New Orleans Pelicans Season Preview: Playing the ‘If’ Game

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Published: September 25, 2013
what-if

This time of year, all 30 NBA fan bases are playing the ‘If’ game. In Portland, fans are thinking the playoffs are a lock, “If Lamarcus Aldridge buys in, CJ McCollum duplicates what Damian Lillard did last season, and Robin Lopez defends the pick and roll as well as his Synergy stats said he did.” In Brooklyn, Nets fans have a set of ‘If’s’ that could result in them winning an NBA championship, and the ‘If’s’ of Charlotte fans might just lead to them no longer being the laughing stock of the league.

That’s “If” everything goes the right way.

But an if is an if because of the uncertainty of whatever lies beyond that two letter word being actualized. Some if’s are more likely to occur than others, and perhaps more importantly, some if’s carry with them a ‘then’ that truly raises the stakes. Some if’s will carry with them a slight variance – perhaps a win or two over the course of an NBA season, while other if’s could swing playoff races, a series, or perhaps even elevate an also ran all the way to contender status.

The New Orleans franchise is no stranger to the ‘if’ game, even though this is technically the first season for the Pelicans. The “if Peja can stay healthy” game was fun for a few seasons, as was the “if David West can elevate his rebounding numbers and defensive presence” game. “If we can ever get a competent bench,” was quickly replaced by “if Monty just gives Marcus Thornton a chance,” and long before that we had “If Baron Davis just buys back in and Jamal Mashburn can get over this strange vertigo thing.”

Those who follow this franchise back to its Charlotte days remember saying “If Larry Johnson can just get his explosion back,” hundreds of times, right before they asked for anybody to fill the small forward position. Fans often play the ‘if’ game, because at the end of the day, only one team wins the title, and for the most part, the other 29 fan bases are dissatisfied. We are left grasping for straws, hoping that the answer lies in the best case scenario of things that already exist. We are smart enough to know that Lebron signing here is not a possibility, but if X, Y, and Z all pan out, we won’t need that guy anyway!

Sometimes the best case scenario comes true, and when it does, it reinforces our belief that other ‘if’s’ will play out in our favor as well. “If David West can develop a mid-range jumper” worked out extremely well, as did “If Tyson Chandler can reach his potential.” After his rookie season, we all wondered what would happen, “If Chris Paul could develop a three-point shot,” and that 2007-08 season probably exceeded each and every one of our expectations.

Going into this season, we have more unknown factors than ever before. The roster has been overhauled, and even several of the players who are left over will be asked to play different roles. The offense that the Pelicans will run is a total unknown, and while we can take an educated guess at who the finishing five will be, I have doubts that even Monty Williams knows who will start for this team when the season begins in less than six weeks.

WIth so many unknowns, let’s take a look at the ten most important ‘if’s’ heading into the season, and just how much each of them can effect the Pelicans outcome.

10. If Greg Stiemsma can be Rasho Nesterovic

After David Robinson retired in 2003, the San Antonio Spurs went into the season with Rasho Nesterovic as the only true center on the roster. At the end of games, they usually put Duncan in at center and used Robert Horry as a stretch four, but Nesterovic started every game that season and gave them almost 29 minutes a night. Nesterovic averaged just under 9 points and 8 rebounds a night with 2 blocks while keeping the wear and tear off of Duncan.

Per 36 minutes, Greg Stiemsma (last year) and 2003-04 Rasho Nesterovic had comparable numbers. Nesterovic is a slightly better offensive rebounder, while Stiemsma is a better shot blocker and free throw shooter. You can argue that Nesterovic was able to be so successful on the glass, in large part, due to the fact that he had Manu and Parker attacking. Every time Stiemsma is on the court he will be the fifth option, which will leave him alone to crash the boards, and more importantly, focus on the defensive end.

Just like Rasho Nesterovic.

Possible Impact: 2-5 Games

Getting a Nesterovic season from Stiemsma would be great, but with Jason Smith and Jeff Withey also available to log some minutes at center, it is not a necessary ingredient for a playoff birth.

9. If Austin Rivers Plays Like He Did Prior to the Injury

Some people were surprised when Austin Rivers often looked like the best player on the court in Summer League. I was not one of them. While I have read all the “worst rookie seasons of all time” articles, I took them with a grain of salt, because unlike the people who wrote them, I actually watched Rivers play every game last season. I didn’t just look at his stats and run them through some data filter. And for those of us who watched the Pelicans last season, we saw a young man who was just starting to get it before his unfortunate injury against the Lakers that ended his season.

