Pelicans Scoop: First Trimester Review

Published: December 30, 2014

1) What are your general impressions of the Pelicans after 30 games? Are you disappointed, satisfied, or somewhere in-between?

Mason Ginsberg: Satisfied with the offense, disappointed with the defense. Despite gripes from many about how the offense has been run thus far, the fact of the matter is that the Pelicans have been a top-10 offensive team against a 2nd most difficult strength of schedule in the league. Defensively, however, the Davis-Asik pairing hasn’t done much to cover up the Pels’ brutal perimeter defense on the wings. Some of that is the overall youth of the team, but many of us – myself included – figured that such a strong defensive front court be enough to get the Pelicans at least to a league average defensive rating, and that has not been the case to date.

Nick Lewellen: Given how everything has played out (losing Gordon, the tough December schedule, etc.), I’m not sure I could be happier. Sure, the defense is a mess, but our offense has been great. At the beginning of December, I didn’t think we had a chance to be .500. Now, I had big hopes going into this season, and those hopes were a bit bigger than a team with an average record. Still, I’m keeping hope alive by expecting a big January. Anyway, I’m pretty happy with this team right now.

Jake Madison: My impressions, like the team, is inconsistent. There are days I really like this team and days that are the opposite. I content with the offense and stunned by the poor defense. I thought this team would be on the outside of the playoffs looking in and that’s where the team stands. Part of that is the conference, and part is the youth. But once I remind myself of the schedule the Pelicans have played it’s tough not to be slightly pleased.

Chris Romaguera: I am, like the team, conflicted. The team has had flashes of being a great team, but has also had moments that have made you give the Monty Williams glare into the abyss (and all in the same game.) While the Pelicans probably would prefer to have jumped ahead of the Oklahoma City Thunder by a greater margin, being only two games behind the Phoenix Suns for the 8th and final playoff spot after one of the toughest stretches of the schedule, you can’t complain.

Jason Calmes: I’m pretty satisfied. To start the season, I said this, “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.” The 15-15 Pelicans are 11-10 in the West, 4-5 in the East. 4 of those East losses were against 4 of the top 5 East teams and all 5 were on the road. Much of this (18 of 30 games) was without Eric Gordon, as well. Eric Gordon returning, potentially, and an easier January could bring the team’s record to one that is more palatable after a quick analysis rather than a more detailed one.

Joe Gerrity: Satisfied. Over the last few years I’ve become accustomed to failure with a side of injuries. This year we’re able to compete regularly with some of the best teams in the league, and we’ve stayed relatively healthy. Playoffs would be nice, but even if we can’t quite manage to squeeze in I can still come away from this season satisfied.

2) What has been the best or most surprising thing about the Pelicans so far (excluding Anthony Davis)?

MG: The degree to which Eric Gordon’s absence has affected this Pelicans team. Obviously, given the lack of depth in the Pelicans’ back court, his absence was going to be felt. What I don’t think I properly understood was that, despite his weak numbers while he was playing, his mere presence in the starting lineup gave the team another player capable of beating you in multiple ways, and therefore allowed the team as a whole to thrive.

NL: Dante Cunningham. I got really excited writing the post about DC, when it was announced the Pelicans had signed him. But I tried to talk myself down. It seemed unreasonable that a guy on a veteran minimum contract could make a big impact on this team. I was wrong to to talk myself down. He has been just what this team needed off the bench. He has come in and provided scoring, defense, and depth.

JM: How much I’ve missed Eric Gordon in the starting lineup. I remember not caring if he played or not; figuring the team could fill his production in either Austin Rivers or through a free agent signing or trade. Wow, was I wrong. Gordon’s absence is strongly felt even though he struggled at the start of the season. Please get well soon, Eric!

CR: Jimmer! The best surprise has probably been the continuing improvement of Jrue Holiday, who has shown more and more of what made him an Eastern Conference All-Star two seasons ago, (and showing up the analytics who chalked up his numbers that year to usage.) Holiday’s play has been a bright spot, especially considering that he hasn’t even played a full season worth of games with the team yet.

JC: It’s not a huge surprise, but they have improved their attempts within 3 feet of the basket (they are first in the NBA now). They have also improved the number of three point shots they take. Last season they were next to last in the NBA (19.3% of shots were worth three points) and now they are up to 25th in the NBA (22.6%). NBA-average is 26.5%, for reference. You can thank Luke Babbitt for this.

JG: As far as non-Anthony Davis stuff goes, I’m just happy that Ryan Anderson is back. He went through a lot last season both on and off the court, and it’s nice to see him doing his thing again, even if his production has slipped a bit. I expect he’ll have a nice second half to the season.

3) What has been the biggest disappointment for you?

MG: Having already touched on my disappointment with the defense above, I’ll go with 3-point shooting here. Last season, the Pelicans took the second fewest 3-pointers in the league, but were 6th in 3-point percentage. This season, they’ve attempted the fifth fewest 3-pointers so far, but they’re all the way down to 23rd in 3-point percentage. The team can’t even pin it on losing Anthony Morrow, because Luke Babbitt has more or less replaced his shooting accuracy. Rivers, Anderson, and Holiday are all shooting below their career averages despite a reasonable amount of open looks.

