Tuesday, October 20, 2015

2015-16 Season Preview: New Orleans Pelicans

NEW ORLEANS PELICANS
[] 45-37
[] Offensive Rating: 109.0 (8th)
[] Defensive Rating: 108.2 (22nd)
[] Net Rating: +0.8 (14th)
[] Eliminated in 1st round of NBA playoffs
[] Coach: Alvin Gentry

It took an MVP-caliber season from Anthony Davis and an injury-riddled season from the Oklahoma City Thunder for the Pelicans to sneak into the playoffs last year, garnering the 8th seed on a tiebreaker.  With another year of improvement from Davis and the prospect of a full season from starting PG Jrue Holiday, the Pelicans will be hoping to build on last year's surprise playoff appearance.  The rest of the roster is back as well, for the most part, as there aren't any projected changes to the team's rotation.  Eric Gordon is entering a contract year after a solid, mostly healthy season.  Tyreke Evans had a solid, well-rounded season last year, as he was the jack-of-all-trades, master of none that the Pelicans needed him to be last season.  Additionally, Omer Asik is back at C to take some of the defensive burden off of Davis.  While the starting five looks strong, the depth is still questionable, as the front office didn't do much in the offseason to improve the bench.  That's going to be the biggest question mark for the Pelicans as they grind through the Western Conference this year, but you have to feel good about any team that has Anthony Davis.

Projected Starting Five

PG: Jrue Holiday - 6'4, 205 - 7th NBA season
GP
PPG
PER
USG%
TS%
3P%
3PAr
FT%
FTr
AST%
TOV%
40
14.8
18.8
23.1%
52.2%
37.8%
.253
85.5%
.142
34.9%
13.8%

Holiday has played in 74 games combined in the last two seasons.  While his health has been an issue, when he's on the floor, he's worth his weight.  However, it's hard not to think about what the Pelicans could be building if they had held onto the two picks they traded for him (Nerlens Noel and Elfrid Payton).  If Holiday can stay healthy, those thoughts may be less prevalent, but it's hard to say the Pelicans didn't lose that trade hands-down.

SG: Eric Gordon - 6'4, 215 - 8th NBA season
GP
PPG
PER
USG%
TS%
3P%
3PAr
FT%
FTr
AST%
TOV%
61
13.4
12.7
19.8%
54.4%
44.8%
.454
80.5%
.192
17.6%
14.0%

Gordon was the #3 recruit (RSCI) in the class of 2007, behind OJ Mayo and Kevin Love, and the 7th pick in the 2008 draft, it's always seemed like Gordon has fallen short of expectations.  He had a couple of solid seasons earlier in his career, but injuries have lowered the hopes for a dynamic career.  The Pelicans just need him to stay healthy at a thin position and be a reliable secondary scoring option.  He did that last year, posting solid scoring efficiency, thanks to a really good shooting year.

SF: Tyreke Evans - 6'6, 220 - 7th NBA season
GP
PPG
PER
USG%
TS%
3P%
3PAr
FT%
FTr
AST%
TOV%
79
16.6
17.7
26.1%
50.8%
30.4%
.195
69.4%
.250
32.7%
16.0%

Evans burst onto the scene, winning Rookie of the Year with the Kings back in the 2009-10 season.  Since then, he's had a hard time finding his way, but that appears to have changed, as he enters his prime with the Pelicans.  If nothing else, the Pelicans have given him a defined role in the last two years, assigning him duties as a playmaker, and secondary scoring option.  He's not an efficient scoring option because of his shaky jumper, but he gets to the FT line reliably.  The Pelicans could do better at SF, but they could also do much worse.

PF: Anthony Davis - 6'10, 230 - 4th NBA season
GP
PPG
PER
USG%
TS%
TRB%
ORB%
DRB%
FT%
FTr
BLK/36
68
24.3
30.8
27.8%
59.1%
16.1%
8.0%
24.1%
80.5%
.384
2.9

Steph Curry was worthy of the MVP award he took home last season, but Anthony Davis put together one hell of a case for the trophy himself.  Davis won't turn 23 until March of this season, and by that point, he could be in line to win MVP for real this year.  He's a legitimate defensive force thanks to his freakish athleticism and length, and his offensive game has come along nicely.  He's increased his TS% and AST% and decreased his TOV% in each season, all while bettering his shooting efficiency at every distance.  It's still too early to throw dirt on LeBron's tenure as the world's best player, but there's no doubt in my mind that we'll be anointing Davis to that throne, possibly as soon as the end of this season.  He's that dominant at both ends of the floor.  The proof is in the fact that he took this roster to the playoffs in the brutal Western Conference last year.

C: Omer Asik - 7'0, 255 - 6th NBA season
GP
PPG
PER
USG%
TS%
TRB%
ORB%
DRB%
FT%
FTr
BLK/36
76
7.3
15.5
14.0%
54.5%
21.4%
14.0%
28.8%
58.2%
.546
1.0


The defensive-minded big signed a sizable deal (4 years, $44M guaranteed) to remain with the Pelicans this summer.  Asik is useful, but I'd have rather seen the Pelicans roll with more lineups with Anthony Davis at C and Ryan Anderson at PF.  To his credit, Asik is one of the best rebounders in the league; he finished 3rd in the league in TRB% in 2014-15, and 2nd in 2012-13.