Post All-Star game, Rivers field goal percentage was up 16 points (35% to 51%) and his turnovers decreased by nearly 300%. He was playing more confidently on that end and was showing far more patience. And yet, as good as he was offensively, he was ten times more impressive defensively. In fact, in the game he was hurt against the Lakers, he was defending Kobe Bryant for long stretches, and was more than holding his own. He was a 20-year-old kid coming into his own, and then in an instant, his season came to an end.

The Pelicans went out this summer and significantly upgraded their perimeter weapons, but there is still a role here for Rivers, and if he thrives in it, the Pelicans might be unguardable. If the Pelicans insert Tyreke Evans into the starting lineup, Rivers could be the lead guard off the bench and could attack a tired defense in short spurts every quarter. He is versatile enough to play next to any of the Pelicans dynamic guards and wings, and an uptempo style figures to help Rivers out as much as anybody on the team.

It sounds like a crazy comparison, but I think the Pelicans would be thrilled to get from him what Jose Juan Barea gave the Mavericks from 2008 to 2011. He played 18-20 minutes per game on a team that was loaded with guards and wings, and was constantly in attack mode. He never shot a great percentage from the field or from three, but he could change the game in short spurts because of his relentlessness. Dirk, Jason Terry, and Josh Howard would wear a team down, and then Barea would come in like a Tasmanian Devil, creating for both himself and others. If Rivers can give the Pelicans that on offense, along with plus-defense, teams will be overwhelmed by the number of things they have to prepare for when facing New Orleans.

Possible Impact: 3-6 Games

If Rivers regresses, there is still plenty of firepower in the starting lineup, and guys like Anthony Morrow and Brian Roberts can pick up his slack off the bench. But in a best case scenario where Rivers takes a big step forward, you might be looking at one of the best offenses in the league.

8. If Ryan Anderson is Locked in Mentally

I hesitated to even put this one in here, to be honest. It’s easy to analyze sports when all you have to do is watch a game and pick apart a few stats, but when you have to predict how an unimaginable tragedy will impact an NBA player on the court, you quickly realize a lot of things – including that it could go either way, and that basketball is so unimportant in the larger scheme of life. But as an analyst, part of my job is to predict the future based on my analysis of the past.

The past says that it can go either way. Michael Jordan had to leave the game for a couple of years after the loss of his father, while Brett Favre had one of his best games ever just a few nights after he lost his dad. Willie Green found comfort in being around his teammates after the tragic loss of his sister, while countless other athletes have said years later that losing a loved one made them lose passion for everything in life – including the game. Honestly, with Ryan Anderson, I have no idea how this tragedy will effect him on the court, if at all. As a fan of the man, I care more about how it effects him off the court, but this piece requires I look at the possible effects it may have on the team as a whole.

Quite frankly, if Anderson’s effectiveness suffers considerably or if he decides to step away from the game for a while like Jordan and others have done, then the Pelicans would be devastated offensively. Anderson accounted for over 40% of the Pelicans three-point field goals last season and nearly 20% of their offensive rebounds. With all the additions they made this offseason, they didn’t really address either of those areas, meaning that they are relying on Anderson to provide similar production.

If I was honestly was forced to choose between Anderson’s well-being and the well-being of the Pelicans perimeter game, I would choose the former. I would hold no ill-will towards Anderson if he needed time off after the events of this summer. The best case scenario, however, is that we get the best of both worlds. Perhaps being around people who care about him and doing something he loves helps heal Ryno, and the team reaps the benefits of him playing for something greater than himself in the process. This game once helped heal the heavy heart of CP3, and I think the hope is that it can help do the same for Ryan Anderson.

Possible Impact: 3-8 Games

If Ryan Anderson misses significant time because of this, it could completely change expectations for the Pelicans this season. If he has lapses in concentration and underperforms, it will have some impact, but his presence alone on the court opens up the court for the Pelicans offense. On the flip side, if Anderson and the team uses this tragedy to bond and play for each other, it could have a huge effect the other way.

