BourbonStreetShots.com http://www.bourbonstreetshots.com New Orleans Pelicans information, analysis and discussion Sat, 25 Oct 2014 03:15:57 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.0 Why Dell Demps Should Pick Up Austin Rivers’ Option http://www.bourbonstreetshots.com/2014/10/24/why-dell-demps-should-pick-up-austin-rivers-option/ http://www.bourbonstreetshots.com/2014/10/24/why-dell-demps-should-pick-up-austin-rivers-option/#comments Sat, 25 Oct 2014 03:10:29 +0000 http://www.bourbonstreetshots.com/?p=46585 Today, the New Orleans Pelicans picked up Anthony Davis’s option for the 2015-16 season. No surprise there. But according to John Reid of the Times-Picuyane, they will decline the 2015-16 option on Austin Rivers. The Pelicans have until October 31st to make this decision officially, and if they do pick up his contract, Rivers will be guaranteed 3.1 million dollars in 2015-16. They would also have the right to make him a restricted free agent in 2016-17 by giving him a 4.2 million dollar tender before he hits free agency. Meanwhile, if they decline his option in the next few days, he becomes an unrestricted free agent in July of 2015, and could just up and leave New Orleans three years after he was drafted here 10th overall.

So why would Demps risk letting a 22 year old lottery pick go before he reaches his prime? The argument for not picking up the option centers around flexibility. Not only could it give the Pelicans an extra $3 million in cap room next summer, but it also could make Rivers more valuable on the trade market this year – as he would be an expiring contract. If the Pelicans want to go out and get a SF at the deadline, and the team they are trading with doesn’t want to take back any long-term salary, then Rivers can help facilitate a trade. They can put him with (just an example) Withey and Salmons, and take back nearly $8 million in salary.

That scenario makes more sense to me. Declining the contract to have another $3.1 million in free agency next season does not. First of all, it’s not really $3.1 million. You need to have a cap hold for open spots, so you are actually creating about $2.6 million in cap room. Next, we have to look at the salary cap, which is projected to be $66.5 million next season. Now, with the new TV deal, there is a small chance that the players and owners can agree to smooth out the big bump, and raise the cap more than that next year. But that doesn’t appear likely. If the cap is $66.5 million, and Eric Gordon opts in (again, likely if the cap isn’t smoothed) and the Pelicans retain Asik’s cap hold, then the Pelicans will be right up against the salary cap if they decline Rivers, and slightly over if they pick up the option. In either case, they will have the MLE. But in only one case, will they be guaranteed Rivers for $3.1 million AND have a chance to match any offers the following summer.

The only way that declining Rivers option next summer, therefore, is if the cap is smoothed and/or Eric Gordon opts out of his final year. Again, neither appears very likely right now. The most likely outcome is that the cap is $66.5 million next summer and Eric Gordon opts in. Then, the Pelicans re-sign Omer Asik, and they are over the cap. The most likely scenario is that the Pelicans make their next big free agent move in 2016, when Eric Gordon and Ryan Anderson come off the books and the cap takes a pretty significant jump up. So why not make the Rivers decision then?

Declining his option could put Dell Demps in a difficult position next summer. Let’s say Austin plays well and he is a 23 year old combo guard who has improved greatly two years in a row. Now, Dell wants to sign him and Austin wants to stay, but he isn’t just going to take a one year deal. Dell has to decide: Do I let him walk or do I eat into my 2016 cap room by giving him a multi-year deal? Neither scenario is ideal if it plays out like that. What you would love in that scenario is for Austin to take a one-year deal, so you can put it off until the following summer. Or basically, exactly what would happen if Dell picked up his option this week.

Look, this decision is probably not going to make or break the Pelicans future championship hopes, but the flexibility that not picking up Austin’s option does not outweigh the problem that would be created this summer if Austin takes another leap forward and hits unrestricted free agency. Nobody ever said being a General Manager was easy, and this is admittedly a close call, but the best thing for the franchise would be for Dell to value Rivers over a tiny bit of flexibility that might not even really exist when its all said and done.

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New Orleans Pelicans Season Preview Part Two http://www.bourbonstreetshots.com/2014/10/24/new-orleans-season-preview-part-two/ http://www.bourbonstreetshots.com/2014/10/24/new-orleans-season-preview-part-two/#comments Fri, 24 Oct 2014 21:15:15 +0000 http://www.bourbonstreetshots.com/?p=46575 Our writers tackle five more pressing questions. For a look at Part One, click here. 

6. Do you think Demps will make a move during the season to unload Gordon or to add a small forward?

Michael McNamara: Teams should know by All-Star break what the cap will look like for the 2015-16 season and beyond. The players and the league will negotiate whether to “smooth” the cap growth or not by then, and that could mean a lot for the trade market. Either way, I don’t see Eric Gordon getting moved during the season because of the uncertainty of what he does next summer. But Dell will likely put out calls to teams to see if he can get a low cost upgrade at small forward. The problem is that he doesn’t have much to offer. The hope would be that he can interest teams in guys like Withey, Miller, Babbitt, and/or Jimmer in exchange for a guy who is going unused on a team outside of playoff contention. The odds are low, but the hope would be that someone like Jared Dudley becomes available for next to nothing.

All that said, here is a sneaky trade to watch out for: Eric Gordon going to Sacramento (they could give up on McLemore), Ben McLemore going to a third team, and the Pelicans getting a wing player or two that fits better. Imagine something like the Kings getting Gordon, the Bucks getting Ben McLemore to put with The Greek Freak and Jabari (along with Jason Thompson), and the Pelicans getting Khris Middleton, Jared Dudley, and Derrick Williams’ expiring contract. If Gordon comes out of the gate playing well, and the Kings owner remains delusional, then I can see something like that going down.

Calmes: Absolutely I hope so, and absolutely I think if there is a trade, that’s the content of it . . . or that’s the “first rail” of the bank shot of a trade. I’m not sure that Demps makes that move during the season, however. He has yet to make a big move during the season, and I think there are a few good reasons for this, not the least of which is planning. So, I expect Dell to either embrace the cap space, trade Gordon as an expiring contract, or trade him in a sign-and-trade this summer. Sure, anything can happen, but this is how I see it playing out in the most likely of worlds.

Pellissier:  I think there is so little required of a small forward in the starting lineup that it could be done without unloading much.  To me, any veteran SF with a good shot and an ounce of veteran know-how could very easily fit into a role here.  I don’t think Dell needs to go out and grab some magnificent SF (not that there are many anyway).  He has been systematically picking off our weaknesses with acquisitions, so I have faith that the SF void will be filled at the deadline or next summer. But I have no clue which one it’ll be.

Grayson: I would say at this point that Demps & co. are okay with Gordon on the roster. Trading him this season would still be quite difficult as teams would need convincing he’s fully healthy. As for the small forward position I think the team is moving forward with what they have and should the need arise (become a glaring deficiency that’s affecting team performance) they will go out and acquire a stop-gap, veteran type. Demps is renowned for acquiring small-priced players, I’d look for someone who does one thing well. Think Dorrell Wright, Brandon Rush.


7.  What is a realistic expectation for the Pelicans this season on the defensive end?

McNamara: The Pellicans can realistically expect to be a top 14 defense this year, in terms of defensive rating. Looking back to the Rockets two years ago, when Asik played 30 minutes per game, they were 16th in the NBA in defensive rating. They had one decent defender in Parsons and two atrocious defenders in Jeremy Lin and James Harden getting the bulk of the minutes on the perimeter. Marcus Morris and Patrick Patterson shared the PF spot next to Asik, and they are no Anthony Davis (or even close). If that team could be average, there is no reason to believe that this team can’t be slightly above average.

Calmes: Relative to themselves, much improved. I’m not sure where the Pelicans will fall relative to other teams or how to measure the defense in a way that will satisfy many people, but I do know that I expect realistic improvement in three key areas: Shots attempted within 3 feet, shots allowed within 3 feet, and free throw attempts allowed per shot attempts allowed. Those areas will translate into big differences on the court generally given how bad the team was last season due to their Center situation and lack of NBA experience on the court. Therefore, improvement, and significant improvement, is realistic.

Pellissier:  Somewhere in the middle of the pack.  The ceiling is probably something around 10th, given that the Davis/Asik tandem is everything I think it will be and Jrue being the excellent defender that he is.  But I think the offense will be much more potent than the defense, so getting our defense to around the league average may be enough to vault us into the playoffs.

Grayson:  About average. Don’t get this misconstrued they won’t be bad, it’s just that the majority of guys haven’t played together and in my opinion that is one of the most important things when it comes to defense. I mean, remember the Heat when Lebron, Wade and Bosh started? They really struggled as a defensive group until they started to get more games under their belt and in their second and third seasons were much improved. If the Pelicans stay healthy I would expect them to come on stronger towards the end of the year. With role players understanding they have Anthony Davis and Omer Asik manning the paint they can tighten up their pressure on the ball and take more risks. It may take a while, but I am somewhat optimistic.

8. Name one player who starts the season out of the rotation that is a rotation player by the end of the year

McNamara: I am going to go with Luke Babbitt on this one. I can see two ways that Babbitt could crack the rotation. The first one is sad, and that involves Ryan Anderson suffering a setback with his neck. But let’s not talk about that. The other scenario would see Babbitt slowly increasing his ability as a wing defender to the point where Monty feels comfortable giving him all the backup minutes at SF. I think Salmons or Miller starts the season off with that job, but Babbitt has it at seasons’ end.

Calmes: Russ Smith. He’s a rookie, but he had four years of college, so he’s not as raw as some rookies. While the Pelicans have interest in 5 other guards (Evans, Fredette, Gordon, Holiday, Rivers), the hole at small forward will not only occupy Evans some, it will create the need for 3 guard lineups. Russ Smith is also a good defender. If he can find a way to translate that quickly to the NBA, I think he has the best chance of making the move into the rotation by season’s end among the deep reserves.

Pellissier:  I want to say Darius Miller so badly, but he just hasn’t been able to step up when he has had chances, and my faith in him becoming a reliable player in New Orleans is waning.  So somewhat by default, I’ll say Babbitt or Young– Babbitt because his shooting could be needed and Young because he’s a scrappy guy with role player potential.

Grayson: I’m going with Patric Young. Energy, it’s a global crisis that’s right around the corner and Young might be able to solve it by his lonesome self. Monty always has one of these guys he goes to during times of trepidation. I could see Young playing next to Ajinca and Davis. He needs to rebound better than we’ve seen in summer league and pre-season, but P-Young could fill the void that Jason Smith left with all that MOXY and HUSTLE.


9.  How good is Anthony Davis this year? (stat line, accolades, etc.)

McNamara: I wrote about Davis becoming a superstar here, and what it might mean for the Pelicans as a whole. If he makes the leap, the Pelicans are a dangerous team, and you know what – I think he makes it. I fully expect 23 points, 10.5 rebounds, 3 blocks, and 1.5 steals on 52% shooting for Davis. Only two guys have done that in NBA history – David Robinson and Hakeem Olaquwon. Anthony Davis will be the third. Davis will also get into the All-Star game as a reserve (stupid fan voting) and be named Second Team All-NBA (behind Durant and Lebron). He will go into next season as the unquestioned ‘3rd Best Player in the World’, with people only asking ‘when’ not ‘if’ he will pass Lebron and Durant.

