Fluke or for real? 5 teams wildly exceeding expectations in 2023–24

Indiana Pacers v Minnesota Timberwolves
Indiana Pacers v Minnesota Timberwolves / David Berding/GettyImages
5 of 6

New Orleans Pelicans (17-12)

The edge of success has been near for the New Orleans Pelicans for a year, only to be brought back from the brink by Zion Williamson's health. So far, so good on that. Will it last?

It's not a nice question to ask, but it is a fair one. Since being drafted first overall in 2019, Williamson has only played in more than 30 games for a full season once, when he played in 61 during the 2020–21 campaign. Keeping Williamson healthy is a prerogative for the Pelicans, to the extent they can control it.

Williamson is elite when he's on the court, averaging 22 points and 5.8 rebounds per game this season. But his ability to stay on the court is so fractured that even the Pelicans don't feel comfortable guaranteeing the end of his contract anymore.

While Williamson draws the majority of the headlines, the Pelicans are much more than their star. Brandon Ingram and CJ McCollum form the rest of an underrated Big Three, and Trey Murphy III's shooting ability can get the Pelicans back in a game in a hurry.

The same goes for Jordan Hawkins. Jonas Valanciunas is also in the midst of a dominant stretch, and the Pelicans almost always win when the big man secures a double-double.

Relying on Williamson is definitely cause for concern, though, despite the talent around him. This year, the Pelicans are 2-3 when Williamson sits. Those wins were against the Washington Wizards and Detroit Pistons, two of the worst teams in the league by a large margin.

It's unfair to the team and its fans, but until Williamson can show his ability to stay on the court consistently for a full season, success doesn't feel real in the Big Easy.

Verdict: Fluke