7. If Tyreke Evans Continues to Evolve

The biggest misconception among the uneducated is that Tyreke Evans has declined every year since his rookie season. As numerous Kings writers and fans have stated in articles, and in our own podcast, the fact is that Tyreke was forced to do everything his rookie season, but that he was at his best and most efficient this past year. His fied goal percentage, true shooting percentage, and effective field goal percentage were the highest this past season and his turnover rate was the lowest of his four-year career. Hs mid-range shot stayed about the same, but he went from a very good finisher at the rim to a great finisher and from a poor three-point shooter to a slightly below average one.

Nobody expects him to make another 14 point leap in his three-point percentage (from 20% to 34%), but a leap one-fifth that size would do wonders for his game. If he can hit 36-38 percent of his three’s, then opponents will be forced to close out harder on him and that will make it even easier for him to get to the hole. But with all that said, it will be Tyreke’s evolution on the defensive end that is far more important. Coach Williams alluded to some bad habits Evans had defending off the ball, and I had some of the same concerns when studying him this summer. He tends to drift on that end and plays way too upright at times.

Having a solid structure and a defensive minded head coach should do wonders for Evans, who has all the physical tools required to be a terrific defender. Evans has the length to cover most small forwards and the agility to cover guards. Even though Evans has shown some improvement on the offensive end, even the most optimistic Pelicans fans would have to admit that he is probably pretty close to his ceiling. But on the defensive side of the ball, Evans has just scratched the surface of what he can do and ‘if’ Monty Williams can get him to reach his ceiling on that side of the ball, the Pelicans can be downright scary.

Possible Impact: 4-10 Games

Honestly, part of this is tied in to Eric Gordon’s health (something we will get to later). If the Pelicans are fully healthy, the pressure is off of Tyreke Evans for the first time in his career. On a fully healthy Pelicans team, Evans is a 4th or 5th option when playing with the other elite players or a top option off the bench, going against vastly inferior players. But if Gordon and/or Holiday go down, Evans is in the same position he was in during his tenure in Sacramento.

Monty and Dell saw a bigger, stronger Manu Ginobli when they pursued Evans, and if he is allowed to play that role, while being coached up to his potential, the Pelicans are looking at one of the most dangerous X-Factors in the league.

6. If Monty Williams Can Coach

We are heading into Year Four of the Monty Williams Era and it sounds like a strange question to ask so far in, but I have to anyway: Are we sure Monty Williams is a good coach?

I am sure he is a guy that players love. I am sure that he is a man of faith who says what he means and means what he says. And I am sure that he is 100% committed to turning this team around and getting us back to respectability. But none of that means he is a good coach. It doesn’t mean that he is a bad coach, either. Honestly, we just don’t know.

He had one season where he was trying to win every game, and that was a mixed bag. He got the team to overachieve out of the gate and play better defense than most expected, but he also got outcoached quite a bit that season. Several times teams made halftime adjustments that Monty didn’t anticipate and double-digit leads quickly turned into double-digit loses. Then, in Years 2 and 3, his main job was to “develop young players.”

We know that he can make C- players play like C+ players, but can he turn stars into superstars? Can he outmaneuver a coach with similar or superior talent? Can he manage rotations and use timeouts optimally? After three years, we don’t know the answers to these questions, but we are about to find out.

Possible Impact: 5-12 Games

There are games when a coach has little to no impact on the outcome and others where all a coach can do is turn a blowout loss into a close defeat or a narrow win into a blowout. Then, there are a handful of games every year where a coach’s decisions and strategies determine the outcome. Monty lost most of those games in his first season, and we don’t fully know if the team had every intention of winning those games the last two years. This year, however, we all will be watching with eagle eyes; picking apart every decision Monty makes. Because the difference between the 7th and 10th seeds in the West will probably be 3-6 games, and that means the difference between an above average coach and a below average one could mean the difference between playoffs or no playoffs.

5. If Jrue Holiday Plays Like Pre All-Star Game Jrue Holiday

Another misinformed opinion is that Jrue Holiday made the All-Star game by default last year. People look at his final numbers or the fact that Rajon Rondo got hurt and Derrick Rose missed all year, and liken him to somebody like Jamaal Magloire – a one-time All-Star who wasn’t really an All-Star caliber player.

Those people are wrong.

