Playoff Contention Not A Guarantee for the New Orleans Pelicans

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Published: July 30, 2013

There is a great deal of excitement following the New Orleans Pelicans these days. Free-Agency brought in former rookie of the year Tyreke Evans. The draft presented an opportunity to pick up “All-Star” point-guard Jrue Holiday. Amongst the entire buzz there remain a lot of unanswered questions.

Positivity is something new to the reformed basketball franchise. They’ve transformed themselves with the goal of winning, not tanking in mind. However it would be unwise not to do the due diligence and breakdown just how difficult a job lies ahead.

Fans are excited for the first time not because the offseason moves make this a playoff team, but because it could.

Player Roles

This team now has three guards all capable of starting. Throw in a young gunslinger and you have a minute’s conundrum.

Aside from this, what really is the interesting element is that Evans, Gordon and Holiday are all very similar players. They are average shooters, good ball-handlers and have the athleticism and lateral quickness to compete defensively.

Someone is going to be the facilitator. Jrue Holiday may be able to fill this role, but does he have the technical consistency to distribute effectively?

If we try to match players and their current game styles we can see that perhaps there’s some logic behind these moves.

Jrue Holiday worked as the P&R ball-handler 38% of the time last season. Anthony Davis was the P&R man 24.6% of the time on offense, he was a cutter 20.6% of the time. These statistics indicate that there is a potential for synergy between their games.

Tyreke Evans had 24% of his offense on the break, significantly more than Eric Gordon (15%) and Jrue Holiday (11%). One may attribute this to the Kings faster pace (8th), but it may be that Evans was a catalyst for this.

Floor spacing is a major concern, especially with Al-Farouq Aminu returning. Three-guard lineups won’t be as lethal because of such a discrepancy behind the arc.

The small-forward position has been a bit of an anomaly in New Orleans ever since the 2008 Predraj Stojakovic season. With Aminu the only true wing defender and slasher the question lies in whether the Pelicans can utilize the skills needed to stop the best players in the game. He spotted up on 22% of offensive attempts and had a disastrous 0.6 PPP, if you consider a 1 PPP an average attempt.

When speaking with the media Tyreke Evans noted his willingness to play any role, whether it’s off the bench or as a small forward.

For his part, the 6-foot-6 Evans, who visited Pelicans headquarters Thursday, said he has ”no problem at all” playing extended minutes on the wing instead of his usual guard spot, if that’s what coach Monty Williams needs. – Brett Martel (AP Sports Writer)

Though one has to wonder whether it’s the right thing to do. Evans won rookie of the year as a ball-handler who posted his highest USG-rate. His Twitter bio reads as: “NBA Point Guard and Rookie of the Year, Tyreke Evans.” It begs the question as to what game-role suits him best.

Working off the ball as a cutter will only be so valuable (he was a cutter on 5% of his possessions). He will need to improve his shooting.

The greatest thing about the Pelicans is that there’s some time to navigate this search for team chemistry. The majority of the most talented players are under the age of 25.

This season it will be important to establish who does what well. The responsibility lies on the players, coaches and trainers. It will take some time and so goes professional sports.

Health

Athletes deal with injuries every single time they’re competing. It’s a factor that rarely gets considered in preseason assessments, unless you’re the New Orleans Pelicans.

The past season Pelican players have missed approximately 116 games combined. If you’re planning on getting deep into the playoffs you don’t aim to play 60, 70 or 80 games but 100.

Eric Gordon is considered the clear culprit. Many fans have been frustrated that he hasn’t played and been further enraged by his emotional fragility. While feelings don’t appear to be an issue now, Gordon still has to prove he can be a key player for the entirety of a season. With the positive energy surrounding the team it’s hopeful that this will be the case.

Though it is unfair to pinpoint Gordon for injury issues. Anthony Davis, Austin Rivers and Jason Smith all have battled injuries this past year. Many speculate that this is because the Pelicans training staff is extra cautious when bringing players back. But will an emphasis on winning put pressure on players to return to the lineup faster than before?

It’s important that conditioning is a priority this season. Eating the right foods at the right time is essential for recovery. Resting is as important as training hard. Strengthening the core can stabilize the bodies’ extremities. All these things and more have to be a part of every day tasks. It wouldn’t hurt if a little luck was involved.

Anthony Davis

As Ryan Schwan discussed a while ago Davis is the key to everything. The teams’ success will only go as far as he does.

The exciting part of this is that it appears this will be the case. This offseason Davis has clearly taken on a more mature role for the team, something demanded by Monty Williams.

“I think he’s more comfortable now,” Williams said of Davis’ adjustment to the NBA. “Obviously he played well, and everybody loves him… He wants to be one of the best players in the league… He’s also more vocal, and he’s stepping out there to show our team that he’s not going to sidestep being a leader. I’ve pushed him to do stuff in his second year that he hasn’t been asked to do. And I think that’s good for him, because he’s a special player.” — Monty Williams via Jim Eichenhofer

This is a big area of a basketball team’s ascendancy. It needs its young player to grow both on and off the floor and blossom into a superstar. Examples are guys like Kevin Durant, Tim Duncan and even Kobe Bryant.

Davis still has things to develop on the court. He can’t create his own shot, he faces up when the post up option is available and he doesn’t he have the sophisticated post-game so many power-forwards have in today’s game.

His defensive impact isn’t anywhere near its potential yet. Anticipating opponents drives and growing further into Williams’ help-defensive system is going to be fun to watch.

The great thing is it feels like Davis is making all of this progress right now. His Team-USA scrimmage highlighted an improved jumper, better defensive instincts and a confidence only gained from playing more high-level games. He will continue to add to his repitoire and he will be the player that the Pelicans need him to be, the franchise player.

Coaching Not Teaching

“We’re going to be coaching more than teaching which is what the really good teams do. They coach as opposed to teaching because most of their players are reacting naturally to the game and their situation.” — Monty Williams via Joel Birgham of Hoopsworld.com

With more talent and more experience the Pelicans find themselves at a crossroads. Prior to this off-season many saw New Orleans as a long development project. That has since been expedited. For a long time Head-Coach Monty Williams has had to sacrifice a lot for “the cause.” In other words, a gutted roster forced him to be creative, but above all it meant he had to get back to the basics.

No doubt Williams enjoys the intricacies of the game. The aforementioned areas underpinning success have roots in coaching [maybe not health, but some may argue it does]. He is the right man for the job.

If anyone should be excited after this off-season it should be Williams. Talent is talent and while there’s a lot of pieces of the puzzle to be put in place it’s the challenge for the coach to help complete it. It’s something he will embrace with glee, despite his Gregg Popovich impressions with the media.

Asking questions is as important as finding answers. Everyone from the fan to the Pelicans owner Tom Benson should be excited for this teams journey over the next few years. However it must not be forgotten that the path to success is paved in hard work and the on-court performances. When people look back into history all they see is who won and who lost. This is something that the Pelicans will welcome with excitement.

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