In Part One of our Season Preview Finale, we talked about the Pelicans offseason, Monty Williams, and the weaknesses that remain on this roster. In Part Two, we talk about X-Factors, Bold Predictions, and more.
6. Will the Pelicans have an All-Star player this season?
McNamara: Yes, and his name is Anthony Davis. I know it is hard to crack the lineup as a big man in the Western Conference, but this should not be a lifetime achievement award. If the voters and the coaches give All-Star nods based on what guys do in 2013-14, Davis should be a no brainer. With Monty taking the reigns off, Davis should get about 36 minutes per game, and if that happens, 20 points, 10 rebounds, 53% FG, 85% FT, 2+ blocks, and 2 steals are realistic numbers to project. Combine that with the Pelicans hot start and the fact that the game will be in New Orleans, and Davis is a virtual shoe in.
Pellissier: Davis. I don’t think Gordon or Evans will get the 33-35+ minutes to put up the gaudy stats necessary for a spot. I think Jrue will get good minutes, but his impact on the court might not show enough in the statistics to merit an All-Star bid in a Western Conference stacked with elite guards.
Ginsberg: Davis. Gordon could have a legitimate shot if not for two reasons – one, he can’t be trusted to stay healthy, and two, the guard positions are not broken up into PG and SG, so the Western Conference’s squad is likely to be point guard heavy. If Davis keeps playing at the same level he has played throughout the preseason (or better), he could very well be playing in the 2014 all-star game in his own city.
Calmes: No. I do not believe Davis will get the recognition after 50-odd games after missing enough games last season to cost him Rookie of the Year. Holiday, Evans, and Gordon all have too much competition, including each other in terms of distinguishing themselves if they even warrant a nod. Davis is the best shot in the long run, but I just don’t trust the process enough to say it’s at least 50% that he does get his first NBA All-Star designation, even with the New Orleans hosting the event. If the Pelicans are leading the conference like the Hornets were in 2008, maybe he finds a way in like David West did.
Madison: Davis. Have you seen how’s he has played in preseason? If he keeps that up that level of play and continues to get the recognition for it there is a strong chance he gets in. Holiday and Gordon have too much competition in the West–especially with fan voting most likely meaning Kobe gets a spot.
7. Single Biggest X-Factor for the Pelicans this season?
McNamara: Al-Farouq Aminu’s ability to be an offensive player that opponents have to respect. Look, nobody is asking Aminu to have a Paul George breakout season, but if he could be similar to Ronnie Brewer in Utah, that would be great. Hit the occasional jumper, run the baseline, get some offensive rebounds, and get out on the break. If he can do that, 9-11 points per game on 52% shooting is realistic to expect. If that happens, the Pelicans will be a near impossible team to defend.
Pellissier: Gordon’s health. It may be a seemingly overplayed storyline, but it just can’t be stressed enough how good he can be when he is 100% healthy and how important it is for the team to have him healthy. He’s looked good thus far in preseason and his health would be such a boost to the Pels’ playoff hopes.
Ginsberg: Davis’ interior presence. AD has shown how much of an impact he can make on a game offensively, but given the lack of a true NBA caliber starting center on this roster, he will have to fulfill many of those requirements as well. If Davis can control the paint on the defensive side of the ball, the Pelicans’ most talented potential lineup of Holiday, Gordon, Evans, Anderson, and Davis will be incredibly tough to beat.
Calmes: The frontcourt rotation. If the Pelicans can get that frontcourt defense to click, this team starts to take a peek into the second round. If Anderson and Davis can play in a way that Monty approves of defensively (with whomever else it takes to make it work), the Pelicans will be a tough matchup every night. If the weakness remains, every game will be an unbridled assault on the paint, just 82 different ones.
Madison: Jason Smith’s level of play. Smith has proven to be a strong role player during his tenure in New Orleans and now it looks like he’ll get the chance to play consistent start minutes. Smith is more physical than he looks but he need to play exceptionally well to solidify the center spot for the Pelicans. Their playoff chances may hinge on it.