Prior to the All-Star break last season, Jrue Holiday was the best point guard in the Eastern Conference. Plain and simple. Rajon Rondo had 38 healthy games, Kyrie Irving was healthy, and Deron Williams was playing night in and night out, yet none of them could touch what Holiday was doing. Not only should Holiday have made the team last year, but dare I say that he should have been starting.

Holiday was putting up 19 points and 8.9 assists in the 47 games before the All-Star break, while shooting 45% from the field for a Philadelphia team that didn’t have very much surrounding him. He also pulled down over 4 boards per game and was often assigned with the opponents’ premier offensive player on the other end. Holiday was asked to do a ton for a Sixers team that overachieved the first half of the season, and he responded by having a breakout October through February.

But then the wheels fell off for Philadelphia, as injuries occurred and the Andrew Bynum saga dragged on, leading to the inevitable Doug Collins meltdown. The 76ers were a team that was just playing out the season, with a coach who didn’t want to be there. As a result, the team went into a free fall after the All-Star break, and so did Holiday’s numbers. He averaged just 15.8 points and 6.7 assists in the final 31 games, and shot under 40% from the field.

The hope is that the Pelicans get the Jrue Holiday that terrorized opponents the first half of the year. If they do, they are getting a top-25 NBA player, and when you add that to a supporting cast with more talent than he has ever seen outside of Team USA scrimmages, the potential is limitless.

Potential Impact: 7-12 Games

If Holiday gives us the efficiency that he performed with in the first half of the year, then the transition period won’t take very long. Looking at recent NBA history, huge jumps in the win column often come with a massive improvement at the point guard position. Steve Nash took the Phoenix Suns from cellar dwellers to NBA contenders overnight, a couple of years after Jason Kidd did the same for the New Jersey Nets. CP3 did the same for the Clippers even more recently. While Holiday is not on that level, Pre All-Star break Jrue Holiday is close and his supporting cast might be even better than what each of those stud PG’s had.

4. If Players Accept Their Roles

First, Monty has to assign them, so I guess that this ties in with #6 in some ways. But after he does, it is the players’ job to buy in and play for the city on the front of the jersey and not the last name on the back. This summer, all of the players said the right thing. Eric Gordon has told everyone who would listen that he is thrilled to have so much talent on this team, and Tyreke Evans is excited to have high expectations for once in his NBA career. Anthony Davis loves the fact that the team will run more, and Austin Rivers said that the new talent will only push him to get better in practice every day. In theory, they are all right – they should thrive with the new toys Dell Demps has brought in to help. But will their tunes change once the lights go on?

Jrue Holiday was a guy who had the ball in his hands almost exclusively last season for the 76ers. Tyreke Evans has a career usage rate of 24.5%. Eric Gordon hasn’t been shy about the fact that he wants to be the number one option on his team. Anthony Davis is just starting to blossom offensively, and will want more chances to showcase the work he has put in this summer. Ryan Anderson needs shots to be an effective NBA player. Your top five players have a career usage rating of 114.4. Bottom line is that they are going to have to play a different brand of basketball than they are all used to, because there are simply not enough basketballs to go around if they want to play the same way they have been playing up to this point in their career.

Jrue Holiday is going to have to play off the ball more, and that didn’t suit his game very well in Philadelphia when he did that with Iguodala. Eric Gordon is going to have to shoot more spot-up jumpers and isolate less. Tyreke Evans is going to have to be a decoy far more often than he was in Sacramento. The list goes on and on because we haven’t even gotten to guys like Austin Rivers, Anthony Morrow, and Jason Smith – all of whom need to get a couple of shots off to get in a rhythm.

The best course of action will likely be that Monty talks them into taking turns. Exploit the best matchup on a given night, and that means that on some nights, a guy who is used to getting 12-16 shots a game might only get 3 or 4. When the Pelicans head into Memphis, Eric Gordon might only get looks in transition because Tony Allen is on him. That might be Tyreke’s night. Then, when they head into San Antonio, it might be a heavy dose of Holiday and Gordon, while Tyreke or Anthony Morrow spot up on the perimeter to keep Kawhi Leonard from having an impact.

Will the guys be okay with this? Will they be willing to let their individual stats suffer for the good of the team? Do they envy Chris Bosh or feel sorry for him? The way they answer that question could go a long ways into determining whether or not they are cut out to be the team players that they will be required to be in order for Dell’s master plan to succeed.

