Rick Stone AKA "Kovu" Twitter: @Pokermarlin
Pelicans Take Flight, but Fail to Soar
October 30th, 2013 was the entrance of the brand new "Pelicans" to the NBA. New Orleans was abuzz with big hopes and excited fans. The word "playoffs" even came up when talking New Orleans basketball. Now, we look at what is the 12th best team in the West record wise, and another disappointing season is stamped in the books. Even though it was a stretch, many thought this team had sleeper playoff potential, yet injuries and rough patches ended up destroying any hope of a postseason. It wasn't an easy year, but there was a lot of events, both good and bad, that changed the landscape of the Pelicans long term. Whether it was Anthony Davis taking his game to a whole new level or the catastrophic season-ending injuries to Ryan Anderson, Jason Smith and Jrue Holiday, the season was an eventful one, and there's a lot to go over. Before we get into the real analysis, the big stories of the season need to be covered. So let's start out with a positive:
1- Anthony Davis and the leap to stardom: Davis was expected by many NBA analysts to have a jump this season, but not many expected this big a leap. AD had a pretty good rookie season, averaging 13.5 PPG, 8.2 RPG and 1.8 BPG. Those numbers went up to a whole new level, as he averaged 20.8 PPG, 10 RPG and 2.8 BPG this year. It was a leap that shook the NBA and got him high consideration for Most Improved Player of the Year. Davis was also able to really develop his game all-around, including a solid mid-range jump shot.
(Credit to @HPbasketball https://twitter.com/HPbasketball/status/439628163572703232)
Many worried about his offensive game, and this year he answered those worries. The excitement over what AD could be in the future has fans giddy. He's only in his second year and is already bringing back flashbacks of Kevin Garnett in his early Minnesota days. His defensive game has been very solid all year, being at the top of the NBA in blocks per game. The Pelicans overall were an amazing NBA team in blocks, ranking at the top of the league. Davis took a huge step in development and was a marvel to watch, yet unfortunately that highlight was muddled by a lot of disappointments. Of course the big one...
2- Injuries all over the place: Let me give you an exercise. Pick any team in the NBA. Take three starters from that team...any of the starters, and eliminate them from the rotation. I guarantee you that team is going to struggle. That's what happened to the Pelicans around halfway through the year. On January 3rd vs. the Celtics, Ryan Anderson got knocked out for the year with a herniated cervical disc. On January 8th, Jrue Holiday suffered a leg injury that needed surgery and eliminated him playing again this season. On January 18th, the Pelicans announced Jason Smith was injured, and he eventually was sidelined for the year with cartilage damage in his knee. Three starters eliminated from the rotation put the final needle in any hopes New Orleans could make a run at the postseason. A 15-16 record after the Celtics game on January 3rd soon plummeted, and they finished with a measly 34 - 48 record. However, the season wasn't all to blame on the injuries.
3- Players failing to live up to the big deals: For how amazing Anthony Davis played, it was just as disappointing how the new acquisitions failed to really blend in. Eric Gordon had yet another frustrating season, averaging only 15.4 PPG, 3.3 APG and 1.6 3PM's per game. Jrue Holiday struggled to get going early on before the injury, only averaging 14.3 PPG, 7.9 APG and a 43.1 FG%, all of which are less than his numbers in Philadelphia last year. Ryan Anderson seemed to be the one guy not named Anthony Davis to have a solid year, netting 19.8 PPG and 3 three's per game, both of which are career highs, along with 6.5 RPG. However, Anderson and AD could rarely share the floor together due to the defensive woes the Pelicans had with them on the court at the same time. And then there's Tyreke Evans. Tyreke was a mess for the first half of they year as the Pellis tried to play him at the SF, which is not his position. After a few ankle injuries, he got on a roll once it was just him and AD carrying the load. He finished the year averaging 14.5 PPG, 5 APG and shooting 43.6 % from the field, much improved from the beginning of the year, when many considered him the worst signing of the previous free agency period. The questions run rampant over who should be part of the Pelicans rebuild, and who was a failed experiment.
Now that the big stories are out of the way, let's get down to the actually analysis of the team...
4- Free Agents. Who to resign and who to let go? The Pelicans will have at least 4 free agents going into next season, which are Jason Smith, Brian Roberts, Darius Miller and Al Faroq Aminu. Most of these players made big contributions to the Pelicans this year. Jason Smith and Al Faroq Aminu were starters at the beginning of the year. Brian Roberts became a starter after Jrue Holiday's injury. Darius Miller has shown his offensive game late in the year with his increase in minutes. Every one of these players will be an interesting decision as to whether the Pelicans decide if they will sign them back to the team, or let them go. Some have performed above expectations, such as Roberts and Smith, while others have been disappointing compared to their deals, such as Aminu and recently waived Greg Stiemsma. The Pelicans will probably try to keep Roberts after an impressive campaign as the starting PG for the second half of the season, yet if someone offers him a big deal, he might take the money and run. Darius Miller will probably be cheap enough for the Pelicans to sign and keep in the back of their depth chart. Jason Smith is intriguing, mostly because he was the starting Center for the Pelicans, which is not his strong suit. Smith is a 7-footer, yet his game is more suitable for the backup PF rather than a center. Jason has played very well and is a fan favorite, which could compel the Pelicans to try to keep him on the team. However, if the Pelicans are looking to upgrade the center position, they might let Smith walk and go after a starting center in free agency with more size. The Pelicans have already waived Greg Stiemsma, who failed to meet the high expectations he had at center. Anthony Morrow has a player option for next year, and will more than likely decline it to look for more money. New Orleans could try to resign him, but his contract could be larger than the Pelicans can afford, and they might look to use that money elsewhere. Then there's Aminu. Al Faroq is not a great starting small forward in the NBA right now, yet has been asked to be for the past few seasons. The expectations have not been met, and even though Aminu has shown some sparks of what could be, the Pelicans would be hard pressed to offer him a big deal. Other teams are going to make a splash and will probably persuade Aminu away from New Orleans.
