Playoff Contention Not A Guarantee for the New Orleans Pelicans

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Published: July 30, 2013
m and d

There is a great deal of excitement following the New Orleans Pelicans these days. Free-Agency brought in former rookie of the year Tyreke Evans. The draft presented an opportunity to pick up “All-Star” point-guard Jrue Holiday. Amongst the entire buzz there remain a lot of unanswered questions.

Positivity is something new to the reformed basketball franchise. They’ve transformed themselves with the goal of winning, not tanking in mind. However it would be unwise not to do the due diligence and breakdown just how difficult a job lies ahead.

Fans are excited for the first time not because the offseason moves make this a playoff team, but because it could.

Player Roles

This team now has three guards all capable of starting. Throw in a young gunslinger and you have a minute’s conundrum.

Aside from this, what really is the interesting element is that Evans, Gordon and Holiday are all very similar players. They are average shooters, good ball-handlers and have the athleticism and lateral quickness to compete defensively.

Someone is going to be the facilitator. Jrue Holiday may be able to fill this role, but does he have the technical consistency to distribute effectively?

If we try to match players and their current game styles we can see that perhaps there’s some logic behind these moves.

Jrue Holiday worked as the P&R ball-handler 38% of the time last season. Anthony Davis was the P&R man 24.6% of the time on offense, he was a cutter 20.6% of the time. These statistics indicate that there is a potential for synergy between their games.

Tyreke Evans had 24% of his offense on the break, significantly more than Eric Gordon (15%) and Jrue Holiday (11%). One may attribute this to the Kings faster pace (8th), but it may be that Evans was a catalyst for this.

Floor spacing is a major concern, especially with Al-Farouq Aminu returning. Three-guard lineups won’t be as lethal because of such a discrepancy behind the arc.

The small-forward position has been a bit of an anomaly in New Orleans ever since the 2008 Predraj Stojakovic season. With Aminu the only true wing defender and slasher the question lies in whether the Pelicans can utilize the skills needed to stop the best players in the game. He spotted up on 22% of offensive attempts and had a disastrous 0.6 PPP, if you consider a 1 PPP an average attempt.

When speaking with the media Tyreke Evans noted his willingness to play any role, whether it’s off the bench or as a small forward.

For his part, the 6-foot-6 Evans, who visited Pelicans headquarters Thursday, said he has ”no problem at all” playing extended minutes on the wing instead of his usual guard spot, if that’s what coach Monty Williams needs. – Brett Martel (AP Sports Writer)

Though one has to wonder whether it’s the right thing to do. Evans won rookie of the year as a ball-handler who posted his highest USG-rate. His Twitter bio reads as: “NBA Point Guard and Rookie of the Year, Tyreke Evans.” It begs the question as to what game-role suits him best.

Working off the ball as a cutter will only be so valuable (he was a cutter on 5% of his possessions). He will need to improve his shooting.

The greatest thing about the Pelicans is that there’s some time to navigate this search for team chemistry. The majority of the most talented players are under the age of 25.

This season it will be important to establish who does what well. The responsibility lies on the players, coaches and trainers. It will take some time and so goes professional sports.

Health

Athletes deal with injuries every single time they’re competing. It’s a factor that rarely gets considered in preseason assessments, unless you’re the New Orleans Pelicans.

The past season Pelican players have missed approximately 116 games combined. If you’re planning on getting deep into the playoffs you don’t aim to play 60, 70 or 80 games but 100.

Eric Gordon is considered the clear culprit. Many fans have been frustrated that he hasn’t played and been further enraged by his emotional fragility. While feelings don’t appear to be an issue now, Gordon still has to prove he can be a key player for the entirety of a season. With the positive energy surrounding the team it’s hopeful that this will be the case.

Though it is unfair to pinpoint Gordon for injury issues. Anthony Davis, Austin Rivers and Jason Smith all have battled injuries this past year. Many speculate that this is because the Pelicans training staff is extra cautious when bringing players back. But will an emphasis on winning put pressure on players to return to the lineup faster than before?

It’s important that conditioning is a priority this season. Eating the right foods at the right time is essential for recovery. Resting is as important as training hard. Strengthening the core can stabilize the bodies’ extremities. All these things and more have to be a part of every day tasks. It wouldn’t hurt if a little luck was involved.

Anthony Davis

As Ryan Schwan discussed a while ago Davis is the key to everything. The teams’ success will only go as far as he does.

