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Division Preview: Anthony Davis leads New Orleans Pelicans as team hopes to stay healthy

The Pelicans aren't contenders yet but they could give the Mavs and others a scare.

Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

Injuries stifled the inaugural season of the New Orleans Pelicans. Even their mascot was sidelined with a beak injury for a time. In all, 11 players missed time with Ryan Anderson, Anthony Davis, Tyreke Evans, Eric Gordon, Jrue Holiday, and Jason Smith absorbing the brunt of the injuries sustained by the team. Anderson, Gordon, Holiday, and Smith all suffered season-ending injuries. What potential this young team possessed was quickly dashed.

Entering the 2014-15 campaign, the Pelicans are looking to shake their injury woes. The young core of the team is healthy again, although Evans may still be a concern, and new players have been added to the roster. Barring the setbacks from last season, New Orleans could turn some heads, not just in the Southwest Division but also the NBA.

Offseason changes

The Pelicans added Omer Asik, Jimmer Fredette, John Salmons, Russ Smith, and Patric Young this summer. Outside of Asik, it's kind of a hodgepodge of journeymen and unknowns. However, what Asik brings to the table just might be what New Orleans is looking for.

Last season, Asik asked to be traded from the Houston Rockets. He wasn't happy being the backup center to Dwight Howard and frankly, the lineups when he was paired with Howard just didn't work. Asik saw himself as a starter. On the Pelicans, that's exactly what he will be.

Offensive breakdown

What Asik provides is solid interior defense and rebounding. He can also score at the rim. With Asik planting himself in the paint, he will allow Davis more freedom as he slides over to power forward.

Davis isn't built like many stretch fours in the league. He's long, lean, and extremely athletic but he also possesses an almost unmatched defensive prowess, leading the league in blocks per game with 2.8. Not only that, but he has extended the range of his jump shot and could look to burn opponents from midrange and downtown more this season. Davis will be in the MVP conversation, especially with Kevin Durant sidelined for several months.

While Davis is the budding star, he cannot do it all. The return of all his injured teammates will help, especially Anderson and Holiday, a former All-Star. Unfortunately, depth will be an issue for the Pelicans yet again. New Orleans lost Al-Farouq Aminu (who is now with the Mavericks), Melvin Ely, Pierre Jackson, Anthony Morrow, Brian Roberts, and Jason Smith. As mentioned, the cast of characters the team brought in this offseason is mediocre at best outside of Asik.

For the Pelicans to be successful this season, they need to be, well, healthy first and foremost. Aside from that, they must play at a higher pace. Davis thrived in the up-tempo environment of Team USA's World Cup victory in Spain this summer. However, head coach Monty Williams has consistently kept his team's pace low posting marks of 88.7, 88.3, 88.5, and 92.2 in his first four years at the helm. For a team as young as this, there is no reason not to let them get out in the open court as much as possible.

Defensive breakdown

If Williams gets the offense humming this season, he still has to worry about the other end of the floor. Even with Davis' length and shot-blocking ability, the Pelicans were an abysmal defensive unit last season. The team posted a defensive rating of 110.1 which ranked 27th in the league. Allowing that many points isn't going to set New Orleans up to win many games.

A lot of the reason that the Pelicans traded for Asik (this post is on the verge of Asik-mania at this point) is because he can be a defensive anchor for the team. In two seasons with the Rockets, he posted a personal defensive rating of 103. Only Howard had a better rating last season. Mind you, Houston isn't a great defensive team. However, if Asik can perform at or near that mark again, he could have a huge impact on the Pellies' half-court defense.

As mentioned above, the addition of Asik will serve to activate Davis. He will be free to roam and switch along the perimeter, disrupting passing lanes and hedging picks with his length and size. His shot blocking should remain robust as well. He stands to have plenty of weak-side and come from behind opportunities.

Even if Asik and Davis click, though, the Pelicans will not be an elite defense. Their guards are too offensive minded. The ideal situation for the team on defesnse is a slight to moderate improvement this season. This is a team that is still building and growing, after all.

When the teams meet

The Pelicans aren't going to win the division, they are too young and inexperienced. However, they could give the Mavericks fits when they meet. Dallas swept New Orleans last season and a lot of the reasons why can be placed on the injuries. Davis went down in one of those contests. Yet, if the Pelicans can stay healthy, there's no reason why they couldn't take a game or two from the Mavericks this season.

On paper, New Orleans is a matchup nightmare. There's a reason Dallas loaded up with long athletic wings this offseason. They know Anthony Davis is coming and Hell's coming with him.

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