5- Should Dell Demps gamble on yet ANOTHER iffy decision? On July 22nd, 2010, Dell Demps was given the GM position of the New Orleans basketball team. His tenure is now on its fourth year, and it's filled with a lot of questionable decisions. A LOT. He tried to trade Chris Paul to the Lakers for Odom and Kevin Martin. He let David West walk for nothing after his productive seasons in New Orleans. He traded Trevor Ariza and Emeka Okafor for Rashard Lewis in what was a cap space move. He matched the Suns maximum offer sheet to Eric Gordon, even after Gordon publically admitted he'd rather be in Phoenix than return to New Orleans. He traded away two of the Pelicans most productive players last year for near nothing in Grievis Vasquez and Robin Lopez. He signed Tyreke Evans to a 4 year/44 million dollar deal and Greg Stiemsma to a 1 year/2.7 million dollar deal, which were both vastly over priced. He traded away a chance at a possible dominate center in Nerlens Noel and a first round pick in the highly anticipated draft this year for Jrue Holiday. He failed to make a trade at the deadline for Eric Gordon or highly coveted prospect Pierre Jackson, who lite up the D-League this season before signing in Europe after not being traded at the deadline. These decisions have come back to haunt the Pelicans, especially this season. The Pelicans are in a tough spot, where they will have to try and improve their team with the massive contracts of Gordon, Tyreke, Jrue and Anderson and no draft pick in this year's draft. It won't be easy. Demps has dug this team a very deep hole with his decisions. So the question remains for this season. Should Demps take yet another gamble to get the Pelicans into the playoffs next year, or wait the process out?
Now to the final part of the recap...the real analysis of the smaller stories and bold predictions for what's to come for the Pellis.
6 – While the Pelicans made some silly decisions before the year, the highlight of the year might have been the additions during the season. While they aren't "star" players, Alexis Ajinca and Luke Babbitt have shown very impressive numbers and filled huge holes left by the vast amount of injuries during the year. Babbitt showed he can be a long range threat and played tough throughout his return to the NBA after his time overseas. Ajinca made a statement with his game this season, and proved he could be a productive center in the NBA, and could get an improved deal with New Orleans next year with the future of Jason Smith's in question. Both players have not only made a very strong showing, but got their NBA careers on the right track, whether they stay in New Orleans or get a better deal with another team.
7 – Not-So Popular Opinion: The Pelicans NEED to strongly consider trading Ryan Anderson. As much as it pains me to say it. Watching him play is beyond fun and his work ethic is impeccable. After watching him fight everything he went through, from injuries to the loss of his girlfriend before the season, he has my utmost respect no matter what. However, there's a simple rule when building a team. You can't have your best bench player be in the same position as your best starter. The Pelicans have this issue in Anthony Davis and Ryan Anderson. When they originally drafted Davis, they thought he would be a center, yet now that his role is defined as a power forward, the Pelicans are in a huge conundrum with Anderson. Obviously the Pelicans aren't getting rid of Anthony Davis anytime soon, as he's emerged into a superstar player this past season. Ryan is one of the most coveted pieces on the trade market, and the Pelicans could get something good for him. New Orleans also has an overcrowding problem at the guard positions. The Hornets currently have trouble finding time on the floor for Gordon, Evans, Holiday, Rivers and Roberts. While Roberts and Rivers are not true starters, they are solid backups, and Gordon, Evans and Holiday can all be starters on most NBA teams. The Pelicans wanted to run Evans at small forward, yet early in the year it was proven that wasn't going to work. The simple answer is for the Pelicans to make trades, however Gordon and Tyreke's deals are disturbingly large for other teams to take on. If New Orleans wants to move EG or Tyreke, they are most likely going to have to package Anderson. Either that, or take another year to experiment with the makeup they have now. It's a tough decision for Demps and the New Orleans organization. Which brings this thought...