The exciting part of this is that it appears this will be the case. This offseason Davis has clearly taken on a more mature role for the team, something demanded by Monty Williams.

“I think he’s more comfortable now,” Williams said of Davis’ adjustment to the NBA. “Obviously he played well, and everybody loves him… He wants to be one of the best players in the league… He’s also more vocal, and he’s stepping out there to show our team that he’s not going to sidestep being a leader. I’ve pushed him to do stuff in his second year that he hasn’t been asked to do. And I think that’s good for him, because he’s a special player.” — Monty Williams via Jim Eichenhofer

This is a big area of a basketball team’s ascendancy. It needs its young player to grow both on and off the floor and blossom into a superstar. Examples are guys like Kevin Durant, Tim Duncan and even Kobe Bryant.

Davis still has things to develop on the court. He can’t create his own shot, he faces up when the post up option is available and he doesn’t he have the sophisticated post-game so many power-forwards have in today’s game.

His defensive impact isn’t anywhere near its potential yet. Anticipating opponents drives and growing further into Williams’ help-defensive system is going to be fun to watch.

The great thing is it feels like Davis is making all of this progress right now. His Team-USA scrimmage highlighted an improved jumper, better defensive instincts and a confidence only gained from playing more high-level games. He will continue to add to his repitoire and he will be the player that the Pelicans need him to be, the franchise player.

Coaching Not Teaching

“We’re going to be coaching more than teaching which is what the really good teams do. They coach as opposed to teaching because most of their players are reacting naturally to the game and their situation.” — Monty Williams via Joel Birgham of Hoopsworld.com

With more talent and more experience the Pelicans find themselves at a crossroads. Prior to this off-season many saw New Orleans as a long development project. That has since been expedited. For a long time Head-Coach Monty Williams has had to sacrifice a lot for “the cause.” In other words, a gutted roster forced him to be creative, but above all it meant he had to get back to the basics.

No doubt Williams enjoys the intricacies of the game. The aforementioned areas underpinning success have roots in coaching [maybe not health, but some may argue it does]. He is the right man for the job.

If anyone should be excited after this off-season it should be Williams. Talent is talent and while there’s a lot of pieces of the puzzle to be put in place it’s the challenge for the coach to help complete it. It’s something he will embrace with glee, despite his Gregg Popovich impressions with the media.

Asking questions is as important as finding answers. Everyone from the fan to the Pelicans owner Tom Benson should be excited for this teams journey over the next few years. However it must not be forgotten that the path to success is paved in hard work and the on-court performances. When people look back into history all they see is who won and who lost. This is something that the Pelicans will welcome with excitement.

26 comments
IcebirdNZ
IcebirdNZ

There seems to be widespread consensus that barring major injuries or catastrophic loss of form, the Spurs, Thunder, Clippers, Warriors, Grizzlies and Rockets seem fairly certain to make the play-offs. Aside from the Thunder losing Kevin Martin, all of those teams have either improved or stayed at a high level. The last two play-off slots seem to be up in there at the moment: the Lakers and Nuggest project to be trending down, the Pelicans we hope will be trending up, and Minnesota and Dallas figure to be in the mix there somewhere. The Lakers and Heat demonstrated that even seemingly can't-miss collections of players need time to learn to gel together; however the bar of expectations for the Pelicans is lower.

I think being in contention for a playoff spot is a reasonable expectation for the team this year. While we might not necessarily get there, if we improve only modestly I think it will be somewhat of a disappointment.

xman20002000
xman20002000

Far too much speculation for an untested lineup but.. we still have a pretty productive core in Anderson, Smith, AD, Rivers, Aminu, and EG...  plus Roberts...  We had to get better play out of the 5 and more athleticism at the 1... Coach wanted to play faster..  we now can do that...  Evans and Holiday aren't rookies... unlike had we drafted Burke...  As Coach said we are a team of young veterans...  

One game at a time...

Pelican Poster
Pelican Poster

I think a 50/50 record is realistic with our current roster, and surpassing this is hinged on our ability to gel as two cohesive units.  I really like the potential of our second team, more so than I ever have before.  Given that Oden's decision now resides with either the Pels or the Heat, adding him as the 2nd team center to limit his minutes and re-acclimate to the physical stresses (aka 2012-2013 Gordon) would be ideal for us.  If the second team is able to give us an advantage over other teams, then exciting things await us.  Heretofore, that was always our achilles heel... 