Calmes: I’m not going to invent numbers as Asik changes Davis’ role on the team from what we have become accustomed to, and frankly, I don’t care about all that except how it ties to winning a title. So, I will answer in my own way. I expect Davis’ shot chart to spread further from the basket while maintaining his relative success from various distances (over 40% between 3 and 16 feet). I expect him to take harder shots and more contested shots, including the paint, in an effort to set his teammates up, whether he registers an assist or not. I expect Davis to get to the line more and more, punishing teams for under-defending him as a team. Lastly, I also expect Davis to start commanding the highest attention from his teammates, both as a target and a leader.

Pellissier: I predicted 23-24 points, 10-11 rebounds, 3 blocks, and 1.5-2 steals per game on The Smoking Cuban’s season preview of the Pelicans, and I’ll stick with it.  I think he’s a lock for the All-Star Game and 2nd team All-NBA if he stays healthy.  He can be as statistically good as we need him to be, and I also think this is the year that his on-court impact matches his statistical dominance.

Grayson: 22 points, 11 rebounds, 3.2 blocks, 1.8 steals per game. Runner up MVP (boom!), All-Star and All-NBA first-team. I don’t foresee anything outside of *knocks on all the wood* an injury stopping Davis. We’ve seen him in Team USA, we’ve seen him come of age last season with games like this and this. It’s time to get on the bandwagon (I mean, you likely already are) and get with the program. Anthony Davis is for real. What I think Davis really wants is for the team to make the playoffs. He would love personal accolades, but the one he likely covets the most is some playoff action.

10. What will the Pelicans record be for this season, and where will they finish in the West?

McNamara: 51-31, (tied) 5th in the West. Predicting health is impossible, so I am not even going to try. I am imagining that all injuries are turned off around the league 2K style, and if that were to happen, I think the Pelicans win 51 games. If the Pels catch some breaks and other teams go down, it could be higher and if the usual happens, it will be lower. But as is, I like the Pelicans better than some teams considered a lock for the playoffs, namely Houston, Memphis, and Portland. I think they are on par with Dallas, but in my projection, Carlisle puts them over the top. They are dead even with Golden State, and injuries will determine who wins more games amongst those two. Am I crazy? Maybe. But imagine what they would have called the guy who predicted 2nd for the Hornets prior to the ‘07-’08 season?

Calmes: Again, I’m not going to answer this in the inventing numbers fashion, much less waste time splitting hairs I can’t even see. If healthy in an NBA-typical sense, the team will make the playoffs without much trouble. The win totals in the West being so high is because the West just beats up the East. Last season, both of the top teams in each conference were 38-14, and the lowest seeded playoff team had records of 29-23 in West, 28-24 in the East (Brooklyn went 26-26 in the East, however). Thus, the key to making the playoffs for the Pelicans seems to be coming in about 0.500 in the West but dominating their record against the demonstrably weaker East. This is exactly what I expect to happen.

Pellissier: 48-34.  The team is undoubtedly better than it was last season.  The core players are now accustomed to one another and Monty’s system, which is huge, and adding Asik and a healthy Ryno/Jrue changes things in a big way.  Sprinkle in Anthony Davis’s projected leap and you have the makings of what could be a very, very good season– even if they don’t quite make the playoffs.

Grayson: I asked this question on Twitter a while ago and while I love some fans optimism I would say the Pelicans go 46-36 and are 9th in the West. What’s holding me back is two things. One, New Orleans was pretty awful against the Western Conference. It seemed at times they just couldn’t keep pace. Yes we can blame injuries, but I’m pretty sick of using this as an excuse. The second things is the defense. While I love the addition of Omer Asik I still am unsure of the backcourts defensive abilities. Jrue Holiday is the staple, but Tyreke Evans, Eric Gordon and John Salmons don’t exactly illicit confidence in this aspect of the game. As I’ve said previously, I think the Pelicans get off to a slow start, but build momentum towards the end of the season.

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Rounding out the Rotation: the Pelicans’ Seventh Man http://www.bourbonstreetshots.com/2014/10/24/rounding-out-the-rotation-the-pelicans-seventh-man/ http://www.bourbonstreetshots.com/2014/10/24/rounding-out-the-rotation-the-pelicans-seventh-man/#comments Fri, 24 Oct 2014 13:00:05 +0000 http://www.bourbonstreetshots.com/?p=46528 With only four days until the Pelicans’ regular season opener, the top of the team’s rotation is largely set in stone. The team will trot out a back court of Jrue Holiday, Eric Gordon, and Tyreke Evans, a front court of Anthony Davis and Omer Asik, and Ryan Anderson will serve as a lethal first option off of the bench. Collectively, those six players should account for about 200 of the 240 available player minutes for any given game. How Monty Williams plans on dividing up those remaining 40 or so minutes, however, is anything but clear at this point.

Last year, Anthony Morrow was the guy who stepped up as the Pelicans’ most consistent bench option, which became even more important as a result of all of the teams’ injury woes. The player who fills that void this season could have a considerable impact on the team’s chances, whether it be through supplying stability off the bench or helping the roster fight through an injury or two. Let’s take a look at the remaining players on the Pelicans’ roster and attempt to determine who will be the guy to get the lion’s share of those remaining minutes.

Alexis Ajinca

Why he’s the guy: Ajinca arguably showed more improvement throughout the 2013-14 season than any other Pelicans bench player, establishing a decent mid-range jumper and serving as an enforcer inside thanks to his 7’2″ size. The main problem that plagued Alexis was a high foul rate, making him unable to play for long stretches, however, as the team’s 4th big, fouls should not be as much of a concern.
Why he’s not: The trio of Ryan Anderson, Anthony Davis, and Omer Asik will likely gobble up almost all of the available front court minutes, leaving only a few left for Ajinca. The extent of his playing time may depend in part on how many minutes Anderson sees at the small forward position.

John Salmons

Why he’s the guy: Simply put, Salmons is the most serviceable “small forward” on the roster. If Monty Williams decides he wants or needs a more conventional small forward, Salmons has shown more than Darius Miller to this point. Not only can he knock down the perimeter jumper, he isn’t as bad of a wing defender as his age and contract may indicate. It may sound scary, but against elite 3s such as LeBron James, Kevin Durant, and Carmelo Anthony, Salmons may be New Orleans’ best option with more than one eyebrow.
Why he’s not: The Pelicans have shown throughout the preseason that they’re more than willing to play lineups without a true small forward, experimenting with players such as Tyreke Evans, Luke Babbitt, and Ryan Anderson at the position.  The team is willing to play with mis-matches at the position and try to exploit whatever advantages can be gained while remaining confident in its front line of Anthony Davis and Omer Asik. There are more talented players than Salmons on the Pelicans’ bench at this point in the veteran’s career, and the team has the flexibility at full strength to replace Salmons’ minutes with those players.

Jimmer Fredette

Why he’s the guy: The Pelicans lost a key bench contributor in Anthony Morrow last season, and Jimmer’s skill set makes him the natural replacement. Fredette is lights out from beyond the arc, and can also handle the ball fairly well. A lineup of Holiday, Fredette, Evans, Anderson, and Davis would be one of the most dangerous offensive units in the NBA, with an exceptional combination of shooting, dribble penetrating, and offensive rebounding.
Why he’s not: Fredette is a prototypical one-way player, as his defense is well below average at best. He isn’t agile enough to stay in front of most point guards, and isn’t tall enough to consistently contest shots from opposing shooting guards. Given how much Monty Williams stresses defense, a deficiency such as this one could force him out of the regular rotation, especially if the Pelicans’ core proves that they can sufficiently space the floor on their own.

Austin Rivers

Why he’s the guy: Rivers continues to improve on both sides of the ball, as he was certainly a better defender than Gordon last season and is probably the most versatile defender out of the players on this list. He has a quick first step, and a lineup featuring Rivers, Holiday, and Evans would result in a ground assault on the rim. He drastically improved his spot-up 3-point percentage last season, and therefore has to be defended on the perimeter and can help space the floor to a higher degree than he did during his rookie season. As a player entering his third NBA season at just 22 years old, Rivers also has the most room to grow out of any of the players on this list, and that fact should help him earn additional minutes as well.
Why he’s not: Rivers still has a hard time getting his teammates involved, as he tends to keep his head down once he starts a drive to the rim. Once he gets there, he struggles to convert at a high level, and though he draws fouls at a decent clip, he still struggles to make even two thirds of his attempts. This low free throw percentage may make Rivers close to unplayable in crunch-time situations, as teams would look to foul Rivers before anyone else in the Pelicans’ rotation except for Asik.

The Other Guys

Luke Babbitt:  If this preseason is any indication, Babbitt figures to get the most minutes out of anyone in this section. Unfortunately for him, though, the front court is too loaded for him to see anything more than a minute or two a night at power forward, so his only real shot to crack the regular rotation is at small forward. However, any minutes that Babbitt receives there would largely be in lieu of Anderson, which in turn would mean more minutes for Anderson in the front court and therefore less minutes for Ajinca. Given the assumption that Ajinca adds more value to a healthy Pelicans roster than Babbitt (which some may disagree with), it would be surprising to see Luke get many minutes at small forward this season.
Darius Miller: Miller has yet to prove himself in any meaningful way in this league, as he has yet to prove he can outproduce John Salmons in any area on the court. Unless something suddenly clicks for Darius, a guy who played for four seasons at Kentucky, he does not figure to see a ton of playing time as long as Salmons is healthy.
Jeff Withey: Much of the same logic applied to Miller relative to Salmons also works for Withey relative to Ajinca. That being said, there is certainly still hope for Withey to turn into a contributor at some point, as he showed some real promise as a shot blocker in his rookie season. At this point, though, Ajinca is the superior player in most aspects of the game, and as a result, Withey will likely find himself listed as the third center on the depth chart.
Russ Smith: Smith should get chances to prove himself this season, but no one should expect him to leapfrog both Rivers and Fredette in the rotation, especially early in the season. Even if he were to blow expectations away, it wouldn’t happen overnight, and as such it is unlikely that he can escalate himself all the way up to the 4th best guard on the roster.
Patric Young: Young is simply way too far down the depth chart, and is also only a viable option at power forward, the Pelicans’ deepest position. He could be a factor some day, but that time likely won’t come this season.

The Verdict

Ultimately, this question only applies if the Pelicans are completely healthy; if one injury occurs, the next man to step up will obviously skew towards the position of the player who no is no longer active. That being said, if I had to place a bet on who in this list will see the most minutes in games with a fully healthy Pelicans roster, I’d put my money on Salmons or Rivers. I think Salmons will start out receiving the most minutes, but I expect Rivers to surpass him in the rotation as the season progresses. It should be noted that this assessment is a function of Monty Williams becoming more comfortable with playing unconventional lineups (such as complementing Davis and Asik down low with three guards around the perimeter or Ryan Anderson at small forward). The main takeaway, though, is that depending on the situation, any one of Salmons, Rivers, Ajinca, or Fredette could see the seventh most minutes in a given game. When that player’s time comes, though, he better be ready to step up and make an impact, or else Monty will waste no time going to another option.
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In the NO Podcast Ep. 192: Western Conference Preview Part 2 http://www.bourbonstreetshots.com/2014/10/24/in-the-no-podcast-ep-192-western-conference-preview-part-2/ http://www.bourbonstreetshots.com/2014/10/24/in-the-no-podcast-ep-192-western-conference-preview-part-2/#comments Fri, 24 Oct 2014 05:00:01 +0000 http://www.bourbonstreetshots.com/?p=46573 We continue our Western Conference preview with the 9 teams in the Western Conference that will be battling for the playoffs. Where do the Pelicans fall? Well Michael and I have very different opinions on that. The Western Conference is a slugfest.

