New Orleans Pelicans’ Mid-Season Report Card

Published: January 21, 2015

With the New Orleans Pelicans’ season now officially halfway complete, it is a good time to take a look back and see how the team has fared relative to expectations. In this relatively high-level post, I start out by putting things in perspective with the team’s first half schedule, followed by player/coach grades accompanied by both quick notes to help explain the grades along with links to applicable columns published by myself or other Bourbon Street Shots writers. As always, feel free to leave a comment with your own personal assessment of the Pelicans’ first half of the season.

The Schedule

To date, the Pelicans have faced the 2nd most difficult schedule in the NBA (tied with the Jazz). This distinction is an important one to consider before an analysis of the team’s performance can take place. Below, I list the differences in results against what I would have expected:

“Good Wins” – @ San Antonio, @ Sacramento, @ Houston, @ Oklahoma City, @ Toronto

“Bad Losses” – vs. Sacramento, @ Indiana, @ Charlotte, @ Boston, @ Philadelphia, @ New York

Net Impact: -1 Wins

While you could arguably add a couple on either side, those are the games that stick out to me. As a result, based on the Pelicans’ schedule thus far, I would have expected them to be about 21-20 at this point in time (which is also where their Pythagorean win total places them). Instead, they’re 20-21. Not a catastrophe by any means (unless your expectation is blindly playoffs or bust). With this info in mind, let’s move on to the individual players themselves.

The Roster

You all have been in school in varying lengths, so you know how grades work. Here is a rough outline: A = Outstanding, B = Good, C = Average, D = Poor, F = Failure. For example, a grade of C doesn’t mean the player has performed terribly; it just means that he has been solidly mediocre thus far.

PG, Jrue Holiday, A-. Holiday has performed admirably on both sides of the ball, posting career highs thus far in PER (18.6), Assist/Turnover Ratio (2.96), and Stocks (2.2 steals + blocks). Though by some advanced metrics – such as ESPN’s Real Plus-Minus – Holiday grades out far better on the offensive end than on defense, you’d be hard pressed to find any single Pelicans NBA junkie who would suggest that Jrue has been anything less than great defensively this season. Whether using RPM or WAR (wins above replacement), Holiday ranks among the top 25 players in the NBA this season, and unquestionably the Pelicans’ best player not named Anthony Davis.

Wing, Eric Gordon, D+. Though he has displayed bright spots from time to time, there is no avoiding the fact that Gordon is once again under-performing in a Pelicans uniform. While the importance of his presence in the starting lineup was made clear when the Pelicans were forced to turn to either Austin Rivers or Luke Babbitt to replace him, he has still failed to make consistent positive contributions to the team, as his career lows in free throw rate (by far), assist rate, and turnover rate all indicate.

Wing, Tyreke Evans, B. Giving Evans a B is nothing more than an average, because the variance of that grade is so high. Evans will have games when he deserves an A and other games in which he deserves a C, with very few “B” performances on a game-by-game basis. Back in late December, I wrote about his confusing inability to get to the free throw line, as his free throw rate of .23 was well below his career average of .33. That number is now up to .286, and his efficiency stats have also increased as a result (his PER of 16.4 is 3rd on the team among players with at least 400 minutes played). When Evans is consistently looking for teammates while employing his typical “attack the rim” mentality, he can be the second best player on the team. When he reverts to his more common “tunnel vision” approach, though, he can end up firing blanks against some of the better rim protecting defenses. More often than not, Evans’ offensive play is a plus for the Pelicans, but his defense has frequently been suspect.

Big, Anthony Davis, A+. Potentially the only legitimate gripe over Davis’ game is that his team defense still hasn’t become truly great yet, but that’s just nit picking. Every other aspect of AD’s game has been developing at a seemingly exponential rate, as Davis continues to blow through player comparisons left and right. There is even a good argument to be made that he needs even more touches than he is getting at present. Anyway, nothing more to read here, really. Check out the links for some great work about Davis’ game from Nick and Jake.