Possible Impact: 7-15 Games

Look, nothing destroys a team faster than bad chemistry and nothing helps a team gel faster than having everyone buy in. As long as the Pelicans are winning, I think players will say and do all of the right things, but when they lose three in a row or five of six, will certain guys revert back to trying to carry the bulk of the load on their shoulders? For the good of the team as a whole, let’s hope not.

3. If the Pelicans Can Rebound

While there was not a heavy correlation between rebounding and success, there was some. 12 of the top 16 teams in defensive rebound rate made the playoffs, including the top five. New Orleans was actually pretty high up in defensive rebound rate, but towards the bottom in total defensive rebounds, partly because of their pace of play, but mostly because teams didn’t miss many shots against their porous defense.

Upgrading the roster likely means that the defense will improve significantly this season, but there is reason for concern when it comes to rebounding the basketball. Anthony Davis is the only above average rebounder amongst the four’s and five’s who figure to see significant playing time this season. Al-Farouq Aminu is a terrific defensive rebounder, but he is likely to see a reduction in his minutes thanks to the additions of Tyreke Evans and Anthony Morrow this summer. Robin Lopez was not a good defensive rebounder, but the team always rebounded better when he was on the court, because (as the theory goes), he took up space and boxed out his man, which allowed others to grab rebounds.

What the Pelicans might have gained in firepower, they could lose on the defensive glass. Although they were top eight last season in defensive rebound rate, grabbing just three fewer defensive boards per 100 missed shots would have plummeted them all the way down to 27th in the NBA. What good is getting more stops if you will just have to defend more possessions because you can’t rebound? And how can you run if you don’t secure the board first?

So much of what the Pelicans will want to do will depend on their ability to rebound. If Anthony Davis can become the elite rebounder that he is capable of becoming and everybody else pitches in, the Pelicans can become an average defense with the ability to push the ball down your throats after a miss. If they can’t rebound, expect them to struggle on both ends because they will be forced to defend more possessions and play half court basketball too often on the other end.

Possible Impact: 9-15 Games

The difference between a top ten rebounding team and a bottom five rebounding team could mean everything for this team, and to be honest, both of those scenarios are extremely realistic. It will be on Evans and Holiday to crash the defensive boards and for Gordon to give them something in that category. It also wouldn’t hurt if Ryan Anderson and Jason Smith attacked the glass on the defensive end the way they do it on the other side. That’s the upside. The downside is ugly, including but not limited to, the thought of what rebounding could look like if Anthony Davis was forced to miss games.

2. If We Stay Healthy

I put ‘We’ in here, because that this subject has caused me so much personal pain in the past, that I felt I earned the right to include myself as part of the franchise. I mean, is this the norm or are we snakebitten? I feel like the latter, but maybe every franchise goes through this, but we feel like it is different for us because we follow this franchise more closely.

Nope. We were snakebitten.

I say “were” because my hope is that the curse was with the Hornets name, and now the Pelicans will usher in an age of relatively normal health. You can track this franchise all the way back to its origin and you won’t be able to find me one star or quasi-star that escaped unscaved. From Larry Johnson’s bad back to Chris Paul’s knee. Circle back to Jamal Mashburn’s vertigo and Bobby Phills’ passing. In between there was Peja and Chandler, Baron and Coleman. On and on and on…

We seemed to escape the curse for one season – the magical 2007-08 run that saw the Big Four miss just 16 games combined. Compare that with the year before (126) and the year after (68) and you start to think of what could have been if not for the curse. Was that 2007-08 team the greatest in franchise history? Honestly, I don’t even know if they were top three. When healthy, I liked the ’08-09 team better. I also thought some of the Glen Rice teams, with that tremendous frontcourt, were better, as were the LJ-Zo Hornets. But what did them all in? Injuries.

If not for injuries, Tyson Chandler might still be here, with CP3 throwing him lobs so high that they almost nip the bottom of our four Southwest Division Champion banners. 2007-08 was a great year because at least we had an answer. We knew how good this team was and what it was truly capable of on the court. It was defeated by a team that knew what it took to win a Game Seven. As a fan, you can live with that.

For this team, the obvious candidate to catch the injury bug is Eric Gordon, a guy who has played 51 of a possible 148 the past two years, and just 247 out of a possible 394 games since he entered the league. That is just under 63%, meaning that he would play about 51 games this season if he sticks to his average. On the flip side, Jrue Holiday has missed just 14 games in three years and Ryan Anderson has missed just six games since becoming a regular rotation player two seasons ago.