Enjoy the Podcast!

Like the Show or the Blog?

Like the music?

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New Orleans Pelicans Season Preview Part 1 http://www.bourbonstreetshots.com/2014/10/23/new-orleans-pelicans-season-preview-part-1/ http://www.bourbonstreetshots.com/2014/10/23/new-orleans-pelicans-season-preview-part-1/#comments Thu, 23 Oct 2014 14:36:34 +0000 http://www.bourbonstreetshots.com/?p=46562 Bourbon Street Shots writers preview the 2014-15 season by tackling 10 of the most intriguing questions heading into the season. 

1. Is this finally the year that Eric Gordon comes close to living up to his contract?

Michael McNamara: Well, I guess this has a couple of parts to break down. When we say close, I take that to mean that we are still talking about the 10+ million dollar range. This year, 58 NBA players (including Gordon) are making 10+ million dollars. Outside of a few guys who are being paid for past production (Gerald Wallace, Amare, etc.), most of those guys are above average starters, All-Stars, or quasi All-Stars. Can Gordon be that on this Pelicans team? Actually, I think he can.

Gordon was healthy this offseason for the first time in three years, and his weight loss is noticeable, as is his ability to get to the rim. He might not be Clippers Eric Gordon, but if he is 85% of that guy, with a better spot-up jumper, then he can be a dangerous weapon for the Pelicans. 17 points per game on less than 13 shots is what I am expecting, and even more surprisingly, I am expecting 75+ games from a motivated Gordon in a potential contract year.

Jason Calmes: No. He won’t live up to it in the senses of contribution per dollar and contribution per opportunity cost (we are too far down the road to look hard at that). I think, however, he can can change his reputation into “expensive luxury” or “worth the risk for a good team.” I feel, as I did last season, that Gordon’s lingering injury issues are behind him. This has been his main group of issues. Now, he just needs to fit better with the team or elevate his game to start to leave the past behind as much as he can.

Michael Pellissier: Gordon looked noticeably slimmer on Media Day and has the option of making this a “contract year” should he decline his player option for next season, so there is some motivation and evidence that he could have a better year.  But as far as living up to his contract.. no, I don’t think that’s possible without injuries to at least one or two of the Pelicans high usage players.  Gordon’s defense has been horrible the last few seasons and he doesn’t rebound, so if he’s going to be “worth his contract,” it will have to be on the offensive end, and I don’t think he’ll have enough looks to do so.  With that in mind, adding Asik to cover for Gordon’s defense/rebounding helps, and I do think Gordon is in for a better year.

James Grayson: Eric Gordon’s career has been been full of promise from the outset. Since being traded to New Orleans pretty much all of that has been washed away by a mix of injuries and questionable interest in the program being built by Monty Williams and Dell Demps. I can’t say that I’m optimistic despite recent news of a rejuvenated Gordon. The guy has caught a lot of bad breaks and I empathise with his past few years of his career (only to be reminded that he’s getting paid a bucket load of money). Because of previous history, I don’t think he’ll live up to his contract, even if he has a great season. Those past seasons of negative performance more than squash any positive impact he has this season. Where will that impact possible be found? Well, outside of scoring there are few other areas of Gordon’s game that have a positive effect for the team. It’s an odd predicament because everyone should want Gordon to succeed. If he plays well, so too does the team and in turn he will get a decent contract when he’s a free-agent. Still, I am skeptical.

Chris Trew: I talk about the Pelicans a lot around this time of year. To my basketball buddies, to my non-basketball buddies, to anyone, anywhere wearing a Pelicans shirt. I go through each member of the roster with so much enthusiasm and hope. What if Jimmer thrives!? What if we’re all wearing team giveaway Anthony Davis MVP shirts by March?! What if Tyreke Evans is the de facto 6th man of the year??!!  I’ve forgotten about Eric Gordon every time. He’s not on the Top 10 List of Things I’m Most Looking Forward To This Season (New flavors at the Smoothie King Center Smoothie King boxed him out of the Top 10). We have enough talent now that I can come clean about my feelings for Eric Gordon. I did not appreciate his lack of enthusiasm for playing basketball in New Orleans. I was pulling for him, because that was my only choice, but that is not the case anymore. Is this the year that Eric Gordon comes close to living up to his contract? I’m not holding out any hope that it is. If he comes anywhere close to it, though, Lagniappe (which, by the way, not a bad nickname for Eric Gordon).

Joe Gerrity: I’m a Pelicans fan, so I can’t openly root against Eric Gordon. That said, he’s by far my least favorite player not only on the Pelicans, but in the NBA as whole. His disinterest in playing here, the absurd way in which he justified his behavior, and the mediocrity of his performances have all but permanently tarnished the way I’ll view him as both a person and basketball player. I’m willing to be pleasantly surprised, but thus far I’ve come to expect nothing but disappointment. This season will be no different.

2. Eliminating the six high priced Pelicans, who do you expect to be the biggest X-Factor for the team this season?

McNamara: Alexis Ajinca could give this team a truly unstoppable front line if he can do everything he did last year while decreasing his fouls. First of all, putting Ajinca in the rotation will allow Ryan Anderson to steal some minutes at SF, and it will allow the Pelicans three elite big men to stay fresh throughout the year. Ajinca also gives the second unit some spacing on the offensive end, while controlling the glass and protecting the rim on the defensive end. And, not on wood, injuries are going to occur. If Ajinca can eat up ‘third big’ minutes when one of the main bigs goes down for a few games, that can keep the Pelicans in the playoff hunt.

Calmes: Austin Rivers. Rivers is in his third year, has pressure behind him, opportunity in front, and millions of dollars all around that are on the line in a more immediate sense than in his first two years. His team is getting better faster than he is, and he’s as competitive as nearly anyone in the NBA with a work ethic that benefits from that attitude. We’ve seen improvement, too, even when stuck behind the level Brian Roberts, so more improvement is not out of the question. He can make a big difference for this team playing with the backups, swinging the team to playoffs (all other things being equal) or swinging himself out of the NBA, except on minimum contracts, maybe.

Pellissier: Austin Rivers.  Our top 6 paid players are also clearly our top 6 actual players and 5 of them are expected to start together. So my X factor is the player whose performance is most likely to impact the lone top 6 player outside the starting lineup, Ryan Anderson.. and I think that guy is Austin Rivers.  Rivers has been inefficient scoring the ball this preseason (nothing new), but it seems like he has focused a lot of his energy on improving his ability to facilitate.  If this improvement is real, his ability to break down defenders off the dribble could create some very good looks for Ryno.

Grayson: Jimmer Fredette. My reasoning is quite simple. Losing Anthony Morrow in free-agency hurt. His shooting and scoring ability was much needed at crucial periods and I envision Jimmer to do much the same for the Pelicans. His career has been very instable in terms of coaching, team-mates and playtime. He mentioned during training camp that knowing he’ll get playing time consistently is going to help a lot with how he performs. You have to imagine it will. There was debate on this site whether Fredette or Rivers will have a more viable role. I lean towards Fredette primarily because he can space the floor next to guys like Evans, Holiday and Gordon.

Trew: Can I say Monty Williams? I can’t wait to see what kind of suits his daughter picks out for him this year. Is the stripe collection going to expand? Will we ever see Coach try to pull off a fancy hat? A cane? Will he maintain his spot on the “Best dressed coaches list”? What can we expect from Monty’s facial hair this season? Most importantly, if this team starts off slow will Monty be among the unfortunates on the “coaches who might get fired list”? I’ve convinced myself that Monty Williams’ long term success directly translates into Anthony Davis’ long term residency in New Orleans. Hopefully the Pels come out of the gate strong and Coach Monty’s seats stay cool.

Gerrity: Tom Benson. We haven’t yet fully experienced what a deep-pocketed owner can do during the regular season. Dell has shown he’s willing to pull the trigger, and Tom says he’s willing to spend to win. If this team is looking good midway through the season it wouldn’t surprise me to see us get involved as a trade partner for some team looking to shed talent in favor of future cap space or a better lottery pick.

3. What is this teams biggest strength?

McNamara: The number of guys on this team who can create offense for themselves and others. Dell Demps has always envisioned a squad full of guys who can penetrate and kick, and there are 6 guards on this roster that can do that. Ryan Anderson is also much better at getting his own offense than people give him credit for, and Anthony Davis can now put the ball on the ground for multiple dribbles and get his own. Also, if you have been watching in the preseason, he has become a much better passer, especially on the interior. This team has the potential to give opposing defenses fits, with a collection of guys that they can keep throwing at you that can get their own buckets or buckets for teammates who can finish.

Calmes: The team’s contrarian aspects. As the NBA has tried to go to the superstars model popularized by Boston, Miami, the Pelicans have decided to go forward with a single developing superstar and surround him with stars. These guys have recognized talent, but not enough to carry the team. With the traditional big man that is a relative rarity today, the forward who plays better near the arc than near the paint, the guard who thrives in the paint but not in space, the Pelicans can create discomfort for teams and coaches. From discomfort comes mistakes, and those mistakes are opportunities for the Pelicans that may not otherwise arrive. Just a few baskets a game can launch a team into the playoffs. Death by a thousand paper cuts, not a haymaker.

Pellissier:  Its frontcourt, when healthy, is very close to the best in the league (I think Chicago’s ranks first).  And as excited as I am about a Davis-Asik defensive combo and a Davis-Ryno offensive combo, I think that the Ryno/Asik combo will also be very effective.  If Ajinca and Young can give us some consistent production in sparse minutes, it could be even better.

Grayson: Shot-blocking. Much in line with what Pellissier was saying, the Pelicans have a slew of shot-blockers mainly carried by Anthony Davis. With the addition of Omer Asik the league leaders in blocked shots will be even better. New Orleans has to do a better job of scoring off of these though as they ranked 19th in fastbreak efficiency. While there’s more potential in the backcourt, right now the front-court and the rim-protection is the teams best strength.

Trew: Dell Demps! Let us not forget that we’ve got a GM who takes shots and thinks long term. How many times have we seen this man make a move that is deemed irrelevant by the masses that later comes to fruition? How many times has Dell Demps surprised us with a trade that landed us a young veteran? If the Pelicans Team Store by Adidas featuring Adidas and Other Pelicans Stuff by Adidas sold Dell Demps jerseys, I would buy a home, away, and alternate red. While we’re discussing team strength, have you seen Patric Young’s shoulders? They look like body concrete. That man is strong. While we’re discussing alternate red jerseys, shouldn’t those be the always jerseys we wear at home?

Gerrity: Anthony Davis. When a big man can alter the game on both sides of the court the way that Davis can, he creates problems for more than just the one or two (or three?) guys designated with slowing an unstoppable force. His presence makes it that much harder to gameplan against any of the secondary players, and as such he’s able to make his teammates better in a way that few others in the league are able to do.

