this is a discussion within the Pelicans Community Forum; Last year, the New Orleans Pelicans pumped out 45 wins and earned a playoff berth despite substandard coaching (Monty Williams lost the job this summer; Alvin Gentry took it over), a whole mess of injuries to key rotation players and ...
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|10-12-2015, 08:30 PM||#1|
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Everything You Need to Know About the New Orleans Pelicans' 2015-16 NBA Season
Last year, the New Orleans Pelicans pumped out 45 wins and earned a playoff berth despite substandard coaching (Monty Williams lost the job this summer; Alvin Gentry took it over), a whole mess of injuries to key rotation players and a style that shackled the considerable talent on hand.
Anthony Davis, that's how.
The Brow broke out last season, leading the league in player efficiency rating (30.8), smashing expectations and positioning himself for more progress this year. Davis isn't just an MVP candidate now; with a bigger body, deeper range on his shot and a coaching staff committed to maximizing his incalculable potential, he's the favorite.
There are plenty of angles to cover on the 2015-16 Pelicans, and we'll hit as many as possible. Just know that everything circles back to Davis, a player tantalizingly close to reaching a level of greatness we've never seen before.
New Orleans' roster will look almost entirely the same as it did last year.
What matters most are the guys deciding how to use that roster, which is why Gentry—signed away from his post as the Golden State Warriors' top assistant—and Darren Erman, a respected defensive strategist, are easily the Pellies' biggest additions. It'll be up to them to speed things up (New Orleans ranked 27th in pace last year) and add stopping power (22nd in defensive efficiency in 2014-15).
Storylines to Watch
Davis' rocket-fueled ascent is the key here. Everybody else—the roster, the coaching staff, the front office, the world—is holding on for dear life, hoping not to knock this light-speed ascent off course.
So while the health of core players Jrue Holiday, Eric Gordon, Ryan Anderson and even Omer Asik is important, it's still trivial in comparison to what Davis does this year.
The hope is that Gentry's preferred uptempo style will make better use of AD's open-court game than Williams' plodding pace did.
New assistant Phil Weber seems to think things will work out, per Rob Mahoney of Sports Illustrated: "If you turn on Synergy and just put 'Anthony Davis-Transition'..." Weber said, his eyes going wide. "I couldn't sleep for like three days after I knew I was going to be here and he was going to be running in transition."
A faster pace will be a good start, but utilizing Davis' added size (6'10", 253 lbs) and extended range will also determine how far the Pelicans go this season. The trick with Davis isn't necessarily finding the one right way to use him; it's figuring out which of his many skills to focus on.
Good luck figuring out how to use this, per NBA.com:
When it can also do this:
There aren't many players capable of dominating as a stretch big man, rim protector, mid-range monster and interior offensive force. Davis can do all of those things, and we should expect him to do even more this year.
How the coaching staff chooses to use him will determine everything about New Orleans' identity...and its success.
X-Factor: Ryan Anderson
Because he was part of a title contender that feels like it existed a decade ago (Stan Van Gundy's 2009-2012 Orlando Magic) and because he's missed 81 games over the past two seasons, it's easy to forget that Ryan Anderson is still only 27 years old.
In terrific shape and healthy for the first time since his debut season in New Orleans, Anderson's threat as a floor-stretching power forward is critical to the Pelicans' new attack. There's no questioning his potency from deep; Anderson has attempted 2,243 triples in his seven-year career, hitting a hearty 37.9 percent of them.
If healthy, he gives the Pelicans the space to attack with drives and cuts from the wings, and he opens up the middle for Davis to do whatever he wants in the lane.
Most importantly, if he's too good to keep off the floor, Anderson could nudge Gentry toward playing the Pelicans' best lineup with Davis at center.
Asik and Alexis Ajinca are already ailing, so if Anderson starts the year on a tear, he and Davis could see a lot of time together in the frontcourt.
Making the Leap: Eric Gordon
This isn't a leap in the sense that Eric Gordon will bound back to the level he occupied four years ago. Instead, Gordon could jump into a more specific brand of stardom.
Once a dynamic scorer and playmaker who drew fouls and converted shots from everywhere, Gordon has transformed into a spot-up specialist. That is actually a good thing in today's three-obsessed NBA—and maybe an even better thing for a Gentry-coached team that should create endless open looks from deep.
Gordon drilled a career-best 44.8 percent of his treys last year, including 48.1 percent of his catch-and-shoot attempts, according to NBA.com. The free-throw attempts and finishes inside were mostly gone.
But maybe they'll return.
"From watching Thursday's scrimmage on the Pelicans' live video feed, Eric Gordon appeared to be quick off the dribble and attacked the basket relentlessly," wrote John Reid of the New Orleans Times-Picayune. "Gordon can play on or off the ball. He also spaces the floor well, which is vital in Alvin Gentry's offensive system. I think Gordon is going to emerge."
Get your hopes up for a full renaissance if you like, but at the very least, Gordon will be a monster from distance.
Either way, the Pelicans will take it.
Simple: Davis betters his averages of 24.4 points, 10.2 rebounds, 2.2 assists and 2.9 blocks on the way to a unanimous MVP award.
Holiday's early-season minutes restriction preserves him for a 60- or 70-game campaign. Tyreke Evans thrives as a pick-and-roll threat. Gordon and Anderson bury threes like crazy. And the defense is league-average.
Add it all up, and you've got a 53-29 season and a fourth or fifth playoff seed.
Health lays this quietly thin team low, knocking Holiday and Anderson out for another 30 or 40 games apiece. Norris Cole plays too much. So do Asik and Ajinca, which slows the pace down.
Missing the playoffs seems crazy with Davis on the roster, but with the Utah Jazz, Phoenix Suns, Dallas Mavericks and Sacramento Kings all having at least outside shots at the postseason, an injury-riddled season could result in a major bummer: a step backward from last year's progress and a lottery berth.
*Barring catastrophic injury to Davis, which we shall never speak of again.
Hopefully this won't jinx anything, but the Pelicans already had their worst-case scenario last year. Davis, Anderson, Gordon and Holiday combined to miss 98 games in 2014-15. Could the health picture conceivably get worse than that?
It seems unlikely.
So if we assume New Orleans' injury luck gets even marginally better, shouldn't we expect more than 45 wins—especially with an improved coaching staff, Davis' projected growth and a style that could easily lead to a top-five offense (even under Williams, they ranked 12th last season)?
And after ranking 23rd in 2014-15, it's difficult to imagine the defense doing anything but improving under Erman's system.
The depth concerns are real. Asik, Ajinca and Quincy Pondexter are all battling injuries ahead of the season opener, and Holiday will be a question mark until he proves he can play a full year. But they're not enough to outweigh the organic growth and added coaching clout we should see from the Pelicans.
A step forward feels inevitable, and it could be a true leap with a few breaks and a full-on Davis ascension.
Still, because it's hard to see New Orleans climbing higher than sixth in the playoff ladder out West, a first-round out against an established powerhouse seeded third—pick one of the Oklahoma City Thunder, Los Angeles Clippers, San Antonio Spurs or Houston Rockets—means New Orleans is still a likely one-and-done squad.
Stats courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com and NBA.com.
Follow Grant Hughes on Twitter @gt_hughes.
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