New Orleans Pelicans Season Preview Part 1

Published: October 23, 2014

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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