4. What is this teams biggest weakness?

McNamara: Even with Anthony Davis and Omer Asik on the interior, this team is still susceptible to getting eaten alive on the glass. Outside of those two guys, there is not one ‘plus’ rebounder on this team. Monty has already called the guards out for a lack of rebounding in the preseason, and when Ryan Anderson comes off the bench for Asik or Davis, the boards become a real problem. In order to solve it, Jrue and Tyreke will likely have to help out, but that could keep the Pelicans from getting out and running – which could turn a strength into a non-factor. One way to counter this is by going big against certain teams. A Holiday-Evans-Ryno-AD-Asik lineup would have no issue on the boards, and could be deadly out on the break.

Calmes: This team’s biggest weakness is lack of a faster player who can play outside and inside. For example, a quick and better-than-average traditional small forward. Basically, a bigger and better Gordon who actually buys in. To be clear, I’m not sure Gordon could have ever been this player, given his stature and that Davis is the man on this team. Davis’ new freedom, courtesy of Asik, will create havoc all over the court at times. In those times, one guy needs to be primary beneficiary of the confusion. Right now, there are too many stars-in-roles. Someone needs to have the flexible game, the right mix of individual game and team game to “get his” but to also get it from Davis wherever Davis makes it happen. It’d be a big help if he had a nice chip on his shoulder, too. A fiery guy, like Tyson Chandler was in NOLA.

Pellissier:  Small forward is a glaring weakness.  I am concerned with the spacing in a Jrue-Gordon-Tyreke-Davis-Asik lineup and there really isn’t a SF on our roster who fits next to Jrue, Gordon, Davis, and Asik.  I think our finishing 5 will be dynamite again, but there are still rebounding/defensive issues with that tandem.  At this moment, the position just looks really weak and the only way around it may be running a lot of 3 guard sets.

Grayson: Experience. I know this more of a vague aspect than anything, but the Pelicans were quite poor when they played teams from the Western Conference (15-37) which doesn’t really bode well for the upcoming season. New Orleans hasn’t really been a complete team since Dell Demps put together the current core group of guys. Injuries have affected this and as such their experience playing together has been minimal. Yes, fine, this will change with time. But I don’t think we should discount this moving into this season. Roster issues be damned I think team chemistry is the most important thing right now.

Trew: The biggest weakness isn’t a player, it isn’t a piece of the front office, it isn’t the curse of the pre-surgery Pierre beak. It’s the expectations. Will this fan base allow the team to figure it out at the start of the season, or will we chant for change at the first opportunity? Will the front office allow Monty Williams a full season of healthy players (fingers crossed) or is he going to be in trouble when the first losing streak comes? We hear a lot about how old Tom Benson is, and how he wants to see the postseason before his time comes – let’s hope that this current squad is given a fair amount of time to put it together. Let’s temper our expectations and enjoy the ride. 2014-2015 should not be a Playoffs or Bust season, though many people view it as such, and this is our biggest weakness.

Gerrity: A finisher. I just don’t know that anyone has that CP3-esque ability to take a close game and turn it into a victory. To be fair, few players do. When Eric Gordon lost a half step he also lost his chance to become that guy, and Anthony Davis just isn’t quite well-rounded enough on offense to shoulder that load in addition to everything else he’ll be doing. Can Jrue Holiday or Tyreke Evans figure out a way to put away games in the end? Possibly, but I wouldn’t get on it. Unless I’m mistaken, our record in games decided by 5 points or less will be fairly indicative of whether or not we make the playoffs.


5. Not counting Anthony Davis, which Pelican has the best chance to be an All-Star this season?

McNamara: We saw what Tyreke Evans can do when fully healthy and when his coach trusts him at the end of last season. Quite simply, he is an unstoppable force when he has a full head of steam, and he has great vision when the defense collapses. It would not be surprising to see Jrue Holiday take a backseat role when Evans is on the court – choosing instead to focus on the defensive end. As I said, I can see Gordon putting up close to 17 per game, but that still leaves room for Evans to be a 18-19 point scorer, while also putting up 5 assists, and 5 rebounds. If the Pelicans race out to a top seed like they did (unexpectedly) in 2007-08, and coaches are looking to add another dynamic player to the All-Star roster, Evans is the guy most likely to get the nod.

Calmes: Evans. Evans should have the chance to play in various roles and fill out out his stat line, giving him more of a chance to be featured in both highlights and game tape. He’s fun to watch and quite the asset. He can elevate himself above some in the crowd with his past accolades, as well. That should not matter, but it does, sadly. Beyond that, Evans is a nice asset. He can take shots no one else can, and is fearless while not senseless, so coaches may want him on the team as a unique asset with good general ability as a handler who can kick out. Besides, dollars to doughnuts, he’ll be playing with shooters in the All-Star Game.

Pellissier: Practically speaking, I’m not sure there is any other Pelican that has a good chance to make it.  I don’t think Ryno or Asik can and the West is so stacked with guards that I’m not sure Jrue or Tyreke can either.  If Tyreke can stay healthy and put up the same averages he put up last year per 36, he may have a solid shot, but I’m not sure he’ll be able to put up those kind of assist numbers with Jrue back.. and the rebounding last year, which was fantastic, may also take a dip while playing alongside vacuums like Asik/Davis.

Grayson: I don’t really see any others on the roster. Tyreke Evans will get omitted because he can’t shoot (casual NBA fans look at points per game and a players ability to shoot). Gordon can’t stay healthy. Holiday has to compete with all the point-guards (even though the ballot is just guards). Ryan Anderson is just a shooter. That’s pretty much it. Of all of them if anyone had a chance it would be Evans, but he’d really have to have a ridiculous season coupled with the Pelicans being a top-4 team in the West for him to garner consideration.

Trew: Since Anthony Morrow wasn’t in the 3 Point Shootout last season and a former New Orleanian won that damn thing, New Orleans has some All-Star Weekend karma stored up. I vote to unleash it all at once this season in New York. Ryan Anderson takes the Shootout crown, Holiday takes the Skill Challenge, and the team of Bob Pettit, Jimmer Fredette, and Jimmer Fredette’s wife takes the Shooting Stars Title. Anthony Davis wins the slam dunk title, and splits the All-Star Game MVP with his teammate and first time All-Star, Eric Gordon. Lagniappe!!!

Gerrity: Frankly nobody else has much of a chance. Tyreke Evans is as good a bet as anyone else on the roster, but there are just too many talented guards out West and too many guys splitting buckets in New Orleans.

 

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In Defense of Being Young http://www.bourbonstreetshots.com/2014/10/22/in-defense-of-being-young/ http://www.bourbonstreetshots.com/2014/10/22/in-defense-of-being-young/#comments Thu, 23 Oct 2014 00:28:42 +0000 http://www.bourbonstreetshots.com/?p=46547 Aside from having seemingly every player injured for significant portions of the season, there has been nothing more frustrating in the last 2 seasons than watching opponents carve up New Orleans defenses night after night.  The last two versions of New Orleans basketball have played unequivocally shameful defense.

There have been a lot of explanations thrown at the inferior defense—poor personnel, Monty’s insistence on hedging, injuries, etc.. but I think the most glaring one has been staring us in the face this entire time.  It has been considered, but perhaps not heavily enough.  The Pelicans were just young.  Really, really young.  Though system certainly impacts the results a team’s defense generates, it’s hard to run a business when the vast majority of the employees are interns.  The NBA’s learning curve is steep and it shows in records.

So how much of the terrible defense from these 2 years is explained by age?  Monty Williams has coached New Orleans for 4 years, so I took New Orleans’ defensive rankings from the last 4 years and compared to them to their “age rankings.”  The results are below.

New Orleans Age vs. Defensive Performance

Pelicans

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It really isn’t that surprising that the Pelicans defensive performance went into a steady decline after Chris Paul and crew left New Orleans, so I decided to dig a little deeper.  I took the 5 youngest teams from the past two seasons (the ones in which New Orleans had a horrible defense) and repeated the process to see how strong the relationship was between a team’s weighted average age and its defensive performance.

Defensive Ratings of 5 Youngest Teams, 12-13 and 13-14

Team

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There are two notable exceptions here (in yellow), the first being Houston in 12-13.  Houston had a dominant anchor on defense, Omer Asik, the Pelicans’ biggest acquisition of the summer.  The only other team to overcome its youth and register a respectable defensive rating is last year’s Magic squad, which is nothing short of a miracle (daps Jacque Vaughn).  Every other team (including the Pelicans, in green) has been terrible

Quantifying individual defensive ability

Young teams are bad at defense because they are made up of young players—and though it’s hard to quantify individual defensive ability, RAPM is becoming an increasingly popular/effective tool to evaluate NBA players at an individual level.  For what I wanted to research, I required a type of RAPM that did not use priors to guide RAPM scores (many of these priors effectively penalize young players), so I got in touch with Talking Practice, who was nice enough to give me some defensive values from the last few seasons.

I took all of the NBA players from the last 4 years and placed them into “age bins” for each season.  Each of these years was grouped into 5 age bins- Group 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5, with 1 being the youngest and 5 being the oldest.  I was looking for something very specific- what amount of players in the younger age bins registered as positive defenders?

individual

 

 

 

 

 

 

The results were pretty clear- older players graded as much better defenders than their younger counterparts.  There is a bit of survivorship bias here, as many of the older players are still in the league because they have proven that they are effective players- meaning that it isn’t surprising that older players rate as better defenders.  But this just proves the point, because the Pelicans have been giving significant playing time to young guys who aren’t necessarily going to last in the league.

I don’t know how much of the Pelicans defensive performance in the past 2 years is on Monty and how much is on the players, but evidence suggests that it’s incredibly tough to create a respectable defense with young players.  Jacque Vaughn did, so it’s not impossible, but the majority of young teams in the past two seasons have been pretty damn bad at defense.  I’m not here to pretend that I haven’t been frustrated with specific things- unnecessary doubles in the post, for instance.. or Robin Lopez hedging on pick/rolls with Greivis Vasquez expected to recover to his man (heh).  And I’ve written as much.  But this season is first in a while that Monty has had anything resembling established defensive talent.  So let’s see how the team performs with Omer Asik, Jrue Holiday, and Anthony Davis before we criticize a system that just may not have had the right parts.

 

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Pelicans v Wizards observations http://www.bourbonstreetshots.com/2014/10/21/pelicans-v-wizards-observations/ http://www.bourbonstreetshots.com/2014/10/21/pelicans-v-wizards-observations/#comments Tue, 21 Oct 2014 15:58:50 +0000 http://www.bourbonstreetshots.com/?p=46542 Once again the Pelicans rolled against a team without all of its big guns, as Pierce and John Wall both sat out the game, leaving Gortat and Nene to hold the fort.  Still, don’t be confused by the final score (88-84) this was a blowout.  Monty played Darius Miller, Austin Rivers, John Salmons, Alexis Ajinca, Jeff Withey, Patric Young and Jimmer Fredette in the fourth and those guys were wrecked by Kevin Seraphin, Otto Porter and Dejuan Blair.