Tyreke Evans and Anthony Davis can go either way. Evans has had two seasons in which he played more than 85% of his games, and two in which he played less than 80% of his teams games. Davis, meanwhile, was relatively injury free in high school and college, but had two significant injuries last year, and also got banged up fairly regularly, missing a game here or there.

The total number of games these five play are huge. Combined, they have the possibility of playing a total of 410 games. An average season would see a teams’ top five players miss a total of 44 games due to injury. The Pelicans would be able to withstand a number like that, and could thrive if the number was much lower (like it was for the Thunder the past few years, prior to losing Westbrook in the playoffs). But if the number goes much higher than that, and if it gets into the range of the ’06-07 season, then all the other ‘if’s’ on this list are meaningless.

Possible Impact: 15-35 Games

That 2006-07 team was fantastic before Peja went down, just a couple of games into the season. And before Chandler got hurt, the 2008-09 team was a legitimate title contender. Combined, those two teams won one playoff game, while the team sandwiched in between those two won 56 regular season games and 7 playoff games. Talent means everything in the NBA, but talent without luck means that you will be going fishing after 82 games. If this team has the luck of the ’07-08 squad, they are a playoff team. If they are snakebitten like almost every other year in this franchises history, they don’t have enough depth in a tough Western Conference to overcome it.

1. If Anthony Davis takes the Next Step

This Summer, our own Ryan Schwan gave a terrific breakdown of Anthony Davis’s rookie season and how it compared to some other superstar players at the same age. His premise was that Anthony Davis was the key to this franchise’s destiny and everything else was just filler. My list shows that I support this theory, not only long-term, but for this season as well.

While Davis might not be the best player on the Pelicans this season, he does have the potential to effect the game in the most ways, and he has the ability to cover up the Pelicans most glaring weaknesses. The major fears going into this season, assuming relatively normal health, are trifold:

1. Defense

2. Rebounding

3. Ability to get easy buckets

This is a team that finished 28th in defensive rating, lost guys who accounted for over 24% of their defensive rebounds last year, and finished in the bottom six in both fast break points and points scored at the rim. If there is one guy who can take the Pelicans from terrible to average in all of these categories, it is Anthony Davis. And average is all they have to be. You don’t have to be elite in every category to be a playoff team. You just can’t have an area where you are downright horrid, and if Davis takes that next step and becomes the guy that Schwan projects that he will be, then it will be virtually impossible for the Pelicans to be horrid in any of these categories.

Combine that with what figures to be a highly explosive offensive team with the ability to turn other teams over at an above average rate without fouling, and you have a sure-fire playoff team in the Western Conference. But the key is Davis, and from here on out, it always will be.

Possible Impact: One Playoff Series

All of the rest of these factors meant the difference between possibly making the playoffs and missing out. The Davis factor is so big that it could mean the difference between making the playoffs and making the Western Conference Semifinals. Usually the team with the best player in the series wins that series, and if Davis takes that next step, it is not beyond reason to think that he could be the best player in any series that does not involve the Thunder, the Clippers, and maybe the Spurs. A matchup that features the Pelicans going up against the Rockets, Warriors, or Grizzlies could all see an upset occur in which Mr. Davis moves on.

Conclusion

Every team has a similar number of ‘if’s’, but the Pelicans might have the greatest variance in how this season could go. If you were to paint the realistic worst case scenario and the realistic best case scenario for this team, you would have a hole the size of the Grand Canyon in the middle. I can’t think of another team in the league that I can be convinced will win 26 games and also be convinced they can win 52 games. With this team, I can. Dennis Green once famously said, “They are who we thought they were!” Nothing about that quote rings true with this Pelicans team. I have seen two completely different Eric Gordon’s over the course of his career. Same goes for Tyreke Evans. Heck, I have seen two polar opposite Jrue Holiday’s in one season!

I still don’t know how good Monty Williams is, and I still don’t know exactly what to expect from Anthony Davis – primarily because of Williams. Yes, Kevin Garnett made the All-Star Game at 20 years old, but that was partly because his coach played him 39 minutes per night. Will Monty do the same? If not, we won’t have an All-Star player on this team because coaches don’t look at Per-36 numbers when voting for All-Star reserves.