NL: I know this isn’t very concrete, but the Eric Gordon injury bums me out a lot. At this point, I’m starting to really feel for the guy. He hasn’t caught a lot of the breaks over the last couple of years. More than that, losing him really hurt our defense and our rotations. We aren’t a deep team. That means our lineups and chemistry are pretty fragile. I think losing Gordon was a big setback for this team, but getting him back sometime next year could provide a great spark.

JM: Defense. It amazes me that a team with Jrue Holiday, Omer Asik and Anthony Davis ranks in the bottom 5. Remember the year the then-Hornets posted a top 5 defense in Monty’s first season? It seems like a long time ago. Monty has been called a defensive coach but this is the third year in a row where there hasn’t been any improvement on that side of the ball.

CR: Jimmer! But more sincerely, defense is the obvious one. The team rates in the bottom-five in the league despite the acquisition of Omer Asik. Which bleeds into the other disappointing aspects of that team, (rebounding and pace.) The expectation of a top-5 or top-10 defense led me to believe this team would kill on the boards (which it did at the start of the season) and run more (which it hasn’t been able to.)

JC: The perimeter defense. This is likely tied to Eric’s early underperformance (though on defense, he was not as rough) and then his absence. Babbitt can handle certain players ok (he was actually one of the only guys to frustrate Gortat in his monster game earlier this season). He’s just not a wing defender. Still, not being able to field a lineup that can play consistent defense chokes down the learning of said defense. It’s just a major disappointment on many levels.

JG: Interior defense. I never expected much on the perimeter, especially since I think Holiday is an overrated defender, but The Davis-Asik pairing just hasn’t been able to make up the inadequacies like one would expect. Asik specifically has struggled, and somehow the Pelicans are actually slightly worse defensively when he’s on the court. Oh, and the pace is still beyond disappointing. I want faster basketball and I want it now.

4) What are some things you’d like to see the rest of the season?

MG: The defense has to improve. Even if it can’t get to league-average, moving from 26th to somewhere in the top 20 would be a good place to start. Some of that will come with the schedule lightening up and the young players learning how to defend as a team better, but some of it is also coaching and scheme-related. Offensively, I’m focused on the pick-and-roll game, primarily with Anthony Davis. Not only how frequently it is used, but also the quality of the screens that are set by the Pelicans’ big men, and the patience of the team’s guards to accept and utilize them. I feel like this is an aspect of NBA offenses that can be easily overlooked, but it shouldn’t be.

NL: At this point, I just want improvement on defense. It doesn’t even have to show up in the individual player data. I believe there are good defenders on this team, but the team defense is lacking. I’d like to see better rotations and help defense. Some of that starts with Anthony Davis, who has been phenomenal this year. He can still improve, though. That is my wish for the new year. I just want a better defense.

JM: Offensively, I’d like to see the ball go through Davis early on in the offense and high pick and rolls between him and Davis. Defensive, just get better? Rotations need to be sharper as does court awareness. Those two areas would help significantly.

CR: 1. Davis being more of a focal point in the offense is key to me. He can draw fouls on the opposing team, and creating from the elbow seems like an opponent coach’s nightmare.

  1. Getting a stronger defensive output from the team. A team that starts Holiday, Asik, and Davis should not be hemorrhaging points in this fashion, no matter who else is on the court.
  2. Pick up the pace. The more possessions with Davis, the better. A young team with multiple ballhandlers and shooters can only improve with the added space of playing more in the open court.
  3. Jimmer!

JC: Aside from an Eric Gordon return, I’d like to see Ryno get back into his form, I’d like to see the Jimmer Fredette I’ve been told I’d see, and I’d like to see Russ Smith play quality backup minutes in 5 straight games (should the need be there).

JG: I’d like to see Davis set the single season record for PER, largely so we can see how high a player can rank without making the postseason, and I wouldn’t say no to witnessing a triple double involving blocks. Also, if they playoffs are truly out of reach, I’d like to see some absolutely crazy fast basketball. Unfortunately (perhaps fortunately…) Monty is not a coach who likes to stray too far off the beaten path, so I don’t expect much.

5) Give us your predictions or thoughts about the rest of the year

MG: The Pelicans finish 10 games over .500 (46-36), but still miss the playoffs because of the insane depth of the Western Conference. Regardless, the team takes positive strides from both a performance and chemistry perspective, setting itself up to become a playoff staple for the remainder of Anthony Davis’ very long tenure in New Orleans.

NL: I think we have a big January, and the Pelicans end up somewhere between 41-48 wins. Anthony Davis will get a little buzz for MVP, but he will ultimately lose out to a player on a better team. He will get his first All-NBA first team award, though.

JM: I still think the Pelicans finish in the 9th seed and miss out on the playoffs by a game or two. But I will admit that if they have a good January they may just make it in as the 8th seed.

CR: I feel that the schedule easing up a bit, as well as getting Gordon back, and building chemistry, will have the Pelicans finish about .500. I’d guess somewhere along the 44-48 wins region. The low-end of that is probably not resulting in a playoff berth, the high-end results in the same record the Golden State Warriors had when they missed the playoffs in the 2007-08 season. Hard to tell where the line is this year that results in the Pelicans getting a playoff berth, but I’ll vote yes, since I’m feeling lucky.

JC: My predictions remain unchanged. “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.”

JG: We’ll go on a nice run, but we’ll never seriously challenge for a playoff spot. In the end we’ll wind up in 10th with about 45 wins.



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