There’s not much to be learned from the NBA preseason.
If the performance is good, pessimists may view frantic fans as naïve. If performance suffers, optimists may dismiss bad vibes as needlessly grim.
The results are meaningless, leaving a wide margin for interpretation. While the regular season leaves no room for maneuver to question reality. Ultimately, the preseason is more of a litmus test of individual psychology than an indicator of what will happen in the season.
So, as the New Orleans Pelicans enter their final exhibition contest, an 8 p.m. kickoff against the Utah Jazz, there will be an array of take-out options to explore. And many of them will either be misaligned or illogical, depending on the point of view.
Because if you really want to know where the Pelicans stack up against the competition, wait a week and a half when the Philadelphia 76ers come to town and the game counts.
But, for now, there is at least one area worth dissecting from this preseason roster, as it could have longer term implications.
Regardless of the results and statistics, these pelicans will enter the season without knowing each other, forced to learn on the job. Because Zion Williamson didn’t participate while recovering from offseason foot surgery, and Brandon Ingram missed at least two games with pain in his right knee.
So after spending their offseason building a supporting cast around the pair of young All Stars, the Pelicans still haven’t had a dress rehearsal to preview what’s to come and where they are at.
Therefore, whatever your disposition, the reaction to this preseason should probably be a prolonged shrug.
Because precisely determining the position of the Pelicans at this time is a futile exercise.
While a 104-86 win over the Orlando Magic was a revelation in guard play, Friday’s 121-85 loss to Chicago revealed a team easily overwhelmed when shots don’t fall.
“We are a young team and we are learning, and it was a good cold shower for us,” said center Jonas Valanciunas after the unbalanced loss. “Now we know where we are. “
But, do they really do it?
Of course, the Pelicans aren’t the only team lacking starters or stars in recent weeks. But their situation is more murky than the others.
Having recorded lost records in the Williamson-Ingram couple’s first two years, the Pelicans aren’t nibbling at the edges here. Unlike contenders’ tools for particular playoff games or adding weapons for specialized versatility, New Orleans is always trying to tackle core issues.
It’s not like Brooklyn or even Philadelphia, which currently lack frontline stars, but are playoff contenders nonetheless. Instead, the Pelicans are trying to establish if they have the structure to be winners.
It is therefore precious time that passes.
Last season, Executive Vice President David Griffin spent much of the campaign lamenting the NBA’s COVID-accelerated offseason timeline, which has tightened training camps and hampered new coach Stan’s familiarity. Van Gundy with his roster.
Ultimately, this could have been a culprit in Van Gundy’s extinction, as inconsistent acquisitions and limited communication buried the Pelicans despite Williamson’s rise to (deserved) stardom.
And now the Pelicans find themselves locked in again. However, unlike last season, they are living worse off than most of their competition.
New coach Willie Green has only seen the periphery of his team.
While acknowledging rookie Trey Murphy’s exceptional shooting and Nickeil Alexander-Walker’s leadership traits are significant preseason gains, everything is a bit empty without understanding how they fare together alongside Ingram and Williamson.
The pair of All Stars will control the offensive action on nearly every New Orleans possession this season. So that made these exhibition matches closer to the Summer League than a real preview of what’s to come later this month.
“We are a young team and we have to train,” said Valanciunas. “We have to go hard to be good. We’re still in preseason mode and we’re learning. But we have a lot to learn.
But what can they really learn without the cornerstones of the franchise on the floor next to them?
There is a nine-day hiatus between Monday’s preseason finals and the regular season opener. From now on, Williamson and Ingram are expected to be back for Game 1 against the 76ers.
So it’s possible that the roster will have the opportunity to get to grips with the system and each other before matches fully count. But, for now, it’s a matter of perspective whether the Pelicans look up or down ahead of this crucial campaign.
Until we see the full product on the floor together, it’s all in the eye of the beholder.