8. Bold Prediction for a player, or the team in general, this season
McNamara: Ryan Anderson will start more games than Greg Stiemsma or Jason Smith. I think Monty will give both Stiemsma and Smith shots at the starting center position this season, but eventually he will go all-in with the Anderson/Davis frontcourt. Now that Tyreke is coming off the bench, the Pelicans have their dynamic second unit scorer, and with Roberts and Morrow on that unit, I doubt the big men get the ball that much. So, bring Anderson into the starting lineup to help space the floor and rely on Davis and Aminu to control the boards. While the defense might suffer a little, the offense would improve greatly.
Pellissier: The team will finish in the top five for 3 point %. They were 11th last year, so it isn’t a huge stretch, but this year’s team has far better shot-creators and the addition of Anthony Morrow is already paying dividends from deep. The Pelicans have shot a scathing 42% from 3 in their preseason action (at the time this article was written). And as we all know, Pelicans are always lethal from long-range
Ginsberg: Tyreke Evans will finish with a PER of at least 20. Evans has never played with players who can create as much room for him as he will have with the Pelicans, and he will take advantage in the form of the most efficient season of his career.
Calmes: Eric Gordon plays at least 30 minutes per game in at least 63 games. Eric has several incentives to play well this season and following with respect to getting his next contract, and has spent the bulk of two seasons focusing on his health. My bold prediction is that investment combined with incentives leads to a favorable outcome for all.
Madison: Monty will right the team’s defense. I’m a huge believer of Holiday causing havoc at the point of attack. This will help the defensive rotations which is really what caused the 3-point barrages against the team last season. I don’t think they’ll finish in the top 10 but I do believe Monty can bring it back into the better half of the league.
9. One thing fans should watch for this season
McNamara: Eric Gordon’s shooting percentage on spot up jumpers. In his best years in Los Angeles, he was over 40% as a spot up shooter on his threes, but last year he fell all the way down to 29%. With Holiday and Evans creating looks for him and Davis drawing more attention from the defense, Gordon has to do what he did in LA and in the preseason – knock down spot-up trey’s.
Pellissier: Corner 3’s. They are a symptom of a good offense. New Orleans shot the fewest corner 3s in the league last year.. look for that to improve this year.
Ginsberg: Fast break points. New Orleans finished in the league’s bottom three in fast break points last season, an expected byproduct of their inability to create turnovers or even get stops in general. Between the agility on the perimeter of Holiday, Gordon, & Evans, along with the shot blocking ability from some of the team’s big men down low, the Pelicans should have far more opportunities for points in transition.
Calmes: Eric Gordon’s 3P%. Here are Eric Gordon’s games played and 3P% in each season: (78, 38.9%), (62, 37.1%), (56, 36.4%), (9, 25.0%), (42, 32.4%), and this is a strong relationship (plot it). In this case, I think the basis is in his leg strength. His trend during last season was that he started strong following his time off, got significantly worse from distance, then steadily improved. Also, I noted a number of misses that were short. Thus, this may be a proxy for his health, at least with respect to his knee issues.
Madison: Anthony Davis. Just sit back and watch the ascendance of a superstar.
10. Record and Standing prediction for the Pelicans this season
McNamara: 46-36. 6th place in the Western Conference. It will all come down to how the Pelicans perform against the Eastern Conference. Playing 16 games in the toughest division in the NBA will be tough on this young team. But if they can go something like 20-10 against the Eastern Conference, they only have to go .500 against the West to finish with 46 wins. If they do, they will finish somewhere between five and eight in the conference.
Pellissier: 46-36. 7th place in the Western Conference.
Ginsberg: 44-38. 8th seed in the Western Conference. My projections put the team at 42-40, but I’m going to be a slightly more optimistic fan in terms of the team’s health this season (mainly in regards to Eric Gordon). He stays on the court for more of the season than expected, and the team squeaks into the playoffs as the 8th seed.
Madison: 41-41. 9th in the West. Originally I saw the team as slightly below .500. But with the impressive preseason I think they break even. I’m concerned about team chemistry and Monty’s ability to figure out all the pieces he has. An easy first month helps but overall I just don’t see a playoff berth happening.
Calmes: 45-37. 7th in the West. I see this team winning more than half of their games, but not good enough to win 50, so I split the difference. The Clippers, Grizzlies, Rockets, Spurs, Thunder, and Warriors are better teams at this point, but I think the Pelicans can outdo the rest of the West. If the Clippers “Lakers” themselves, if the Grizzlies new coach is a bust, etc., they may be good enough move up.