RobertWelch
RobertWelch

The Pelicans have improved the roster, no doubt, but as James has pointed out so well in this article, it takes more than that to win. Along with the Pelicans improvements, other teams have improved as well, Minnesota and the Mavericks aren't going away (read: tank) it would seem...Portland is still looking to improve next year. The only team from last year's playoffs I see that is vulnerable would be the Lakers (who would have thought). So the question is, will the Pelicans improve more than those other three teams? Even Sacramento may have improved, and while the Lakers may have taken a step back, if Bryant does return ahead of schedule they will be no pushover. So the task is tall for the Pelicans, but they are in the conversation, and that all we can ask for, considering where we were a couple of years ago.

GerryV
GerryV

Coachable players will adapt and understand the finer points of their game that need to be enchanced...Evans moving w/o the ball is one etc...Holiday handling the ball in P&R situations 9better care of the ball)...Gordan simply playing like a tougher MF'er.......tough guys act and play tough....do it or games will be lost..( has the season started yet?)....nice work on ya article..

LaNative
LaNative

The team will win more but chemistry and familiarity will take discovery which may not translate into a "significant" number of wins.  The fellas have to learn to play together since they are similar and it will take Evans, Holiday and EG10 changing their game a lot for the pieces to work together.  Monty understand ballplayers and their egos but he also has a great ability to handle these types of situations.  If I had to bet I'd say we will improve between 15 and 20 games this season.  Of course I'd take more but that would be gravy as they say.

lsucpolk
lsucpolk

Great article.  The goal this year for the team should be to see a significant improvement in chemistry from the beginning of the year to the end.  Hopefully, egos will not be an issue, and people will eventually know their roles.  

Seeing Anthony Davis assert himself as a leader, and having Monty back him has been a huge encouragement.  Strong leadership will facilitate good chemistry.  

Everybody has to stay healthy.  This is such a crucial year for this team.  These guys need to be on the court together as much as possible.  Hopefully, injuries will not be a factor for this team.  Here's to a great year...  

DavidLeBoeuf
DavidLeBoeuf

If we don't threaten 50 wins, i will be sorely disappointed in this season.  I still see them moving aminu/stiemsma for another piece near the deadline.  I also think if Asik didn't play for the rockets that RA may have already been moved.  My point:  Team is a work in progress, but IMO the pure infusion of talent coupled with Monty as our coach will propel us into the playoffs  I've seen him do more with much, much less.

504ever
504ever

Completely agree with your Western Conference analysis! (And the conclusion, playoff contending is realistic, that flows from it.)

jsgrayson
jsgrayson

@RobertWelch I really think our improvement is hinged on Anthony Davis. If he can become the player we all hope he can be (and need, if we want to begin talking deep-playoff runs) then the Pelicans can be a really good team. 

jsgrayson
jsgrayson

@GerryV Thanks for the feedback Coach! Do you think Holiday can be that tough "MF'er" as you describe? He said in a press-conference recently that he brings that to the team. Also, do you think that Anderson, Morrow and maybe Roger Mason are enough to space the floor? Is it realistic to expect Gordon, Evans and Holiday's shooting ability to improve drastically this season?

GerryV
GerryV

You want EGO...you want guys to belive that they can 'kick your..a...s"....this along with the accepting of the  fact that others will also be open...just be willing to SHARE......but i want guys that have healthy egos.

GerryV
GerryV

Holiday can be...he is a 'go get it type"...the others you mentioned can space the floor,but the quality of the shots they get will be determined by the "hard gap attacks' to draw coverage...finishes off the dribble will force the defense to show respect...andof course being able to make the scoring pass and seeing when players are open for quick/crisp deliveries.....* i bet you will see available shots in the 'early offense as you now have handlers that can attack in the open floor....if i'm a shooter i hustle my lil booty to the open spot with my hands 'up and open' and ready to "fire!"

macs21
macs21

@jsgrayson @GerryV Have a look at Gordons shooting when he's been healthy (i.e. before he played for the Pellies)

Dude shot 38%+ on 5 attempts a game. Now that he's got his legs back I dare say he'll be a comfortably above average 3 pt shooter

DavidLeBoeuf
DavidLeBoeuf

@arabi I have expectations.  Last year the 8 seed had 45 wins, the 6 seed had 47 wins.  Why wouldn't the expectation be to threaten 50?  They won 27 last year w/ injured Gordon, Davis.  The additions should put them in conversation for the 6, 7 seed.  That would have them threatening 50.  They won 47 in Monty's first year with CP3, DWest, and a bunch of junk.  

