Processing the Pelicans Process

Published: June 29, 2017

Last season I spent some time early on pondering just what Dell Demps meant when he said the year would be about the process for the New Orleans Pelicans.

I thought.

I thought and thought and thought.

I watched the games, looked at the play, checked the data and the stats, and I thought.

Then, I figured it out. It took a few games, but early in November, I had it. Numerous articles missed the mark here, simplifying the situation to too great a degree to be helpful. They decided to stick to development, which doesn’t mean “play him constantly,” of Buddy Hield, but left out trying to improve the defense and passing, and, the most important and salient aspect of the process, featuring Anthony Davis. The most common error was assuming the talk was simply code for “developing and losing,” which led to frustration when the team won, even if not at a great clip (especially before Jrue returned). All of these things, in balance, was the process, and it was successful. Also, we all know some people just like to complain no matter how much they dress it up, so there is that source of frustration for those charlatans.

At any rate, how do I know it was successful? Well, I watched the games, which is more than some critics do. The evidence of improvement is all over the stats, Buddy performed well, and Davis’ performance speaks for itself.

The most important measurement of this, however, is the trade for DeMarcus Cousins. Now, I know you are saying this was luck or robbery or Kings’ foolishness or some weird market, but I think the trade does not get done if Cousins is not looking forward to playing with Davis. I think showcasing Davis was the best way to attract a star. Well, it was the best by default, because it was the only way, but I think it was also a pretty decent way to proceed.

In addition to being a star player, Cousins is a star in that his name-recognition in the NBA world has an instant effects on fans, players, other teams . . . and other players. This is not just a lazy strategy or a “business reasons” move in “basketball reasons” clothing. When a player has been passively studied for so long, a professional evaluation has less variance as a result. That’s not to say that player is better than a less famous player, but the evaluation and performance are more likely to match more closely than a less familiar player.

The Pelicans, and the Benson organization generally, likes lower risk when they spend more assets, and they’ll take more risk with lower stakes assets. This is all in context, of course . . . Drew Brees’ first deal in NOLA was not a small one, but in terms of NFL contracts, there was not too much risk for Airline. In the cases where they took the risk with high stakes guys, they were burned, so I think the strategy was reinforced by those cases.

Therefore, I expect this process to continue in a parallel way this season. We’ll see if Free Agency reflects that. I expect Davis and Boogie to be featured, and their performances will serve to get them their stats and recognition while trying to attract another higher echelon guy. I would expect them to keep Jrue in part because he is valued, but also in part because they want to appear to be a place talent is collecting. As I wrote last week, I expect defenses to try to focus on stopping the two big men, especially when they are on the court together, perimeter scoring threats and passing will be important, along with the best defense that can be had with that.

So, I don’t expect a big, forced move. I expect the team to just fill-in around the starters, win what they can, and hope they are able to sway a star. If a star just decides to show up, bully for us. What I expect to see from this offseason is about what we saw last offseason. Then, if the team does well, there could be a move sometime in the next, say, 375 days, that is more of a leap than a step. We see this working in other places, so it fits the pattern that is only extending with the Paul trade.

Being ready, having decent pieces, having some wins . . . that’s what the Pelicans need. So, as I said before, if this team sputters out of the gate or looks at any point like the playoffs are not a fait accompli, I expect Loomis to clean house.