Up until that point, the Pelicans had double diget leads that stretched into the twenties for most of the game.  My observations:

  • Asik and Davis controlled the glass when they were on the floor together.  Gortat pulled free a few contested rebounds, but he and Nene weren’t really able to stop them.
  • Asik kept getting free down the middle on pick and rolls as the Wizards chose to stay home on Davis and Gordon and not help much.  Asik is not the best at holding on to the ball or finishing, but he’s good enough to make that a dangerous play.
  • The Pelicans ran with the Anderson-Asik-Davis frontcourt for a time out there, but it showed some problems.  Porter kept getting free for shots.  It did turn Anderson into a monster offensive rebounder though.  The Wizards were trying so hard to contain Asik and Davis on the glass that Anderson kept slipping in over and over and ripping down offensive rebounds.
  • Anderson’s shot was missing, but it didn’t matter because he kept grabbing second chance shots and earning new possessions.  The Wizards were also playing with fire.  All of his four threes were wide open.  That would kill you normally.
  • Small Forward Update: Babbitt, Salmons and Miller combined for 41 minutes, 13 points on 7 shots, 1 rebound, 2 assists, 2 steals, 5 turnovers and 8 fouls.  At least they hit their shots?
  • Rivers had his worst game of the pre-season, as he kept losing the ball and/or dribbling into traffic without a plan.  His line isn’t terrible, but he struggled running that second unit in this game.
  • Tyreke looked like Tyreke last night, unstoppable power drives and a bricked three pointer that was so wide left it hit the backboard and only grazed the side of the rim.
  • Davis had 14 points on 8 shots, 1 assist, 2 blocks, 1 turnover, and zero fouls in 21 minutes.  And it didn’t feel like he was dominating out there.  All flow of the game.  He also had a scary fall in the third that prompted Monty to pull him.  The recap claims Anthony suffered a sprained wrist, but he just shrugged it off after the game as not something serious.
  • Holiday looked a little lost on offense.  Outside of the pick and roll he just kept dribbling into trouble and trying to bail himself out with mid-range jumpers and bad passes.  C’mon Jrue!
  • Andre Miller likes to grab people.  Probably because he walks like an old man now.  The refs kept letting him do it too.  That annoyed me a bit.
  • The team only hoisted 15 threes in this game, a far cry from it’s previous attempts.  Of course, the Wizards perimeter defense was so poor, that the Pelicans could get inside at will for most of the game – so threes weren’t needed.  At one point early in the game the Pelicans had outscored Washington in the paint 28-8.
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Is Small Forward Really a Problem for the Pelicans? http://www.bourbonstreetshots.com/2014/10/21/is-small-forward-really-a-problem-for-the-pelicans/ http://www.bourbonstreetshots.com/2014/10/21/is-small-forward-really-a-problem-for-the-pelicans/#comments Tue, 21 Oct 2014 12:00:27 +0000 http://www.bourbonstreetshots.com/?p=46532 You’d think the answer from New Orleans Pelicans fans would be a resounding YES. With the likes of Luke Babbitt, John Salmons, Darius Miller, et al, it’s understandable there’s concern. But the answer isn’t that easy. In fact it’s rather complicated.

The answer could simply be: No it isn’t a problem

Monty Williams is expected to stagger the Big six New Orleans Pelicans, and it’s assumed that Tyreke Evans will be coming off the bench (along with Ryan Anderson). But despite coming off the bench Evans is going to be playing between 34 and 38 minutes a game. A lot of that is going to come with the starters—the end of the first and third quarters, and a good chunk of the 4th. If he’s playing in a lineup with Jrue Holiday, Eric Gordon, Anthony Davis, and Omer Asik then Evans is going to slot into that small forward spot.

If we assume he’s getting 28 to 30 minutes at the small forward spot that leaves, at the most, 20 minutes that need to be filled. By itself that isn’t exactly the worst problem to have. But! If Evans subs into the game at the 7 minute mark of the first quarter, 5 of those 20 minutes will come with four of the Big Pelican Six. So that leaves 15 minutes that need to be filled. That’s 6.25% of the total minutes in a game.

The Answer Could Be One of These Three

In those 15 minutes, Pelicans won’t exactly need a whole lot of production. Slightly below average would even suffice. And the Pelicans have just that: a bunch of below average NBA small forwards. So, let’s take a look.

Luke Babbitt

Personally, this is the player I’d expect to be the “starter.” Babbitt has played well this preseason as a court spacer. With the offensive focus being Anthony Davis, a deadshot shooter from deep like Babbitt is a good fit with the starting lineup. Kickout passes for an easy catch and shoot three. He also allows Davis more room to work off the pick and roll by anchoring his defender to the perimeter.

There are downsides, namely defense. He’ll get shredded by top perimeter players. Yet, according to 82games.com Babbitt gave up an opponent small forward PER of 16.1. And, well, if he’s playing 5 minutes with Anthony Davis and Omer Asik defending the rim it’ll be okay.

Our own Mason Ginsberg pointed out on twitter “I know I’m in the minority on this, but if you’re going to start someone like Babbitt at SF, why not just start Ryan Anderson?”

I don’t disagree with the idea with both of them being somewhat similar (though very different in production); however Ryan Anderson will get plenty of minutes with other members of the core Big Pelicans Six. Having him and Evans come off the bench, get some burn with Holiday, Davis, and Asik before carrying the second unit makes the Pelicans that much more dangerous.

John Salmons

Salmons fits a similar profile as Babbitt: The Deep Threat. Brought in to add some depth, the Salmons signing didn’t seem that exciting when it first happened. But then you see he shot 38.7% from deep and is deadly from the right corner. He doesn’t rebound as well as Babbitt but could provide more flexibility with his ability to play shooting guard.

Defensively? Yeah, the same issues are still there. But Davis and Asik will hopefully clean them up.

Darius Miller

Miller is the guy the Pelicans’ coaching staff seemed to want to win the starting job, especially after giving him plenty of minutes early on in the preseason. He possesses a strong passing ability, keeps the ball moving, and has potential to create a lot of hockey assists. In addition to being the most athletic of the bunch. But Miller hasn’t performed well during the preseason but did play well against the Wizards. It remains to be seen where he fits into the rotation. If he plays like he did Monday then it could see 15 minutes a game; if he plays like he did through the beginning of the preseason then he’s the last guy on the court.

Monty showed in Monday’s game that a zone defense can help hide their worst defender (in this case one of the three names above provided they are with the starters) while still giving the team coverage at the rim. Davis and Asik will make up for a lot of defensive miscues. A 3-2 zone in spurts can confuse opponents, and against the Wizards the Pelicans went on an 11-0 run while using it.

But ultimately, it’s so few minutes that the Pelicans season will not be made or broken by the production they get form guys like Babbitt, Salmons, or Miller.

But I said the answer was complicated because there is a potentially difficult situation to manage should it crop up.

The Injury Factor

Like you didn’t know it was going to come down to this? The Pelicans have been beset by injuries the past few seasons and should Tyreke Evans get hurt then the whole concept of only having to worry about 15 odd minutes completely changes. The new ‘starter’ likely plays longer, and leaves Anderson and the main offensive threat with the second unit. It’s do-able however it leaves the Pelicans, and the second unit, much thinner. Anderson could also be moved to play more small forward forcing Monty to rely on a zone defense more than he would like.

Another, perhaps more realistic, situation is if Eric Gordon gets hurt. Tyreke would slide right into the starting shooting guard slot just as he did against the Thunder last Wednesday. And the same problems as above surface. A similar situation happens if Jrue Holiday sustains an injury. But, frankly, just give me slightly below average production and I’ll be content. Even if one of the guards gets hurt.

Unless someone else then gets injured. Then another…No…We’re not talking about this. There is so much talent elsewhere in the Big Pelicans Six that even if the team has to figure out 48 minutes per game with the group of wing players they have the New Orleans Pelicans should be okay. As Michael McNamara wrote yesterday, Anthony Davis is about to be a full-fledged superstar. He’ll be the type of guy who can carry this team for stretches.

So, I’m going to go ahead and say that small forward isn’t that big of a problem. At the very least because the Pelicans have Anthony Davis.

What do you think? Let us know in the comments!

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Is Anthony Davis on the Verge of Becoming a Full-Fledged Superstar? http://www.bourbonstreetshots.com/2014/10/20/is-anthony-davis-on-the-verge-of-becoming-a-full-fledged-superstar/ http://www.bourbonstreetshots.com/2014/10/20/is-anthony-davis-on-the-verge-of-becoming-a-full-fledged-superstar/#comments Mon, 20 Oct 2014 13:21:08 +0000 http://www.bourbonstreetshots.com/?p=46492 This is Season Preview week on Bourbon Street Shots, and while the focus will be on the team as a whole, the answer to the question above will likely determine how big of a jump the Pelicans make in the Western Conference. Quite simply, NBA superstars only miss the playoffs in very rare situations. Kobe Bryant missed the playoffs in his prime because Chucky Atkins led the Lakers in minutes that year. Chris Mihm was the starting center. Jumaine Jones was the 6th man. Who? Exactly!

You can debate whether Carmelo Anthony was a superstar last year. If you say yes, I will still point out that JR Smith and Raymond Felton were 2nd and 3rd in minutes played on that team. Tyson Chandler led all their big men in minutes and he only got 1600 last season. Maybe you can argue that Kevin Love was a true superstar last season and he had some quality teammates around him, but even if I grant you all of that, a superstar with quality teammates missing the playoffs is the rare exception, not the norm.

Now, the true problem is how to define a superstar I suppose. If you ask ten basketball fans, you will probably have at least seven different definitions of a superstar. For some, it is individual stats, while others equate being a superstar with being the best player on a team that wins a lot. For others, they look to MVP votes or All-NBA selections, and a small group of NBA fans just rely on the subjective eye test. So, what is a superstar? I guess before we go any further, we have to define what it is before we can answer whether Anthony Davis can become one.

The Criterion For A Superstar

To say that one thing determines superstardom would be naive. Like any broad term, it probably requires a collection of traits and accolades to label a player a superstar. If it is about titles, then Lebron is a superstar while Durant and Blake Griffin are not. If it is only about spectacular stats, then Chris Paul used to be a superstar, but isn’t anymore and that just doesn’t seem right. Experts opinions hold some weight, but even the smartest basketball minds can’t agree on guys like Dwight Howard and Carmelo Anthony, so we need more than just their two cents.

So, the answer is simple. We have to develop a criterion that takes from all of these areas, weighing them all, but not making them necessary or sufficient conditions to be labeled a superstar. Okay, maybe it is not so simple, but let’s give it a try anyway. Below is my criterion for a superstar and the reasons why each individual criteria has been selected. A superstar is any player who gets 60 or more points according to these three criterias.

1. Unique Stats (40 points)

A superstar should have a stat line that almost nobody else in the league can produce. Not only in that season, but in the last handful of seasons. Look at Lebron. You know who else put up 27, 7, and 6 on 57% shooting in the last ten years? Um, nobody. Except for, well, Lebron the year before. Or how about Chris Paul? How many 19 point, 10 assist, 2.5 steals seasons have there been in the last 15 years? The answer is three, and they were all Chris Paul. 28 points per game and 50+% from the field? Only Lebron, Shaq, and Durant the past 15 years. You add in 2 or more made three’s per game to that stat line and Durant stands alone. The point is, that to be a superstar, you have to put up numbers unlike any others in your era.