GerryV
GerryV

With Gordon i belive its more of a " be the hunter" mindset...it appeared to be was not totally 'into the game' all the timer..too much mental stuff going on...knee...fan reactions...he just needs to say " F...it" and play andhe can be a total pain in the booty to defend...I want to see him have htta "come get some of this" play in his game...he will also deliver the scoring pass...

504ever
504ever

Bad Internet, my Memphis edit didn't post. Memphis is a very strong team, too. In my 6-10 in division I am giving us a chance to split with one of the three teams better than we are, possibly Memphis.

GerryV
GerryV

First review what the WEST had done to enchance their rosters...playoff spot is a possibilty....lets allow this to evolve....i want to see if the team 'plays tougher'....attack mentality and a lil edge is needed.....

DavidLeBoeuf
DavidLeBoeuf

@504ever This team was 15-37 vs. the Western Conference last year.  We went 5-11 in the division and lost games to Houston, OKC, SA (3 times), Dallas (2), and Golden State by 4 points or less.  

Our list of losses include PHI, PHX, UTAH (3), DEN (2), LAL (3), WAS (2), POR, MIN (3), TOR (2), MIL, ATL, CLE, ORL, and SAC.  

Lets say w win 2/3 of those games vs. the Utah, Lakers, Blazers, TWolves, Wizards, Magic of the world that we lost last year, teams we passed up.  Splitting in division is feasible, and winning half of those 4 point games that we lost could also be expected.  Thats about 20 games that, IMO, we should improve by.  You would also have to expect that we split with some of these teams that swept us last year, for example, the Knicks.  Also take into account that about half the league will be in full blown tank mode come the trade deadline, and yeah, I think if we aren't near the 50 win mark I will be disappointed.  

This year the schedule will be very important.  If we open vs a soft schedule and win early, build some cohesiveness, I think we will improve later in the season and can get to 50 wins.  If we open vs a soft schedule and blow some easy games early, we may be in trouble, bc even if we get better at the end of the year but we are playing a tougher schedule we may end up high 30's low 40's.  


504ever
504ever

By the way, that means we eliminate half of our losses from last year!

504ever
504ever

I meant what teams will we beat that we lost to last year? You've got to find 23 games split about 16 west and 7 east based on the way the schedule is split between the conferences.

Looking at our improvement in a vacuum means nothing to me. I say you have to look at it compared to others teams.

DavidLeBoeuf
DavidLeBoeuf

@504ever ummm, Davis & Rivers a year older, Gordon being healthy (hopefully), Jrue Holliday, Tyreke Evans....IMO that's 20 wins right there.  I think the overlooked thing when looking at this roster is how dramatically improved the defense will be.  With AD being a year older and more comfortable as a rim protector, AFA w/ another year under his belt, and most importantly Holliday/Gordon's perimeter defense reducing all the penetration, kickout, wide ass open 3's that we suffered through last year, the defense has to be better.  Couple that w/ the pure infusion of talent & the increased pace that Holliday brings to the offense (quicker pace, more possessions, more points).  Denver was the 3 seed last year.  You can't tell me that talent for talent, this team isn't just as good as that team was last year.  

macs21
macs21

@504ever He kind of covered that when he said we had 27 with half of Gordon and 3/4 of Davis. Thats about 8 of them right there. You could reasonably expect another 3 or 4 from Davis due to development. That gets us up to 38 or so without adding in any development from RIvers, health from J-Smitty, higher efficiency off the bench from Ryno as he'll have better running mates...

That's all before adding anything from Holiday and Tyreke.

Not saying that I necessarily think 50 wins is achievable, but I think it wouldn't be too hard to make an argument for it.

If everything goes right for us then I think 50+ wins would be likely. However, as it's pretty unlikely that everything will go smoothly, around 45 is probably more realistic. When you think of it in those terms, winning 50 is only an extra 5 wins. I guess it depends on what you think out most likely outcome is.

504ever
504ever

50 wins is an increase of 23 wins from last year. Where are they going to come from?

Arabi
Arabi

@DavidLeBoeuf 

Actually I with you on all of that. I just am very much against trading Anderson for Asik.

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