8 – Draft Day Deja Vu? Last year, Demps took a huge chance and made a blockbuster deal with the Pelicans first round pick Nerlens Noel. The gamble didn't work well, as New Orleans gave up two first round picks for Jrue Holiday, who spent most of the year either in a funk or on the bench in a suit. With the Sixers now likely to get two lottery picks from the Pelicans in the past two years, you would think Demps would stay away from another draft day deal...or will he? NBA GM's across the league are not too high on the latest draft class, and while the Pelicans don't have a pick at the moment in the draft, they have pieces teams could be willing to part way with a 1st round pick for. A team looking for a PF or SG like a Detroit could take the same kind of calculated risk the Pelicans did and risk a pick for a proven talent like Anderson or Gordon. While New Orleans doesn't have the pick to draft, don't be surprised if they make a push to get a pick for a talent they are already trying to move away while they have the chance. One of the popular rumors at the trade deadline this past season was the possible trade of Anderson and Gordon going to Detroit for Greg Monroe and expiring deals. That deal might get back and going now that Detroit doesn't have to worry about moving the extra money, and with Monroe's contract expiring, the Pistons will want to get something for him instead of losing him for nothing. The Pelicans could put Monroe at the center with Anthony Davis, and give themselves more balance moving forward. It's a deal that would be yet another risk in the Dell Demps history, but could bring stability and balance to the new look Pellis.
9 – The mini-story of the season: The Curious Case of Austin Rivers – Remember that Justin Timberlake song, "Cry me a River"? It's starting to sound like the saga that has been Austin Rivers in a New Orleans Pelicans uniform...well sorta. "I know that they say. That somethings are better left unsaid." NOT IN THIS CASE MR.TIMBERLAKE! When Rivers was drafted, there was a lot of questions how he would adjust to the NBA. He was on a young team with very quiet expectations. His rookie year was a disaster to say the least. He had what was statistically one of the worst rookie seasons in NBA history. He was put in a horrible situation stuck behind a plethora of guards on the Pelicans, and rarely found the time and rhythm to find his game. "Your bridges were burned, and now it's your turn to cry." The Pelicans certainly didn't do Rivers any favors. The struggles showed greatly. The turnovers were often, and he looked like a complete bust. Rumors were rampant he could be traded, but no team made the push to get him. This past season, we've finally seen glimpses of what he can do. He's drove to the basket efficiently and shown he can score the ball. However, his time is still limited on the team, and it seems Rivers has been secretly wanting a new home. "Now there's just no chance, for you and me, there'll never be (No chance, you and me) And don't it make you sad about it". With Rivers deal running down and the Pelicans continuing to make trades for guards, it seems Rivers time in New Orleans is running out. It's been a depressing story, since Rivers seems like a great kid, and works just as hard as anyone on the team. It just was a match made in turmoil from the start. It does make me a little sad. He was fun to watch. But it wouldn't be a surprise to see New Orleans move him or fail to resign him after the 2015-2016 season. I'll never be able to hear that song though without thinking of Austin though..."The damage is done So I guess I be leaving." It may very well be for Austin, but we will never forget his campaign for the Pellis.
10 – Free Agency: Time for some calculated risks and vets on the Pelicans. The oldest player on the Pelicans this season was Greg Steimsma. Greg is 28. Yeah, New Orleans might wanna consider some cheap veteran leadership this upcoming free agency. And lucky for them, the market will have a lot of calculated risks and vets available. A lot of guys with experience and strive to get their game back after disappointing campaigns will be on the market. The main one to consider is Danny Granger. Granger was a long time member of the Pacers, and helped get them back to relevance. However, a vast amount of injuries caused Indiana to trade him away this past season. Granger took his talents to the Clippers for the rest of the season and playoffs, yet will be a free agent looking to prove he's still got game this offseason. The Pelicans seem like the perfect fit. Granger is originally a Louisiana native, and plays the small forward, which the Pelicans are in need of a starter for. He's a three point marksman, which depending on if Morrow moves on to another team, the Pelicans might be in great need for a long range shooter like Granger. If New Orleans can convince him, he might just get another chance to show he can be a key player on a contending team. Another possible player the Pelicans should go after might sound familiar...Greg Oden. The center, who had been cursed by injuries for years after being the first overall pick in the 2007 draft, almost came to the Pelicans before deciding to join the Heat this past offseason. Oden will once again be a free agent, and showed some nice flashes of productivity in Miami. If New Orleans wants to take the chance, they could go after him again to pair with Anthony Davis inside, depending on what kind of deal Oden will be asking for this offseason. The problem with Oden is the risk factor. He could turn into another Greg Stiemsma situation where his numbers never get the Pelicans into the mix of contenders, but he also could be another piece to the puzzle New Orleans is trying to build to contend in the West. There are other affordable veterans New Orleans should at least consider, such as a Richard Jefferson or Francisco Garcia at small forward or a center such as Emeka Okafor, Jordan Hill or Jermaine O'Neal.
Summary: The Pelicans season was very intriguing. The Pelicans had their new mascot, Pierre, go through "beak surgery" to fix his scary look. They had marquee wins against teams such as Miami and Oklahoma City. They had three eight game losing streaks thoughout the season. They managed a 19-11 record against the Eastern Conference. And of course, they found out Anthony Davis could really be the star of their team. It was not the year Pelicans fans were hoping for, but it could very well be a step in the right direction for the franchise. Next year will feature new faces and new expectations. For now, let's look back at some of the best Pelicans GIFS of the season...
That's it. Until next year Pellis. Until next year...