Making the playoffs two years ago should’ve began the New Orleans Pelicans’ rise to perennial playoff contention.
It was written out like a book, and the main character was Anthony Davis, putting together the best season of his career. Tyreke Evans even looked like a competent second option. Sure, they got swept by the Golden State Warriors, but New Orleans finally tasted playoff basketball again. All was good.
So much so, the Pelicans fired Monty Williams and replaced him with Alvin Gentry fresh off a run as Golden State’s top assistant. The goal was to get New Orleans to play at a much faster tempo, much like he did Mike D’Antoni’s leftovers in Phoenix that he led to the Western Conference Finals.
That fast tempo led to a dud. The Pelicans finished 30-52, last in the Southwest Division again and Davis missed a career-high 21 games due to nagging injuries, including season-ending knee surgery in March. Evans played only 25 games and then underwent knee surgery of his own. Jrue Holiday seemed to revive his career by posting nearly 17 points and six assists per game, but only started 23 games because Gentry believed Norris Cole and Ish Smith were better options to start at point guard.
‘Twas a messy Mardi Gras in New Orleans, but the Pelicans may have found some hope in the form of Buddy Hield, the shooter extraordinaire from Oklahoma who they drafted with the sixth overall pick this summer to be their shooting guard of the future. As for the rest of the roster?
What did New Orleans do in the offseason?
Drafting Hield was the first domino to fall, and it was a big one. No one’s draft stock boosted more during the college season than the Sooners’ senior, and New Orleans was desperate to find backcourt shooting after Eric Gordon went to Houston and the unfortunate death of Bryce Dejean-Jones. It’s all about health when it comes to New Orleans’ backcourt. Evans and Gordon both shot over 38 percent from 3-point range last year, but neither played more than 45 games. Barring anything drastic, Hield should start on opening night.
Adding Jones should provide solid depth in New Orleans’ front court and is a solid replacement should Davis go down again. Jones isn’t the athletic freak the three-time All-Star is, but he is athletic and quick in the open court. He should play well now that he’s teammates with his former Kentucky brother again.
Oh, the Pelicans also signed Lance Stephenson! Fantastic! ... Why, though?
Kendrick Perkins was also a thing that happened! ... I mean, sure?
Robert Sacre? Okay, cool.
The Pelicans didn’t address anything glaring other than drafting Hield and putting more bodies out there to crowd the roster. Gentry has a plan, I presume.
Biggest Challenge for New Orleans
Health, health and health. New Orleans can be a really fun team. Nothing better than scoring a ton of points in an up-tempo system while having a genetically-gifted freak protecting the rim.
But Davis needs to be healthy if New Orleans has any shot at making the playoffs. The rest of the roster is not good enough to win without him. Holiday is already going to miss the beginning of the season to tend to his pregnant wife, who also has a brain tumor. He’ll be out for at least the first month or two. It’s back to the Cole experiment again, but Tim Frazier should also see more time after his solid run at the end of last year.
Evans is entering a contract year, so there’s that subtle chance New Orleans gets rookie-year Tyreke for one season. That could help. One more injury could also find him a new home next year.
New Orleans suited up 21 players last year. Dante Cunningham played 80 games, by far the most on the team. Next on the list? Alonzo Gee, followed by Omer Asik. This team needs to stay healthy, for the love of everything that is good.
If the health aspect can be checked off the list, then it’s a matter of if the Pelicans have enough talent around Davis to win 40-45 games. That’s a gigantic if, but it’s possible with another year in the Gentry regime.
Las Vegas has them at 36.5 wins, and that’s a reasonable number to take the over. New Orleans can certainly win 40 games and be a fringe playoff team, but it’ll likely be another last-place finish in the crowded Southwest Division.