Guys who fit the Superstar criteria in this category last season: Lebron James, Kevin Durant, Chris Paul, Kevin Love, Anthony Davis

2. Multiple Accolades (40 points)

Getting named First or Second Team All-NBA counts as an accolade. Getting 15 or more top-5 MVP vote counts as an accolade. Winning a Player of the Month award is an accolade, as it is much more rare than you probably think. Get two or more of these accolades and you have a legit claim as a superstar.

Guys who fit the criteria: Kevin Durant, Al Jefferson, Stephen Curry, Lebron James, Blake Griffin, James Harden, Joakim Noah, Paul George

3. Making Your Teammates Infinitely Better (20 Points)

This is the hardest one to point to and quantify, but I am going to attempt to do it. A superstar would be a guy who makes the game easier for all of his teammates and can impact a game in multiple ways. Because of this, he should make his team markedly better than a standard replacement player would if put in the same position. One way to gauge this is by looking at On-Off splits, both when he is on the court vs. off and when the unit he most often runs with is on without him. Of course, you need to have a large sample size and no two replacement players will be the same, but we still have to attempt to do this in order to separate very good players from superstars.

Let’s start off by looking at Lebron, the standard by which all other superstars are measured. His teams offensive rating shot up 9 points per 100 possessions when he was on the court. The Clippers were four points better offensively and five points better defensively per 100 possessions when Chris Paul was on the court. Meanwhile, the Clippers were seven points better offensively when Blake Griffin was on the court and two points better defensively. The tough part when looking at Griffin and Paul is figuring out who deserves more of that credit. You would think that the answer is Paul, but Griffin was fantastic (and so were the Clippers) when CP3 was sidelined with an injury and Griffin was the #1 guy.

Meanwhile, maybe we do have to label Carmelo Anthony a superstar according to this criteria. The Knicks as a whole were 9 points per possession better with Anthony on it as opposed to off. The Knicks actually were an above average team with Anthony on the court, as they were +1.1 with him on the court with the other group of misfits. When Carmelo was off, they were absolutely horrible – a -7.8 points per 100 possessions. So basically, they were a 43 win team with him and a 23 win team without him. Twenty wins sounds like a superstar to me.

But where do we draw the line, and how do we hold teammates accountable? Should one player be penalized because his teams’ bench is good, and therefore their team doesn’t drop off as much when they leave the court? Or should other guys be hoisted up for the opposite reason? NBA Real Plus/Minus addresses some of these issues, but it is still not perfect. With regards to lineups, I have set the bar at 4 points per 100 possessions of a difference between the lineup with the potential superstar player and the same exact lineup with his primary backup. So, for example, for Blake Griffin to qualify, the lineup with the same guys he starts with but with Jared Dudley in it has to be at least 4 points per 100 possessions worse. The Clippers most common Blake unit was CP3-Collison-Barnes-Griffin-Jordan. Here’s the rub, though. You take out Griffin and put in Dudley, and the Dudley unit was much better. You take out CP3 and put in Collison, and the Collison unit was 0.1 points per 100 possession better.

So, this is definitely not fool proof. Lebron’s Heat were far worse when Lebron went off and everybody else stayed on with a SF replacement and the same could be said for the Paul George-less Pacers. But losing Tony Parker or Russell Westbrook did not force the Spurs or Thunder to make huge dips if they were the only one from the main lineups to come out. So, I will not make that a necessary or sufficient criteria for this category. Instead, it will one way to get on this list. Another way will be to have averaged 30 or more minutes a game and have a Real Plus-Minus of 5 or higher.

Players who fit this criteria: Lebron James, Chris Paul, Andre Iguodala, Kevin Durant, Dirk Nowitzki, Stephen Curry, Lamarcus Aldridge, Kevin Love, Russell Westbrook, Carmelo Anthony

So, Who Are the NBA’s Current Superstars?

Lebron James (100 points)

Kevin Durant (100 points)

Chris Paul (60 points)

Kevin Love (60 points)

Stephen Curry (60 points)

According to my criterion, that is it and that’s all – at least for last season. These were the five best players in the league, and were all guys worthy of being deemed superstars. As you see, four of the five made the playoffs, and again – Love had a historic season for a guy who did not make the playoffs. You look at all the other guys who fit into even one of these categories, and only Carmelo Anthony and Anthony Davis missed the playoffs. Carmelo was in a horrible situation, with a terrible roster and a head coaching and front office circus, and Anthony Davis was on one of the most injury-riddled teams of the past few years.

The fact is that superstars rarely miss the playoffs, and if Anthony Davis can get to that level, then the Pelicans will likely see their first playoff action since fellow superstar Chris Paul left town.

How Does Anthony Davis Become A Superstar?

So, as you can see, Davis already has one of the criterion locked down. Last year, he put up 20 points, 10 rebounds, 2.7 blocks on 51% shooting. The only other guys to do that in the past 15 years were Tim Duncan, Shaq, and Dwight Howard. Duncan and Howard only did it once, Shaq did it twice. He is also capable of doing something truly historic for his team; something I chronicled in a piece last offseason.  The fact is that he won’t have any kind of issue putting up historic stats, because he is a truly unique two-way player, capable of doing things that few players before him were capable of doing.

The second criterion – Accolades – is kind of circular reasoning in a sense. Guys usually get accolades because their team is winning, and that would make AD a superstar in my book. But I am saying that if he becomes a superstar, then they will win, so let’s skip this one for now. Let’s turn to the criterion that is all about make his team and his teammates better.

Last season, the Pelicans weren’t that much better with Davis on the court as opposed to off. Their offensive rating shot up nearly 2 points per 100 possessions, but their defensive rating was relatively unchanged – which is surprising when you consider Davis led the league in blocks. The team turned the ball over a little less when Davis was on the court, and the FG% was slightly higher, but other than that, the Pelicans with Davis and without Davis were about the same as far as total performance. This is not what you should expect from a superstar.

Now, it should not go without saying that Davis was often on the court against other teams starters and that certain units that featured Davis (before all the injuries occurred) were terrific. But, we have a large enough sample size over two seasons to conclude that Davis’s presence has not made the Pelicans a better team thus far.  You look at Real Plus-Minus and he finished 26th….among Power Forwards! He was sandwiched in between guys like Pero Antic and Branden Wright. Again, no single data set should be used to draw any definitive conclusion, but we have two years worth of numbers telling us that, while Davis is singularly great, his team does not improve that much when he is on the court.

So, how does that change? Can it? Kevin Durant thinks so. Heading into Durant’s third season, there were a handful of stories asking the question: Is Oklahoma City better without Durant? Sounds like a crazy question, doesn’t it? But according to the numbers, Durant wasn’t a neutral, he was a negative – and a big negative at that. In Durant’s 2nd year, the OKC offense was one point per 100 possessions better with Durant OFF the floor, and its defense was nearly eight points per 100 possessions better with Durant off. The numbers basically said OKC was a .500 team with Durant off the court, and a .250 team with him on.

But then, magically, all of that changed in Durant’s third season. The team’s offensive rating when he was on the court shot through the roof, and even the defense was better with Durant on as opposed to off. On the offensive end, Durant got to the line more and took more 3-pt shots. He reduced the number of long two’s he took by 20%. His free throw rate soared over 30% and so did his three-point attempt rate. He simply became a more efficient player; taking just one more shot a game, but he added 5 points per game to his total.

On the defensive end, Durant had career highs in defensive rebounds and blocks. Common sense would say that he became a better defender, both individually and as a system defender, because his IQ on that side of the ball had increased and he was more familiar with what the coaching staff wanted to do. Honestly, it’s not rocket science – an increase in efficiency on offense and knowledge base on defense helped Durant reach a new level as an individual player, and that helped the team as a collective unit. He really didn’t make others around him better (assist rate actually stayed the same), he just made the game easier for his teammates because he was making it so much harder for the defense.

So, how can Anthony Davis mirror Kevin Durant’s third year leap? It starts with trying to increase his efficiency on offense. The addition of the corner three-point shot won’t hurt. While nobody expects Davis to fire up 200 attempts this season, shooting 50 or 60 and hitting them at a 30% rate or higher would help his efficiency, if those shots were coming at the expense of long two’s. An increased free throw rate would help, too. In Davis’s best month as a pro (March of 2014), he got to the free throw line 9 times per game. It is no coincidence that he averaged 24.4 points per game on just 16.5 shots. You look at November of 2013, a month in which he played the same number of games and a similar number of minutes and he only took 6 FT’s a game. Result? 19.6 points per game on 14.2 shots. Far less efficient.

On the defensive end, he isn’t going to block many more shots per game. He led the league last year, and while he can climb to 3 or 3.5 if he really locks in, that is not significant enough over 100 possessions to really change the Pelicans defensive rating. Increasing his rebound rate can help the Pelicans a bit on that end, and it is very likely that his added weight and the ability to play much more PF this year, will help him do that. But it will be the little things that can not be measured and logged in box scores that will help this team grow defensively.

Davis was slow in processing rotations at times last year and took some poor angles in pick and roll defense. He tried to do too much, often because he had nobody else to rely on once Jrue Holiday went down. This year, he has another paint protector in Asik, and what looks like a more conservative system that will force teams to take more long, contested twos. One thing he needs to stop doing is defending with his hands out on the perimeter and/or crowding guys when he gets switched onto a wing. He doesn’t trust his own length, and because of that he often crowds much smaller guys and has to use his arms to slow their penetration. Something as simple as taking a half of a step back when he is on a smaller guy will keep him out of foul trouble and will keep guys from getting past him and into the paint.

Again, the offensive end is easy. Davis simply needs to add a couple of tools to his arsenal and increase his efficiency. Already in the preseason we have seen him put the ball on the floor, using multiple dribbles. This wasn’t common last year, and it was something the Pelicans staff said that they wanted Davis to work on over the summer. He did. Davis also has added a corner three-point shot that we are likely to see from time to time this year. Now, the danger is that Davis falls in love with his jump shot and that kills his efficiency, but when we asked Monty about that prior to last week’s preseason game against Houston, Monty stated, “AD knows he has to attack the paint.” And he did that night, scoring 26 points on just 11 shots. The next game he had 28 points on 15 attempts. In those two games, he averaged 9 free throws in 28 mpg. That kind of mentality combined with a more intelligent defensive mindset and AD is not only a superstar, he is an MVP candidate.

What Davis’s Superstardom Means for the Pelicans

The most common projections for Davis next season are on par with Kevin Garnett’s and Tim Duncan’s 1999-2000 season’s or David Robinson’s 1989-90 season. Each of those guys led their teams to 50+ wins and a playoff birth in those seasons, with arguably inferior rosters to what Davis and the Pelicans have right now. The 1999-2000 Spurs had an aging David Robinson as the second banana, and Avery Johnson as their third leading scorer, averaging just 11.2 points per game. Sean Elliot only played 19 games that season and the rest of the rotation included 36 year olds Mario Elie and Terry Porter (who were 4th and 5th in scoring), and journeyman Jaren Jackson.