I have seen glimpses of who Al-Farouq Aminu and Austin Rivers could be, and I feel optimistic about their upcoming seasons now that the Pelicans are going uptempo, but would I bet on their success? No chance! Same goes for Greg Stiemsma and Jeff Withey. Jason Smith has only just recently been cleared to play and I can be just as pessimistic about Morrow and Darius Miller as I could be optimistic.

Bottom line, I have no idea and anybody who feels sure about their evaluation of this team is full of you know what. The team is full of ‘if”, important ‘if’s’, and we are less than six weeks away from starting to see how the answers to these questions play out.

19 comments
josephplum
josephplum

I hope Smith can start and Anderson and Evans come off the bench. Aminu and Smith in the starting lineup will give the team so much flexibility. Even if Smith only plays 25 minutes a game, starting with his energy and length, and then rotating in a bruiser or Anderson while Davis shifts between the 4 and 5 depending on matchup? Fughedaboudit! Imagine Withey with Anderson, Morrow, Roberts, and Holiday dropping threes while Gordon, Davis, and Evans get a rest! Playoffs?! 

Papa Pelican
Papa Pelican

Are the Pels going to sign anyone for training camp?

504ever
504ever

Michael, Loved the article and it's overarching theme that there is a lot of uncertainty with so many new pieces.  After Jason Smith, Aminu, Gordon, and Thomas are the players on the team the longest.  And those three all arrived during the 2011-12 season.  As we head the 2013-14 preseason camp, no one on this team (except for Smith) has spent more than one preseason with the team!  [I can't believe that is a true statement, but it is.]


All, I am already frustrated with the 'Rivers is the key to this team' posts.  I am not sure he makes the article except for the general rule that players show the most improvement in the second pro season, and I'd place him as the 10th "what if" at best.  Starting C is much more important than 2nd team G to me.  

I see zero chance of Rivers starting (I suggest we would make a trade before that happens given our 'win now' focus.) and little chance of Rivers being a star on the second unit.  This biggest thing I see holding Rivers back is he doesn't finish well at the rim.  So a defender in his face can take away his two emerging relative strengths: 3pt shooting and assists/turnover ratio.  Until he has an offensive skill to counter being closely guarded (like finishing at the rim), I just don't see Rivers offensive game consequential to the team's overall performance.

Thankfully Rivers won't have to be a 2nd team star.  He will likely have Evans, Anderson, Smith, and Morrow to play with on the 2nd unit (assuming he beats out, rather than shares minutes with, Roberts and starts on the 2nd unit).  I wish him well.

vasilisGR
vasilisGR

Great article Michael, nice to read from you again,

   I said some time ago that I don t think we can pay over 36 millions a year to 3 players just for the guard positions. It would be a problem long term.

That s why I think that, beside all the other factors, the development of Rivers is very important to the plan that Dell and Monty have on mind. If he can develop to a point that he can contribute 20 to 25 quality  minutes as a starter then they can retain Evans as a sixth man taking the bulk of minutes, trade Gordon and use the money to upgrade the SF and C position in order to have a more balance roster.    

mateor
mateor

Okay everybody. I have done the numbers. According to the above scenarios, if absolutely everything breaks our way, the 2013-14 Pelicans will win 118 games and at least one playoff series.

Is there a precedent for this? What a season!

lsucpolk
lsucpolk

I realize that this is a huge "if", but if Austin Rivers' game develops enough, and he is able to make an impact, and shows that he can carry the load as a sixth man, will that be a factor in determining whether or not Tyreke starts as the 3, or comes off the bench?  Or will Tyreke be the sixth man no matter what?

 Anyways, besides injuries, to me, the most important thing for the Pelicans is developing a chemistry.  The Pelicans have to establish a definite pecking order, and the players must embrace their roles.  The Heat didn't come into their own until the team was no longer Dwayne Wade's, and became Lebron's.

thouse
thouse

Nice job of laying out the uncertainties around the 13/14 Pelicans. Perhaps a probability column on these uncertainties in the pipe?

For me, the only one that is a bit of a stretch is the last one. Davis will not be the best player in a series with the Rockets or Spurs. He could be make a big leap next year and perhaps still be the 3rd best player in a series with the presumed top 4 seeds: OKC, LAC, SAS, or HOU. 

