Anthony Davis put up 26/17/9 in his first game of the season. What kind of numbers could he average this season? Is there a limit to what this guy can do?
I prefer to extend that stat line out one more category to 26/17/9/0, with the goose egg being the number of turnovers that Davis committed last night. That Davis can have such a substantial impact on both ends of the court while taking such good care of the basketball is one of the many attributes that makes him so special, and to be able to do so at just age 21 is simply incredible. The safety net that Asik provides the Pelicans at the rim on defense benefits no individual player more than Davis, who is an absolute terror for driving opponents from the weak side.
From a statistical average perspective, I'd set the baseline of my personal expectations at 24 points, 11 rebounds, 3 blocks, and 1.5 steals per game. If he gets there, he would be just third different player in NBA history to post those season averages, joining David Robinson and Hakeem Olajuwon. Both of those players accomplished that feat at least 4 times, but neither were able to do it before age 24. Anthony Davis is just that special.
Is the trio of Davis, Omer Asik and Ryan Anderson the best front-court rotation in the NBA? That's what scares me about this team - the ability to kill you from the 4 and 5 positions for all 48 minutes.
I have a hard time picking the BEST front court in the NBA this early, but I have the Pelicans' trio firmly in the top 3 along with Griffin/Jordan/Hawes of the Clippers and Gibson/Noah/Gasol/Mirotic of the Bulls. To your point, all it would take is 32 minutes each to cover all available front court minutes - a completely realistic number, especially considering Davis will likely average more than that. I will say that Anderson, Davis, and Asik make up the best two-way front court rotation in the NBA.
The Pellies have three fairly interchangeable parts on the perimeter in Jrue Holiday, Eric Gordon and Tyreke Evans. Who is most important to this team's success?
I think many would argue that Eric Gordon is not currently at the same level as Jrue and Tyreke, and the numbers back that up over the past couple of years. On the offensive side of the ball, I think Evans is most important, as his ability to get to the rim not only gets him high-efficiency looks, but his teammates as well through both dump-offs and put-backs. Defensively, Holiday is easily the most important of the three. Without Jrue, the Pelicans' perimeter defense would be a total mess, thereby opening up the floodgates for good 3-point shooting teams.
Depth is one of the big questions surrounding this team. How have Jimmer Fredette, Austin Rivers and John Salmons looked and what can we expect from them? Do you expect all three will be able to keep their spots in the rotation?
I'll touch on each of those players in order. Jimmer appears to be the Pelicans' Anthony Morrow replacement, and I think he could do a decent job of filling that role, though it may be difficult to match A-Mo's career year last season. Jimmer handles the ball well enough, and he's obviously an excellent perimeter shooter. His main deficiencies come on the defensive end, but in limited minutes, he should help more than hurt with his floor spacing ability.
Austin Rivers is probably the biggest wild card outside of the team's top 6 players. He has a few under-appreciated strengths to his game - on-ball defense, spot-up perimeter shooting, and ability to penetrate the lane probably top that list. That being said, he rarely passes once he starts his attack on the rim, and not only does he struggle to score when he gets there, but he only makes about two thirds of his free throws when he earns a trip to the line. If Rivers can improve his court vision and finishing ability, he could be a valuable rotation player for most NBA teams. For the Pels, he'll be a factor regardless, and seeing improvement from him would certainly help New Orleans' playoff chances.
John Salmons was borderline horrendous in his ten minutes on Wednesday night. He was a revolving door on defense, and he was a non-factor on offense. A small sample size for sure, but if his defense doesn't improve, the Pelicans may as well go with a guard-guard-Anderson-Davis-Asik lineup (that worked very well with a zone D in preseason) and bump up Anderson's minutes from the 22 he played last night (with a few possibly going to Ajinca). Lots of games left to be played, though, so it's probably unwise to jump to conclusions after only one game.
You guys have seen more of Al-Farouq Aminu than anyone. What's a reasonable expectation for what he can provide the Mavs this season and what type of player can he ultimately be in the NBA?
I believe that Rick Carlisle is undoubtedly one of the top five coaches in the NBA, so I wouldn't doubt his ability to get more out of Aminu than Monty Williams ever did in New Orleans. That being said, he isn't a threat to score outside of the restricted area, a limitation that has remained constant throughout his first four seasons in the league. While I don't believe that Aminu's shooting will ever make the leap to respectable, I do believe that Carlisle can get much more out of him defensively.
Because of AFA's length and athleticism, people sometimes gave him too much credit in New Orleans, but the truth is that he has a great deal to grow at this end of the court, and I think he now has a great opportunity to do so. As a backup forward in Dallas, he should really help the Mavericks both defensively and on the glass, as he is an elite rebounder for his position.
Finally -- Pels? Pellies? Pelicans? What do you think of the new mascot and what name do the fans seem to prefer?
If i'm abbreviating a team name, I have a general rule - one syllable only. Therefore, it's either Pels or Pelicans for me. It seems as if the majority of fans agree, though I can't say that with complete confidence since I'm not living in New Orleans at present. As far as the mascot itself is concerned, it's fine by me. I was a big "New Orleans Brass" advocate, but the Pelican is the state bird, after all, so no problem with that choice. Ultimately, though, all that matters is what this team does on the court. People lashed out at the nickname "Thunder" for Oklahoma City, but once they started winning, the attention quickly shifted elsewhere.
Thanks Mason! You can find him on Twitter @MasonGinsberg.