New Orleans Pelicans Season Preview Part Two

Published: October 24, 2014

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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