It is a subjective list, but SI had the the top 8 players out of those teams all ranked in the top 19. 7 in the top 11 with Blake Griffin bringing up the rear. This isn't a knock on Davis or his potential. He will be in that stratosphere sooner rather than later. But it's a tall task to be a top 10 player in the league as a 20 year old 2nd year player.

Caffeinedisaster
Caffeinedisaster

While I agree with your assessment of Robin Lopez being a space eater thus enabling others to be better rebounders, I believe Steimsma will be an even better space eater.  He seems to be less robotic with a higher basketball IQ.

soulbreaker
soulbreaker

i know is not the subject but, what player were seeing national media last year in Robin Lopez? now is Doolitle frrom ESPN(i like his system btw) that says Lopez is a good defender(???) when the only thing he can do well is block shots and moving like he´s in slow motion. For me the great problem is Ryno, this team is build in a lakers style with very few depth, but i heard from nba.com he´s training with everyone else from a couple of weeks ago, that´s a good sign. 

Another if i´d like, i don´t sure how but if Monroe can´t reach a deal with Detroit(likely) Dell has to kick Gordon out of the way and get him, this isn´t a laker fans delusional with PG or Irving, this can be do it

xman20002000
xman20002000

Super premise and supporting narrative...   But in reality we don't know until they hit the court...  No one mentions Onuaku perhaps a Dark Horse...  I know these players can't wait.. nor can the fans..  then Aminu could excel with this crew....
 

JabberWalker
JabberWalker

Great to see you back in the saddle.  Thanks for the great post as always. 

Houpgarou
Houpgarou

really?? no if eric gordon can return to looking like a top 5 sg?? no if afa develops a 15 footer? if jsmith develops a corner 3?excellent article!

Michael McNamara
Michael McNamara moderator

@504ever Agree for the most part, but to me, in the Stiemsma vs. Rivers thing - the upside of Rivers wins out. If he can be Barea, which is possible, that has a greater impact than any realistic Stiemsma impact. I can't see Stiemsma ever changing a game, not even one. At best, he is a placeholder that gives you minutes and doesn't lose you games. But Rivers can have nights like he did against the Lakers or Clippers last season where he takes over in small stretches and actually helps increase the lead. 

While I think Stiemsma's floor is slightly higher with regard to impact, I think Rivers ceiling is way higher, especially if and when Gordon goes down. 

vasilisGR
vasilisGR

@504ever I don t necessary disagree with you. Actually your scenario is the most likely to happen this year.

 I m just focusing more to the amount of money we are spending for the three guards. I don't think we can keep the three of them long term (in a couple of years we will probably have to pay Davis the max, right?).

Dell and Monty will have to address  that and in my opinion Gordon has the most chances not to be in the team in a couple of years. I don t know if that will happen this year or the next.

All I know is a potential development of Rivers will come very "handy"!    

xman20002000
xman20002000

@vasilisGR I think all our top players are committed at least for the next 3 years..  Gordon has a max deal and Evans and Holiday about the same or slightly more than Anderson...  With Evans and Aminu playing SF what is the problem... More importantly, I think the major evaluation comes during the All Star before the trade deadline.... when rosters change..

Michael McNamara
Michael McNamara moderator

@mateor I think you kinda missed the point of the impact. That is how much it can SWING the scale, both negative and positive. For example, Stiemsma is not worth 2-5 wins. It is, if he plays as bad as possible, it could mean -2 or -3 wins. Plays normal, even. Plays way above his head, +2 wins

xman20002000
xman20002000

@lsucpolk You seem to be forgetting Aminu...  If he starts making shots he is an ascending player... and let's be thankful we have a strong bench...

504ever
504ever

@vasilisGR @504ever 

Here is the problem with trading Gordon, which I agree our roster is set up to absorb:  just because we want to trade Gordon doesn't mean anyone will take him.  What would you give for a guy who needs 3-4 seasons to play 88 games?  And, if Gordon does go, I don't see River's role changing much.  Evans likely starts and Roberts joins the 2nd second unit, if he isn't there already.  And nothing I said about Rivers in my first post changes.

Also, Gordon's and Anderson's current contracts each expire one year before Davis's contract.  So we don't have to trade Gordon to resign Davis.  It's just a question of do we want to, can we, and do we like what is offered for Gordon?