The 1999-2000 Timberwolves had a fairly efficient point guard in Terrell Brandon to help out KG, but their third best player was Malik Sealy. Starting next to KG up front was Stephen A Smith’s favorite player – Rasho Nesterovic. And yet, they won 50 games and made the playoffs. The 1989-90 Spurs were comprised of a roster full of guys that had gone just 21-61 the year before. But then they added Robinson, and won 56 games the next year. Terry Cummings was a nice complement to Robinson, but after that they had to rely on Willie Anderson and an aging Mo Cheeks. Rod Strickland didn’t come over in a trade until February, and Sean Elliot was just a rookie. But they rode the back of David Robinson to 56 wins.

The point is that if you have a superstar, and more specifically, a big man superstar who can dominate on both ends, then the playoffs are almost a given if he stays healthy. Teams that have a player of that quality need only have an average supporting roster around that player to win 50 or more games in this league, and the Pelicans supporting roster is far above average. Injuries derailed a few guys last year (Ryno, Gordon, Holiday), as did limited minutes due to new roles (Asik and Tyreke), but look back to the 2012-13 preseason. All five of those guys were in the Top 80 of ESPN’s NBA Rank. That means, AD theoretically has five guys who would be the second or third best player on an NBA roster if the league were to do a re-draft and the talent was disbursed evenly.

So, if you combine a superstar player on both ends of the court with five above average starting caliber NBA players, history says that your team will be playing into May. But Davis has to take that next step. He needs to get more efficient on offense and more intelligent on the defensive end. He also has to stay healthy. Those three superstars I mentioned all played over 3000 minutes in the years that they led their teams to the playoffs. Finally, Davis has to make the game easier for his teammates by assuming the role of lead dog not only throughout the game, but at the end of games. If he can do all those things, it will not be a surprise to see the Pelicans in the playoffs. In fact, not only will it not be a surprise, it will be expected.

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In the NO Podcast Ep 191: Two Blowouts and Western Conf Preview Part 1 http://www.bourbonstreetshots.com/2014/10/19/in-the-no-podcast-ep-191-two-blowouts-and-western-conf-preview-part-1/ http://www.bourbonstreetshots.com/2014/10/19/in-the-no-podcast-ep-191-two-blowouts-and-western-conf-preview-part-1/#comments Mon, 20 Oct 2014 04:15:39 +0000 http://www.bourbonstreetshots.com/?p=46523 Michael and I cover all the action from the last two pre-season games, I declare for Austin Rivers, Anthony Davis goes crazy (as usual) and Jrue Holiday plays fairly well. We also talk about whether Ryan Anderson is in game shape or not. Then we move on to the Western Conference, covering the teams we think will be the worst six in the West – a position most writers feel the Pelicans will stay in. Will we? The rest of the Western Conference is coming in a couple days, so give it a listen!

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Rockets v Pelicans Observations http://www.bourbonstreetshots.com/2014/10/15/rockets-pelicans-observations/ http://www.bourbonstreetshots.com/2014/10/15/rockets-pelicans-observations/#comments Wed, 15 Oct 2014 16:10:10 +0000 http://www.bourbonstreetshots.com/?p=46501 The ‘ets arrived in New Orleans last night for a pre-season game, leaving behind the “Rock” part of their team in Houston. However, even without Dwight Howard and James Harden facing them, there was some informative things happening on the Pelicans end of the floor.

A list:

  • The shooting was a thing of beauty.  Against scrubs, but I love threes.  Love them.
  • Ryan Anderson looked . . . well, a little heavy.  He might need another few months to get in game shape and sport that chiseled physique we are used to.
  • Holiday has always had a loose handle for a lead guard.  Beverly ripped that handle off and beat Holiday with it.
  • Despite that, Holiday looked pretty good defensively himself, and the team adjusted by letting Gordon, Fredette or Rivers help freely on advancing the ball against Beverly’s opencourt pressure.
  • Anthony Davis!!
  • Terrence Jones was once ranked higher than Davis in various High School rating systems.  I think he might still be pissed that Davis’ reputation is so much higher than his now, because his aggression ramps up when he plays the Pelicans.  He was eager to go head to head at Davis, and wasn’t so bad at it.
  • Kosta Papanikadsfojasdfhwljar is 24 with a deadly old man’s game.  Fearless, good enough handles, and clever with his finishes against superior athleticism.  He was involved in two of the funniest moments on the court – an under-hand flip shot under Anthony Davis’s armpit that spun in, and a slow-break (fast doesn’t describe Kosta) attack at the rim that Davis swatted and then waved dismissively at Kosta without looking at him.  He should adopt that for use more often.  As good as Mutombo’s finger wag.
  • Jimmer’s excellent shooting is nearly offset by his inability to stay in front of any driving guard.  Still, the Babbit-Fredette-Rivers-Anderson-RandomTallDude second unit was a wonderfully entertaining amalgamation of poor athleticism, quick passing, and raining threes.
  • Gordon looked solid.

Was fun to watch real basketball again.  Even pre-season.

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In the NO Podcast Ep 190: Fredette v Rivers? http://www.bourbonstreetshots.com/2014/10/12/in-the-no-podcast-ep-190-fredette-v-rivers/ http://www.bourbonstreetshots.com/2014/10/12/in-the-no-podcast-ep-190-fredette-v-rivers/#comments Mon, 13 Oct 2014 04:02:04 +0000 http://www.bourbonstreetshots.com/?p=46490 Michael and I talk about the gaping hole that is the Small Forward position. (As always with the Hornets/Pelicans) Then we move on to Rivers v Fredette and what that means for the rotation, whether we think Withey has a chance, and if Eric Gordon is awesome because of his appearance in NBA 2K15.

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In the NO Podcast Ep 189: Eastern Conference Preview http://www.bourbonstreetshots.com/2014/10/09/in-the-no-podcast-ep-189-eastern-conference-preview/ http://www.bourbonstreetshots.com/2014/10/09/in-the-no-podcast-ep-189-eastern-conference-preview/#comments Thu, 09 Oct 2014 15:21:09 +0000 http://www.bourbonstreetshots.com/?p=46488 Michael and I talk the Eastern Conference and how we think those teams will shake out. Battles ensue over the placement of teams like the Bulls, Pacers and Hawks. Michael is wrong. No battle ensues over the placement of the 76ers, who really need to be relegated to the D-League now.

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Pelicans Media Day Shenanigans http://www.bourbonstreetshots.com/2014/10/08/pelicans-media-day-shenanigans/ http://www.bourbonstreetshots.com/2014/10/08/pelicans-media-day-shenanigans/#comments Wed, 08 Oct 2014 19:00:43 +0000 http://www.bourbonstreetshots.com/?p=46483 Me and Ryan Anderson doing a comedy show? A Darius Miller radio station? A stare down with Monty Williams? All of it here:

New episodes of the Trew 2 the Game podcast every Tuesday right here. Follow Trew 2 the Game on Twitter.

Special thanks to Darrell Rollo for putting the video together!

 

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Pelicans @ Hawks Open Thread http://www.bourbonstreetshots.com/2014/10/06/pelicans-hawks-open-thread/ http://www.bourbonstreetshots.com/2014/10/06/pelicans-hawks-open-thread/#comments Mon, 06 Oct 2014 22:42:00 +0000 http://www.bourbonstreetshots.com/?p=46480 Welcome to your Game Day Open Thread! Unfortunately tonight’s game in Atlanta is not televised but you can listen to it on the radio and follow along on twitter for updates.

The most important piece of news is probably that Darius Miller is getting his second preseason start at small forward. And that’s about it since, well, it’ll be tough to analyze the game as it goes on. So! Open thread time! What do you want to talk about? Give us your thoughts on the game, or on anything Pelicans related. Some ideas:

Do you think Darius Miller could be a good fifth option as a starter?

Who is your breakout Pelican of the year?

Do you think Eric Gordon opts out of his contract at the end of the season if he has a good year?

Even if it’s not televised, oh wow is it good to have the NBA season upon us!

 

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In the NO Podcast Ep 188: Tyreke missing as SF search starts http://www.bourbonstreetshots.com/2014/10/06/in-the-no-podcast-ep-188-tyreke-missing-as-sf-search-starts/ http://www.bourbonstreetshots.com/2014/10/06/in-the-no-podcast-ep-188-tyreke-missing-as-sf-search-starts/#comments Mon, 06 Oct 2014 05:57:31 +0000 http://www.bourbonstreetshots.com/?p=46477 Michael and I talk about the pre-season game in Kentucky and what it might mean to the starting Small Forward position. We talk about concerns around the Tyreke Evans injury and if it might mean a slow start. Then we talk Austin Rivers and if his option should be picked up – why Michael loves a potential second unit, and we predict efficiencies for various potential line-ups this season.

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A Most Intriguing Second Unit http://www.bourbonstreetshots.com/2014/10/05/a-most-intriguing-second-unit/ http://www.bourbonstreetshots.com/2014/10/05/a-most-intriguing-second-unit/#comments Sun, 05 Oct 2014 13:14:48 +0000 http://www.bourbonstreetshots.com/?p=46470 Since Monty Williams has been here, we have seen thousands of minutes without a single starter on the court. Usually, at the end of the first quarter or the beginning of the second, Monty likes to make wholesale changes and put all five reserves on the court together. Unlike most coaches, Williams doesn’t stagger his lineups throughout the game. Instead, he is a fan of building some chemistry in his second unit by playing them all together – something that has driven fans crazy in the past.

But this year, his plan just might work. Make no mistake, he will stagger his starters a bit, as Tyreke and Anderson figure to be the first reserves subbed in. Those two will play with the starters in the first and third quarters, and at the end of games as well. But expect the five man reserve unit to start the second and fourth quarters, and get a few minutes at the end of the first and third quarters as well. In total, expect this reserve unit to get on the court for 10-12 minutes a game against opposing reserves, and while we concentrate on the starters and the finishers, this unit could possibly swing 10-15 games this season with its firepower.

So, what should we expect this reserve unit to look like? Imagine Tyreke Evans with the ball in his hands while Jimmer, Rivers, and Ryan Anderson spot up for three, and the 7’2“, 275 pound Alexis Ajinca sets picks and pops for his buttery 17 footer. Or, picture Jimmer with the ball as Tyreke sets a pick, giving the opposition three choices:

1.) Go over and allow Jimmer an easy path to the bucket. When the D collapses, he can kick it to Rivers or Ryno for a three, or Ajinca for an alley-oop.

2.) Go under and Jimmer drains the 3.

3.) Switch and put your backup PG on Tyreke, who takes him to the block.

Imagine that team in transition, with Tyreke, Jimmer, and Rivers pushing and Ryno and Ajinca spotting up on the secondary break. Just imagine. Imagine all the points they can score in a very short amount of time. Now, the concern is obvious: What about the defense? This unit has, at most, two good on-ball defenders and an average rim defender at best. It has one guy who rebounds at an above average rate for his position, and multiple horrible defensive rebounders for their position. Due to those concerns, this unit would be admittedly quite awful against most of the top starting units in the NBA. But they wouldn’t be playing against starters.

Against Memphis, they would be playing against Nick Calathes, Courtney Lee, Tayshaun Prince, Jon Leuer, and Kosta Koufos. When Houston comes to town, they have to deal with Troy Daniels, Jason Terry, Trevor Ariza, Montiejunas, and Jeff Adrien. The list goes on and on. If you look at the units that most teams send out at that part of the game, it is chalk full of reserves, with one or two starters at most left in, and rarely do we see the elite players. At most, we see two serious offensive threats and one above average offensive rebounder.

