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NBA Futures Bets & Picks: The Pelicans Are the Best Division Bet on the Board

NBA Futures Bets & Picks: The Pelicans Are the Best Division Bet on the Board article feature image

Sean Gardner/Getty Images. Pictured: CJ McCollum #3 of the New Orleans Pelicans.

Welcome back to Futures Friday! Every week I dive into futures bets to play based on where the value is at that point in the season.

The New Orleans Pelicans look increasingly like they may be a real force in the Western Conference.

Despite missing Brandon Ingram and Zion Williamson for multiple games this season already, the Pels have jumped out to a 9-6 record. Their advanced metrics indicate they’re even better than that.

The Pelicans rank fifth in schedule-adjusted offense and 10th in schedule-adjusted defense at Dunks And Threes. Based on their point differential, they are expected to win 54 games if they maintain this performance level, per Cleaning the Glass.

There are a lot of reasons for their early success, and most of them would surprise you. The starters haven’t been the ones dominating, it’s been the bench leading the way.

The most exciting thing is how much is working and what the potential is for the future. I talked in detail about their problems with the two big lineups, and how good the small-ball unit can be.

CJ McCollum had an awful shooting start to the year for how good he is. McCollum shot 28% from 3-point range entering the Tuesday-Wednesday back-to-back set this week. In those two games, he shot 10-of-21 from deep for 48%.

That simple bit of regression helps the starters and the overall units with McCollum immensely. McCollum is being asked to be the primary initiator and essentially run point most of the time with this team, and he’s done well, averaging a career-high in assists. With McCollum perhaps shaking off his shooting rust, those starting units will look better.

Then again, the absence of Williamson looms large in the discussion of these last two games. The Pelicans have taken way more3s and been more efficient without Williamson. Prior to their last two games, the Pelicans were averaging 9.9 3-pointers made on 27.2 attempts pace-adjusted. In these last two? They averaged 17.9 on 36 attempts.

It would be disingenuous to cast this off as a coincidence, with Trey Murphy III specifically replacing Williamson in the starting unit and generating more spacing.

Kate Frese/NBAE via Getty Images. Pictured: Trey Murphy III #25 of the New Orleans Pelicans.

That’s not to say that the answer is to remove Williamson or that they’re worse with him. It’s really important when evaluating a team not to get caught up in the most direct line from A to B for what’s best for the team. You can’t solely play the most effective tactic available. You need options and weapons optimized for what you will face, both in the regular season and playoffs.

The Pelicans need to figure out how to get the spacing in their small-ball units more effectively deployed with their starters and find balance with their two-big Williamson-Jonas Valanciunas combo.

Beyond that, sheesh, is this team deep. You’re getting great minutes not just from Jose Alvarado and Larry Nance Jr., as outlined in the video above, but rookie Dyson Daniels and Murphy.

Herb Jones has struggled bit in his sophomore season with his offensive place and finding a role, while Jaxson Hayes has vanished from the rotation. It’s a long season, and there will be opportunities for both to grow along the way, but that’s where they’ve been early on.

The Pelicans are still +290 to win the Southwest Division. We said this price was wrong in preseason, and it’s wrong now. The Memphis Grizzlies’ early record and Luka Doncic’s incredible production for the Dallas Mavericks have masked deficiencies with both teams.

I am of the belief that the Pelicans are the best team in the division with the best formula night to night, and as it stands now, are the best division bet to make at this point in the season.

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