AD’s 59 Shows There is No Such Thing as a “Pointless” Game

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Published: February 22, 2016

We live in an all or nothing culture nowadays. Tune in to the latest Bill Simmons podcast on the trade deadline, and you will hear him say something to the effect of, “What’s the point? They’re not winning a title this year…” more than a half dozen times. And he’s not alone. That same rhetoric came from almost every national writer or commentator when guys like Ryan Anderson or Dwight Howard weren’t traded this past week. Apparently, if you don’t win a title, the season was pointless. By that logic, the careers of John Stockton and Karl Malone were pointless, I guess. Though, as a Utah resident, I dare not say that out loud.

I have heard many say that this is a “lost season” for the Pelicans. Heck, that was literally the FIRST sentence said on the initial SportsCenter recap of AD’s 59/20 game. And I quote, “It’s a lost season for the Pelicans, but Anthony Davis had a game for the ages today.” While we all know that the Pelicans aren’t winning the title this year, and even the playoffs are a long shot, I don’t agree with the idea that the home stretch is “pointless” for the Pelicans.

It has always seemed to me that most people view NBA seasons as self-contained novels. They have a beginning, middle, and end and do not tie into anything before it or afterwards. I have always viewed an NBA season more like a chapter in an ongoing book. Viewing it through that lens, you can see how these final 27 games of the season have a purpose, even if a championship or a playoff birth aren’t in the cards.

What if we are just in Chapter 3 of a 15 chapter novel and this is where our hero (Anthony Davis) has gotten humbled and now realizes that the only way to overcome the next hurdle is to realize his true potential? I mean, think of Anthony Davis’s basketball career. He was a late bloomer, relatively, and even in his championship season at UK, he reached the promised land as more of a complimentary piece. He was not the vocal leader, nor was he “the man” offensively, as he was 5th on the team in field goal attempts. Then he comes to the NBA and by season 2, has four high volume scorers placed around him, so it is not absolutely imperative for him to be “the man.”

Now, we flash forward to his 4th season, and as injuries hit the Pelicans hard early on, Davis struggled when he was asked to be option 1, 2, and 3 in the first few months. He had never truly been asked to carry a load like that for a sustained period of time, especially when you consider the new pace of a Gentry system and the extra possessions, and it was clear that he was incredibly frustrated having to be that guy. So perhaps the second half of the season can be about AD getting completely comfortable playing the role he played on Sunday afternoon. It could also be about him evolving as teams adjust to him being that guy, as well. It is almost a given that teams will double team him more often moving forward, and it will be imperative that he sees the whole court and can make plays for others out of those double teams. While he doesn’t have the shooters around him that will make teams pay consistently this season, the hope is that he will next season and beyond, so improving that skill is essential.

But it is not just about Anthony Davis. There is more that this team can accomplish in this “lost season.” Here are just a couple of things to keep an eye on down the stretch.

Cunningham and Babbitt Getting Minutes at Power Forward

If Ryan Anderson does not re-sign, the smart money says that the Pelicans will use their cap room on a wing or two. Couple that with Quincy Pondexter’s return, and all of a sudden, there isn’t much time available on the wings for somebody like Dante Cunningham. As I wrote a few weeks ago, Cunningham and Babbitt are small ball 4’s in this league, and especially in Gentry’s offense. It’s time to start seeing how they play at the 4, as insurance in case Anderson’s contract demands are just too rich this summer.

Holiday Getting Minutes with Davis

Holiday playing 30+ minutes and staying healthy is one thing – and don’t get me wrong, it’s a great thing – but he needs to continue to build the chemistry with Davis that they have finally discovered this year. As Mike Prada brilliantly pointed out, AD plays like a King without Holiday; He plays like a God with him. The Pistons game saw the duo log their most minutes on the court together this season, and I don’t think it is a coincidence that it resulted in AD having the game of his life.

The two have only played 2700 minutes together in their nearly 3 years together. For comparisons sake, that’s about 300 more minutes than Damian Lillard and LaMarcus Aldridge logged together last year alone. Holiday is starting to find his rhythm, and he is starting to get comfortable with his body and how far he can push it. You would think that with another summer of strengthening it, that any thought of needing to monitor his minutes would be gone for good. But that is just step 1; Step 2 is all about him building the chemistry with the Pelicans franchise superstar

Determining Whether Asik and/or Ajinca Can be Worth Their Contracts

Don’t look now, but over the last 20 games, Asik has been solid. He is averaging about 19 minutes per game, and his per 36 numbers are very good – 9.8 points, 16.2 rebounds. He has been a very good 7th man, essentially. Yes, he starts, but he gets the minutes of a 7th or 8th man, and while it seems insane to pay a 7th or 8th man ten million dollars a season, it might not be in the era of the new cap. Moving forward, that will be the market norm, and if Asik can keep playing like this, his contract won’t be a plus, but it definitely won’t be considered the worst in the NBA.

Ajinca, on the other hand, hasn’t had a chance to show what he can do in this system. His contract is much smaller, and for him to give the Pelicans good value in the era of the new cap, all he has to be is a solid 9th or 10th man. But more often than not, if one of the bigs aren’t injured, Ajinca doesn’t get the chance to contribute. But just like Cunningham and Babbitt, the staff and front office needs to know if he can be a part of the big man rotation moving forward. Just last year, he and AD were an unstoppable duo statistically, and if Gentry can find lineups where those two can succeed, combined with Asik giving 20 solid minutes and Cunningham or Babbitt can contribute, the big man rotation is in good hands heading into the summer, with or without Ryan Anderson.

Finding Out Whether Bryce Dejean-Jones Can be a Rotation Player

Imagine getting 40-45 quality minutes per game out of two guys making less than five million combined over the next two years. If BDJ can show he is a rotation player and Pondexter bounces back from surgery, they could be getting just that both next season and the year after. So far, Jones has shown the high effort and intensity, along with a solid outside stroke and solid defense to go with above average rebounding. To show he can be in the rotation for a quality team, he has to succeed in Darren Erman’s defensive system, plain and simple. Davis will get any wing player open shots, and BDJ can knock those down. Jones has also shown he can get out in transition, which is necessary for a wing in a Gentry offense. Whether he can be a piece of this puzzle long-term will all come down to his defense. Can he make the right rotations and defend without fouling? We will find out over these next 27 games.

Conclusion

No matter how this Pelicans season ends, it will be considered a disappointment when you look at it through the lens of the expectations we all had entering the season. But building a contender is a process, and sometimes that process doesn’t just have a consistent upwards trajectory. Sometimes getting knocked down is the best thing that can happen to a group of young men who got rewarded financially before they ever had any real success.

The Pelicans need to use the second half of the season to figure out exactly what they have, especially in the front court. If Ryan Anderson leaves, would it be possible for the Pelicans to thrive with the other bigs they have on this roster? Finding out what Dejean-Jones can give you is important, too. Maybe you can pay Ryno and AD $45 million a year if you are getting quality production from BDJ, Q-Pon, and a guy on a rookie contract like Buddy Hield on the wing for $8 million per season.

Bottom line, every one of these games has a purpose. Maybe we don’t see the benefits this year, but there is carry over in sports. Each season isn’t a novel, it’s a chapter. And as tempting as it is to skip ahead, you will enjoy the experience more if you focus in and read each and every page.

2 Comments

  1. dschmid4

    February 22, 2016 at 11:14 pm

    I enjoyed the piece. But the positive tone from McNamara makes me think maybe In the N.O. Was too taxing for you. Or perhaps they have adjusted your meds. But a ray of sunshine

  2. nolahog

    February 23, 2016 at 2:15 pm

    Can’t wait to see how it plays out

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