then the Pels came out and became the most disappointing team in the NBA bubble through the first week of action.

So why are the New Orleans Pelicans the NBA’s most disappointing team now?

Notice the particular wording there: Not the saddest team in the bubble, or the worst team in the bubble, but the most disappointing. That distinction is key.

The saddest team in the bubble is obviously the Memphis Grizzlies, who were already winless through three games before losing Jaren Jackson Jr. for the rest of the season due to a torn meniscus. Dillon Brooks has been so nightmarish he needs to be reined in, and the Grizz join the Washington Wizards as the only 0-4 squads in Orlando.

The Wizards are obviously the worst team in the bubble without Bradley Beal and Davis Bertans, and they could very well join Memphis by going winless in the bubble (unless they catch a team resting its starters once playoff positioning is more firmly set). The Sacramento Kings, who are missing Marvin Bagley and baffled by what they’re seeing out of Buddy Hield, have a foot firmly in “saddest” and “worst” territory, going 1-3 in the bubble after sleepwalking through three straight losses to start.

However, if you’re looking for the most “disappointing” squad, it’s the 1-3 Pelicans, who just lost to those same, sleepwalking Kings by 15 on Thursday. The Pelicans, whose lone win has come against the winless Grizzlies. The Pelicans, who gave up 140 points to Sacramento and 126 points to the LA Clippers (and it would’ve been more if the game hadn’t been a blowout by halftime that had J.J. Redick questioning the meaning of life).

While Memphis possibly sliding out of eighth place (or even ninth) would be a major disappointment, expectations weren’t as high for this team entering the bubble. They were a young group, and one that had been struggling entering the hiatus, going 4-7 over its last 11 games before the NBA suspended its season. With Justise Winslow going down, followed quickly by JJJ, you can at least understand why the Grizz are struggling. Their core is inexperienced when it comes to meaningful games with playoff implications.

The Pelicans’ woes, however, are almost inexplicable. With guys like Jrue Holiday, Brandon Ingram and Derrick Favors, their defense should be better. With vets like Holiday, Favors and J.J. Redick, their team should be more composed. With young talent like Ingram, Zion, Lonzo Ball and Jaxson Hayes, their games shouldn’t feel like one continual gut punch.

Williamson’s minutes restriction is obviously a contributing factor to the sense of letdown enveloping New Orleans, but it goes deeper than that, especially for a team that had one of the most favorable bubble schedules of anyone. We expected the young Grizzlies to have their work cut out for them given their tougher schedule in the restart. We were not expecting the Pelicans to look so listless and harmless halfway through these seeding games with more of a cupcake schedule.

It’s hard to pinpoint the one specific thing that ails the Pelicans. Head coach Alvin Gentry is respected around the league, but his seat has to be feeling a little warm at this point. This team should be better. There’s way too much talent on this roster to be giving up 140 to a Kings squad that looked completely lifeless through its first three games.

Zion is a generational talent in the making, Holiday is a terrific two-way guard, Ingram is a leading Most Improved Player candidate, Redick is still as dangerous as ever from 3-point range … the list goes on and on. And with all that talent not stacking up, and all the high expectations for this group bursting in the bubble, it’s no wonder the Pelicans are the most disappointing team of the entire NBA restart.

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