ORLANDO - It's been about four months without the majority of team sports, and for those looking for something to watch besides marble racing, the New Orleans Pelicans may be for you.
"If you're just getting into the NBA and you're looking for a team to root for, I don't know if it gets much better than a fully healthy Pelicans roster," says Jake Madison, Host of the "Locked On Pelicans" Podcast, "This is team that gets up and down the court, runs with the best of them in the league, plays a very fast paced style of ball, which is very entertaining to watch. You get some legit almost superstar players; and a guy like Zion Williamson, the most hyped rookie coming into the league since Lebron James."
When he's been on the court, Zion has been better than advertised, and by all accounts, he's even upped his game during quarantine.
Explains Madison, "This is a guy who was still able to go to the Pelicans facility during the shutdown because he's rehabbing the knee injury that he had that kept him out over half of the season. He was able to kind of work with team doctors - maybe get a little bit of on court work in there, though he won't really say. But he played basketball every single day during the shut down, really working on his shot, working on a lot of the biomechanics that the team wanted him to work on: his running form, things like that that are going to make him a complete NBA player."
What does Jake Madison think happens if Zion has combined a more refined technique and better health to go along with his otherworldly athletic ability?
"If his shot just improves slightly, if his ball handling just improves slightly, (and those were the two biggest knocks against him during the regular season so far) he's going to be an absolute monster out there!," says Madison.
Though the Pelicans are currently 3.5 games from the 8th and final playoff spot, they'll be facing the same challenges as every other team: living in a bubble housed in Orlando.
"Disney being a good partner with ESPN has the infrastructure to house this," Madison tells me, "You've seen all these 22 teams that are going back for the restart staying in these different resorts where they're the only guys that are there. Each team only has 35 people they've brought, including players. No one else is really being allowed in besides the workers at the resort there. So it's about just trying to curate a safe and Covid-19 free environment."
While the playoffs are the goal, a good showing could mean even better things down the line for a young Pelicans squad.
"Certainly they'd like to get in," says Madison, who has covered many a non-playoff season for NOLA, "But if they can just have a successful 8 game show, some real promise, they're going to feel really good where they're at. That's going to influence decisions they're going to make in this off season. Do you keep things the same? Do you mix things up? So there's some long term stakes over these 8 games that have long term implications."