While we can’t expect this unit to lock anybody down defensively, it could be good enough to contain opposing bench units, and a unit with an offensive rating of 112 and a defensive rating of 105 is just as good as a unit with an offensive rating of 102 and a defensive rating of 95. And that is what I expect from this second unit, if Monty does in fact choose to go with it. I expect this unit to outscore the unit it is on the floor with, and on some nights it might truly change the entire game. We saw (or heard) this in the Pelicans first preseason game last night, where a 17-5 run in the second quarter flipped the game and put the Pelicans ahead for good.

Jimmer and Ryan Anderson drained three’s, while Rivers attacked the rim. And they didn’t even have Ajinca or Tyreke last night. Regardless, last night was an example of what the Pelicans second unit can do. Can you imagine a world in which Anthony Davis comes back onto the court with bigger leads than he left with? Imagine a world where teams get blitzed by three balls, only to re-insert their starters down 10 and see Asik and AD standing at the rim, denying any chance for them to get easy buckets, which is what you need to get back into a game.

Anthony Davis is going to be a superstar. Eric Gordon seems poised to have his best season in New Orleans. Jrue Holiday is healthy and is ready to lead this team on both ends. Monty Williams has returned from Spain with a new mindset and philosophy on how to treat his players. While all of these things will be key to the Pelicans playoff push, there is a giant X-Factor that few, if any, teams will be able to match. The Pelicans bench unit has a chance to completely flip games, with two Sixth Man of the Year candidates surrounded by guys who are elite spot-up shooters for their position.

Games are usually won in the final five minutes, but for New Orleans, a few could be won during explosive stretches in the second quarter, just like it was last night.

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Pelicans Media Day Recap, Observations http://www.bourbonstreetshots.com/2014/09/29/pelicans-media-day-recap-observations/ http://www.bourbonstreetshots.com/2014/09/29/pelicans-media-day-recap-observations/#comments Tue, 30 Sep 2014 01:01:35 +0000 http://www.bourbonstreetshots.com/?p=46459 The Pelicans hosted their media day from 1-330 at the practice facility. This was my first Media Day, but I was accompanied by Dru, who helped guide me around, and Trew, who destroyed Luke Babbitt’s dreams of becoming a giraffe.

It was a simultaneously fun and informative experience- just about each player spent time in the interview corner with the media members, and Dell and Monty also spent time answering questions. If you’d like to read some of their quotes, you can check out the Bourbon Street Shots Twitter page, where my fat thumbs battled my iPhone keypad in a quest to capture as many quotes as I could. Dru will upload supplemental media that should do a much better job providing comprehensive coverage of the event.

Most of the quotes from the day were fairly standard, but there were a few patterns across players/staff and a few quotes that stood out to me.

  1. On the whole, the Pelicans players are extremely nice. Nothing phony about it. Friendly, though many of them are quiet.
  2. Just about every player was asked about the playoffs.. and most said the same things:
    • they want to be there
    • it’s tough in the Western Conference
    • it’s more important to focus on the immediate (training camp–> preseason –> regular season). They talked about the process of getting better and jelling.
    • ^^there was a conscious effort by both the staff/players not to perpetuate the “playoffs or bust” agenda. Dell talked about “sustained success.”
  3. Players and staff all made it a point to address injury issues last season.
  4. Monty talked about how Jrue can play off the ball on offense
  5. Jrue wouldn’t bite on what “position” Tyreke would play. When prompted, would say Tyreke is best “on the court.”
  6. Dell said Tyreke was probably working out in the Pelicans facility more than any other player
  7. Eric Gordon had a knee jerk reaction when asked about his player option and whether he’d exercise it
  8. Gordon said this is the first time in a while that he’s entering a season without significant injury issues. He said he wants to get back to being explosive and playing above the rim. He looks like he’s in very good shape
  9. Jeff Withey mentioned that he got hurt right before Summer League started.
  10. Ryan Anderson said there were times after the injury where he wasn’t sure if he’d ever play again. He said he’s blessed.
  11. Patric Young had perhaps the most informative quote of the day when he mentioned that AD does not like playing center. I don’t know if it’s true or not, but it should be considered in the “Is AD a 4 or 5?” moving forward. 
  12. Ryan Anderson and Eric Gordon were among the last players to go to the interview station- at a time in which a good bit of the media had already filtered out. I’m guessing this was intentionally done to avoid an overload of questions about Ryno’s injury and Gordon’s role moving forward (sixth man vs. starting, etc.)

This is an optimistic time for fan bases and teams, as most have their health and players are coming out of offseason work where they improved their games. It’s important to keep that in mind to help temper expectations for the season. With that said, I didn’t notice any player looking like he was in bad shape. Gordon looks fitter and Rivers/AD definitely look bigger.

Thoughts from Trew 2 the Game

Former ESPN NBA analyst Ric Bucher was all over the Pelicans practice facility during Media Day. He was in New Orleans serving as a media training consultant, something that the league mandates. I could tell the Pelicans were more comfortable around the cameras, reporters, and photographers.

When I first interviewed Austin Rivers in 2012, he seemed comfortable. When I interviewed him at Pelicans Media Day 2014, he was feeling it. Anthony Davis was playful (as usual) but more importantly, he was in charge. Jrue Holiday and Ryan Anderson were electric. Russ Smith and Patric Young held their own in the face of my “tough” questions (video coming soon), and will likely be Media Day darlings come their next contract. Such a fun team.

Ric Bucher was a nice guy who seemed to genuinely care about the team. While he wouldn’t take all of the credit for their skills on media day, it was evident the team has improved. They’ve got to do it on the court, of course, but the comfort level this team has with each other is there. They playfulness is there. The excitement is there.

The expectations are there too.

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Tyreke Evans to Miss 3-5 Weeks with Right Hamstring Injury http://www.bourbonstreetshots.com/2014/09/27/tyreke-evans-to-miss-3-5-weeks-with-right-hamstring-injury/ http://www.bourbonstreetshots.com/2014/09/27/tyreke-evans-to-miss-3-5-weeks-with-right-hamstring-injury/#comments Sat, 27 Sep 2014 20:10:30 +0000 http://www.bourbonstreetshots.com/?p=46452 According to a statement released by the New Orleans Pelicans this afternoon, Tyreke Evans will be sidelined for about a month after straining his right hamstring in a pick-up basketball game. As a result, the Pelicans will yet again be without Evans for a portion of the team’s preseason activities; Evans injured his ankle in New Orleans’ first preseason game last year.

There are many possible reactions to this news, most of which will likely be negative. We have the “Pelicans can’t catch a break” storyline, as the team picks up right where they left off last season in regards to injury woes. There is the concern for Evans individually, who some believe got off to a slow start last season as a result of his preseason injury. Others will be frustrated because of the setting in which Evans suffered the injury (playing pick-up basketball), but that is not something that should cause people to criticize Tyreke’s judgement. Many NBA players play pick-up games during the offseason as a way to stay in shape, and his injury could just as easily have happened if he was scrimmaging with teammates.

Then there is the bright side. Even if Evans misses a full five weeks of action, that timeline puts him on track (though possibly not at 100%) to return for the Pelicans’ second game of the regular season. Ultimately, given that 3-5 week timeframe, the most likely scenario is that Evans will miss all of training camp and preseason, but will be back for opening night in the New Orleans Arena against the Orlando Magic. The biggest question outstanding at this point is at what capacity he will be able to contribute.

Evans is coming off of his best all-around season, posting career highs in games played, PER, assist rate, offensive rebound rate, and defensive rebound rate. When healthy and playing with a healthy Pelicans lineup (if that ever happens again), he should be able to contribute immediately at a high level.

Thoughts? Concerns? Questions? Let us know in the comments.

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A Critical Time for Austin Rivers http://www.bourbonstreetshots.com/2014/09/26/a-critical-time-for-austin-rivers/ http://www.bourbonstreetshots.com/2014/09/26/a-critical-time-for-austin-rivers/#comments Fri, 26 Sep 2014 12:00:23 +0000 http://www.bourbonstreetshots.com/?p=46447 With the New Orleans Pelicans roster pretty much set, the onset of training camp and preseason is key Monty Williams to get an idea of the rotation he plans to use. Players will have an opportunity to edge out one another for limited minutes. And there is no one on the Pelicans who needs a strong training camp than Austin Rivers.

Last season the now third year guard saw his minutes decline yet saw a marked improvement in many of his stats. The departure of Brian Roberts seemingly opened the door for Rivers to be the backup point guard, but the trade for Russ Smith and signing of Jimmer Fredette (and, to an extent, John Salmons) muddled up the situation for the former 10th overall pick.

Rivers has been an absolute gym-rat this offseason, telling John Reid:

”I was constantly working the entire summer,” Rivers said. ”I gained 10 pounds and I’ve got stronger in my upper body. This is my year…I’ve strictly worked on mid-range and getting my body stronger this summer,” Rivers said earlier this week. ”I’ve got both of those things and I’m ready to prove and show people that this year.”

Rivers’ attitude is what you’d want to see, and expect, from a coaches’ son. No one will question that. But let’s look at how his improvements might help the Pelicans.

Getting Stronger

Getting to the rim has never been a problem for Rivers. He has a strong handle and beat defenders off the dribble. But finishing at the rim has been a weakness. Rivers has a slim build and gets knocked around easily when he gets into the restricted area as evidenced by his 48.64 shooting percentage there. Adding ten pounds and upper body strength should help River finish through contact for the and one opportunity. Raising that shooting percentage to at least the league average should allow Rivers to help the Pelicans’ second unit avoid scoring droughts.

This strength will, in theory, allow him to fight through screens better while on defense. Russ Smith is a tenacious defender, and with Monty being a defensive coach, you better believe Rivers needs to see his defense continue to improve if he wants to stay on the court.

Mid-Range

River was atrocious last season from mid-range, shooting a lousy 24.39%. Raising that would obviously help his points per game. More than that, it is also an area on the court where Rivers should get a ton of good looks. Known as a rim attacker, defenders tend to cheat off Rivers and sag back into the paint. This packs the area under the rim making it harder for Rivers to get good looks up close.  It also takes passing lanes to bigs like Anthony Davis away. Developing a reliable mid-range game will keep defenders honest and allows teammates more options for moves like backdoor cuts.

And if this has been his main focus this offseason, you can be certain Monty instructed him to do so. The Pelicans’ offense will revolved around Anthony Davis and letting him and River run mid pick and rolls should worry opponents if Rivers starts making his shots. Pick your poison, and most teams will choose to take away Davis. Leaving a wide open Rivers. Hopefully for a made two.

 

Are these the areas we want to see Rivers improving? Yes and no. Getting stronger is important because getting to the rim and getting fouled is compounded by Rivers’ poor free throw shooting—though it’s worth noting that went up 10% last season. Focusing on his three-point shot over mid-range would set Rivers up to be a floor spacer and help replace some of the production from Anthony Morrow, but at this point the coaches and Pelicans’ fans will welcome any improvement to Rivers’ game. If not, it may be time to give up on him.

So, do you think it’ll be, as he says, Austin Rivers’ year? Let hear it in the comments.

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