Bench

PG: Norris Cole - 6'2, 180 - 5th NBA season
GP
PPG
PER
USG%
TS%
3P%
3PAr
FT%
FTr
AST%
TOV%
75
7.6
10.9
17.5%
48.3%
31.3%
.315
71.6%
.145
22.2%
14.3%

Known for his scoring punch coming out of Cleveland State in the 2011 draft, Cole has made his mark on the defensive end as a pro.  He's a pesky, aggressive defender, something you can afford when you've got a shot blocker like Anthony Davis playing behind you.

SG: Bryce Dejean-Jones - 6'6, 210 - Rookie
GP
PPG
RPG
APG
FG%
FT%
33
10.5
4.7
2.1
47.8%
78.0%

Dejean-Jones went undrafted after transferring from UNLV to Iowa State.  The SG position is really thin for the Pelicans, so he just might make the roster.  Sean Kilpatrick and Chris Douglas-Roberts will also challenge for this spot.

G/F: Alonzo Gee - 6'6, 220 - 7th NBA season
GP
PPG
PER
USG%
TS%
3P%
3PAr
FT%
FTr
AST%
TOV%
54
4.5
13.0
16.7%
54.8%
37.1%
.188
70.1%
.414
5.8%
13.0%

Gee has played more of his minutes at SF than SG to this point in his career, but with Babbitt and Pondexter at the SF position, his clearest path to minutes in New Orleans is at the two.  If he can repeat last year's career-high 3P%, he could be a valuable piece off the bench.

SF: Luke Babbitt - 6'9, 225 - 6th NBA season
GP
PPG
PER
USG%
TS%
3P%
3PAr
FT%
FTr
AST%
TOV%
63
4.1
11.1
12.4%
63.9%
51.3%
.599
68.4%
.099
4.3%
11.5%

Babbitt has always been a strong outside shooter, but he took it to a new level last year.  He doesn't do much else well, but this team really needs his shooting.

SF: Quincy Pondexter - 6'6, 225 - 6th NBA season
GP
PPG
PER
USG%
TS%
3P%
3PAr
FT%
FTr
AST%
TOV%
75
7.2
9.9
13.8%
55.0%
37.3%
.546
74.0%
.215
7.7%
9.4%

Q-Pon is in his second stint in New Orleans after being acquired in the deal that sent Austin Rivers to Boston and Jeff Green to Memphis.  He shot 43.3% from three in 45 games for the Pelicans, proving himself to be a useful role player off the bench.  The highlight of his season came in the form of a 25-point performance against Brooklyn in February.

F: Dante Cunningham - 6'8, 230 - 7th NBA season
GP
PPG
PER
USG%
TS%
3P%
3PAr
FT%
FTr
AST%
TRB%
66
5.2
8.9
10.9%
47.3%
10.0%
.029
61.7%
.139
4.4%
8.8%

Cunningham lives in the mid-range on offense, taking 56% of his FG attempts from between 16 feet out and the three point line.  That's generally not a formula for strong efficiency, and it shows; Cunningham hasn't pushed his TS% above 50 in any of the last three seasons.

PF: Ryan Anderson - 6'10, 240 - 8th NBA season
GP
PPG
PER
USG%
TS%
3P%
3PAr
FT%
FTr
AST%
TRB%
61
13.7
15.6
23.4%
52.4%
34.0%
.492
85.4%
.207
5.4%
10.0%

Anderson is the prototypical stretch four, providing the Pelicans with reliable outside shooting and respectable rebounding for a guy who plays most of his time away from the basket.  Plus, he makes a better frontcourt-mate for Anthony Davis than Omer Asik, due to his ability to stretch the floor and create space around the rim for Davis to function inside of.

C: Alexis Ajinca - 7'0, 235 - 6th NBA season
GP
PPG
PER
USG%
TS%
TRB%
ORB%
DRB%
FT%
FTr
BLK/36
68
6.5
19.9
21.1%
59.5%
18.7%
12.4%
25.0%
81.8%
.301
1.9

Ajinca was a really strong backup C last season, as he scored efficiently, rebounded the ball well and protected the rim.  His length and mobility makes him an asset at each end of the floor.

C: Kendrick Perkins - 6'10, 280 - 13th NBA season
GP
PPG
PER
USG%
TS%
TRB%
ORB%
DRB%
FT%
FTr
BLK/36
68
3.6
7.0
13.6%
46.7%
15.1%
8.7%
21.2%
50.6%
.366
1.8

Six extra fouls to give in the frontcourt.

Outlook

A full season with a healthy roster should see the Pelicans add a few wins to their total, and secure another playoff berth.  Anthony Davis is going to continue to light the league on fire, and he's my pick in what figures to be an excellent 2015-16 MVP race.  In much the same way that we used to see LeBron James drag inferior Cleveland Cavaliers teams to heights they shouldn't achieve, I expect Davis to carry New Orleans to a playoff spot in the West.  Without Davis, this roster isn't any better than what the Wolves or the Lakers are putting on the floor.  With Davis, they're going to scare whoever they draw in the first round.  I have the Pelicans finishing with 47 wins this season.

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