The 28-36 New Orleans Pelicans were 3.5 games out of the final playoff spot in the Western Conference when the 2019-20 season was suspended due to the coronavirus pandemic, but executive vice president of basketball operations David Griffin believes the team was just rounding into form.
Griffin said the Pelicans' "best basketball" was yet to come and opened up about how difficult it was to overcome so many injuries in the early going, per Andrew Lopez of ESPN:
"There was the first part of the year where we played the hardest schedule with the most games lost due to injuries. We were absolutely the walking wounded. Alvin Gentry and his staff were trying to cobble together lineups. We had multiple games where we were missing seven of our top eight rotational players, multiple games without six (players), without five (players). What Alvin and (assistant coach) Chris Finch had to do to just juggle the lineup was profound."
To say New Orleans got off to a less-than-ideal start would be a massive understatement.
It went 6-22 in the opening 28 games with No. 1 overall pick Zion Williamson sidelined by a knee injury. The team started to bounce back before the Duke product returned, and his debut on Jan. 22 gave it an entirely new dynamic.
In 19 games, the rookie is averaging 23.6 points and 6.8 rebounds, and he appears destined for superstardom.
Lopez pointed out the Pelicans will have plenty of chances to make a playoff run with Williamson if the season does return. They still face the eighth-seeded Memphis Grizzlies twice, as well as the San Antonio Spurs and Sacramento Kings, who are both in the middle of the race, as well.
A potential playoff run with that "best basketball" ahead could set up a thrilling first-round showdown with the top-seeded Los Angeles Lakers.
The amount of star power on the floor at once with Williamson, LeBron James, Anthony Davis, Brandon Ingram and Jrue Holiday would make such a series appointment viewing, and the storyline of Davis facing his old team, which traded him to Los Angeles last offseason, would serve as a backdrop.
There is plenty that has to happen for that to become a reality, but Griffin believes the Pelicans will be ready to play the type of basketball necessary to get them into the postseason if the league finishes the 2019-20 campaign.