Big, Omer Asik, C+. Relative to what most hoped Asik would add to this Pelicans team when he was first acquired, it’s hard to say that Asik has lived up to expectations. There is little doubt that Omer has helped the Pelicans’ defense overall, especially looking at some individual matchups on a night-to-night basis along with how his mere presence gives Davis the freedom to do so much more defensively. The fact of the matter, though, is that according to some of the best defensive statistical metrics that we have at our disposal, his impact has been somewhat limited. Individual defense in the NBA is still quite difficult  to quantify, though, and earlier this month, Nick did a pretty great job of evaluating Asik’s impact with this post here. As the Pelicans’ schedule gets easier and the team gets healthy, there is good reason to believe the defense will improve as well, but for now, Asik’s role as a member of the Pelicans is still somewhat of a work in progress.

Big, Ryan Anderson, C-. As bad as Anderson has shot the basketball on the road this season, he has still been lights-out at home, shooting almost 44% from beyond the arc in 17 home games to date. Due to this and his exceptional ability to take care of the basketball, Anderson’s PER is actually still sitting a bit above league average. Still, his road struggles have really impacted this Pelicans team, especially recently as New Orleans has tried to cover for the absence of Holiday and Davis. If Anderson had made shots at his normal rate during the past road trip, the Pelicans would have won at least one more game (@ New York), maybe even two (@ Charlotte).  Additionally, Anderson was finding other ways to contribute when his shot wasn’t falling earlier in the season, but lately he has been unable to do so. The more likely scenario is that Anderson’s road production starts to revert back to his career averages, but there’s no debate that his 2014-15 season had underwhelmed so far.

Bench Mob, D. This grade is somewhat unfair because not only were we already expecting a relatively poor second unit before the start of the season, but Anderson is also removed from this group’s grade by being included above. Regardless, the Pelicans’ bench has been pretty unreliable so far this season. Players have stepped up to varying degrees; early season acquisition Dante Cunningham comes to mind instantly, along with the recent emergence of Alexis Ajinca. Luke Babbitt was solid from 3-point range when inserted into the starting lineup, but that lineup’s overall performance went from great to terrible when he replaced Eric Gordon. Jimmer has shown flashes of potential, but his defense has taken away almost as much as he’s added on the offensive end. Rivers was largely pretty bad before being traded to the Celtics (who then flipped him to his father’s Clippers). By and large, the Pelicans’ second unit has struggled to keep the team in games when the big guns go to the bench, but they have certainly improved since the start of the season. As such, I could easily see this group rising to a C by the end of the year.

The Coach

There have been plenty of great pieces written by various members of this site over the past few days, so I won’t go into a ton of detail here. As Michael McNamara noted earlier this week, some of the complaints making the rounds about Monty are valid, while others are not. That the Pelicans can play so well against elite opponents while struggling so often against some of the league’s doormats is an issue that could be at least partially explained by questionable coaching ability, but certainly not entirely. It is certainly possible that Monty is going out of his way to minimize the chances of bad things happening, but while doing so is even further reducing the chance for meaningful improvement. The main theme when it comes to Monty Williams is that there are many questions with not nearly as many answers, although many fans certainly believe to possess a great deal of those answers. Still, it is hard to be satisfied with Williams’ coaching performance thus far, given some of the issues that the team has faced this season.

Grade: C-

Final Grade

All things considered, this Pelicans team has been pretty average so far. From a win-loss record perspective, New Orleans is just one win under what I expected (as noted above). Vegas placed the Pelicans’ expected win total at 43.5 wins, and given the fact that the second half of their schedule is easier than the first half, they’re easily on pace for that mark. Anthony Davis continues to exceed expectations, but other players have fallen short. How one feels about the Pelicans to date is largely a matter of perspective. If you convinced yourself that this is the year that they NEED to make the playoffs, then you’re probably giving them something like a D. If you’re impressed by how well New Orleans has consistently played against some of the strongest teams in the league, then maybe you’re giving them something close to a B. In total, the Pels have beaten some good teams, lost to some bad teams, and have simply been a pretty mediocre team overall. It’ll be an uphill battle to get into the postseason, but it is far from too late for this Pelicans team to have a successful season, as long as your criteria for success are reasonable.

Grade: C


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