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Southwest Division Preview: The New Orleans Pelicans are a team to watch

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New Orleans is unpredictable. And that’s what makes them worth watching.

NBA: Preseason-Indiana Pacers at New Orleans Pelicans Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

Their window with a superstar isn’t quite closing yet, as the New Orleans Pelicans have Anthony Davis locked up through the 2020-21 season, but after a step back last season and a bit of a reboot of players surrounding their 23-year-old projected savior, the team needs to start showing a certain amount of potential now if they want to develop into a ring-chaser later.

And that’s what makes the Pelicans so interesting: If, in three years they are competing for a title it wouldn’t be surprising, but the same could be said if they’re still hovering around the eight seed. With Eric Gordon and Ryan Anderson leaving — which, for the team, it’s probably good that they walked, so they can restructure now, rather than closer to the end of Davis’ contract — they’ll have some offensive holes to fill. And, since it’s pretty obvious what they wanted from those two on the offensive end, something to watch will be who establishes themselves as a go-to shooter, a player who can space the floor for Davis, as well as be a secondary scorer.

It starts with their rookie, Buddy Hield, who they, after a down season, grabbed with the sixth overall pick in this year’s draft. A pure scorer, who averaged 25 points per game in his final season at Oklahoma, Hield shot 45.7 percent from three. In theory, he established himself as the sort of shooter that would pair well with Davis, who commands double teams often.

However, he only averaged two assists per game in his senior year, and, if he wants the ball in his hands, he’ll probably have to be able to feed Davis through the pick and roll. He has unlimited range, and is also able to come off of the pick and hit a mid-range jumper in traffic, but to really make an impact on this team, he’ll probably have to become at least a functional facilitator, especially with Jrue Holiday out indefinitely. The Pelicans have a lot riding on Hield, a player that could flash the sort of potential that could not only have a dramatic effect on his team, but could also be the sort of building block that attracts free agents in future off-seasons.

The other notable additions are Solomon Hill, Langston Galloway, Terrance Jones and Lance Stephenson. Hill, the player they’re paying the most money of the new players (he signed a deal for four years and $51.9 million), will have to live up to what they expect from him, which is probably to be a D-and-three wing who can consistently be a threat around Davis. Galloway will add needed guard depth and they have him on a two-year, $10 million dollar, a bargain with the rising cap, because even though he’ll probably never be an elite starter, it’s worth it for a team like New Orleans taking a low risk chance.

Jones and Stephenson are low-risk chances too, as they each signed just slightly over $1 million dollars this season, which is smart: If they can build a rapport and get the full potential out of one of these players, then extend them, it could be a key addition for the future. If it doesn’t pan out that way, there’s no negative side effects.

The Pelicans could be a surprise playoff team or a train wreck. Davis could win the MVP or be hurt for three quarters of the season. Hield could win rookie of the year, or look like an average jump shooter who seems destined to be a role player off the bench. Stephenson could return to form or do whatever crazy ideas strike him in the moment — although, if we’re lucky, hopefully both.

New Orleans is unpredictable. And that’s what makes them a league pass team to watch, at least at the beginning of the season.