Preview: New Orleans Pelicans

2017-18 New Orleans Pelicans


Projected Record: 41-41 (10th in West)

Over/Under: 35.5

2016: 34-48 (10th in West)


Key Additions:

  • G Ian Clark
  • G Rajon Rondo
  • G Tony Allen
  • G Frank Jackson
  • F Darius Miller

Key Subtractions:

  • G/F Quincy Pondexter
  • G Tim Frazier
  • F Dante Cunningham
  • G Quinn Cook
  • F Donatas Motiejunas

Summary

Strengths:

  • Dominant frontcourt
  • Funky roster could be effective?

Weaknesses:

  • Lots of question marks
  • Depth around Davis/Cousins could crash and burn
  • Lots of non-shooters

The award for Weirdest Goddamn Roster in Basketball easily belongs to the New Orleans Pelicans. It’s an award uniquely suited for the team that managed to drag Jordan Crawford, Darius Miller, and Perry Jones out of nowhere and team them up with Rajon Rondo. Jrue Holiday is playing shooting guard!

I want this crazy mess to succeed, I really do. It’s all so weird, and yet, if I squint hard enough, I kinda like it? Jrue Holiday is a quality defender, and we saw in the playoffs that Rajon Rondo can still do it… when he wants to. Plus, Tony Allen’s here, apparently. They can do a few things on the perimeter, defensively. Between Cousins, Holiday, and Ian Clark or E’Twaun Moore, maybe they can field enough shooting to keep their spacing acceptable? Maybe Darius Miller comes back rejuvenated? Maybe Perry Jones is like a better Kevin Durant now?

Ian Clark is quietly a great addition to this team, and he’s gone surprisingly unheralded for a guy who made some decent contributions to the Warriors last year. The Pelicans need need need long-range shooting, and Clark should be at least above-average in that regard – although this isn’t the Warriors, and good looks won’t be quite so easy to come by. I like him, and I feel he could be sneaky-good this year.

It feels like Omer Asik has been here for 30 years, and I can’t fathom why. He and Alexis Ajinca can’t coexist on the court, and neither can play power forward. The Pelicans’ best bet is probably to stagger Davis and Cousins as much as they can to ensure that one of the two is playing at all times, but the team’s lack of wing depth spills over into their potential 4s as well, and there are minutes that just have to be accounted for. Dante Cunningham contributed nicely last year, but I wouldn’t count on him shooting nearly 40% from three again; if he regresses, what options does New Orleans have? Perry Jones?


Most Valuable Player: Anthony Davis, DeMarcus Cousins

The pairing of David and Cousins started to look better as the season wound down, and I’m genuinely excited to see a full season of them together. Cousins is a genuine three-point marksman now – he shot 36% on a whopping five attempts per game last season – and Davis isn’t far from getting there himself, which could let the pair run a fascinating inside-out game with each other down low. Cousins has taken a lot of flack for his poor demeanor since he’s been in the league, but he also played for Sacramento and he’s never had a teammate on the level of Anthony Davis before. I’m a strong believer that great players like playing with great players, and I think these two will realize what they have in one another, and that will be a key component in keeping this group together.

While he’s graded out positively as a defender in terms of DBPM so far in his career, Anthony Davis has yet to quite reach the defensive ceiling we’ve all believed he could get to so far in his career. He has Defensive Player of the Year talent in him. He might not bring home that award this season, but I think this is the season we start to see him emerge as an elite defensive player with Cousins around to relieve some of the offensive pressure on him.

X Factor: Rajon Rondo

Rondo has long since fallen out of favor as one of the league’s top point guards, and rightfully so, but it feels like the intense amount of hate that’s gone his way has made him borderline underrated. Look, I know Rondo helped topple the 2014-15 Mavericks from within and his assist numbers with the 2015-16 Kings were largely inflated, but he’s still been usefully effective the past two seasons. Believe it or not, Rondo is shooting 37% from three the past two years – range having always been one of his biggest issues – and he’s generally graded out as a positive defensively. There’s value to be found there, especially at the measly $3.3 million he’ll earn from New Orleans this year.

I don’t think Rondo is anywhere close to an All-Star anymore, obviously, but the Pelicans could have done so much worse for their money than what he’ll bring. If he can keep up the reasonably decent performance from three he’s shown the past two and a half years (he shot 35% from behind the arc with Dallas) and stay engaged defensively while helping facilitate action for Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins, he can be a positive contributor to this team.


Conclusion

The Pelicans are a weird, weird roster, and I have always enjoyed weird things, so I’d like to see them succeed… I just don’t think they will, not while they have to contend with this Western Conference. The tandem of Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins is the most fascinating frontcourt in the league, but the Pelicans haven’t done enough around them to really support their talents.

This team is loaded with awkward guards and lacks a lot of proven shooters. Can the Pelicans figure out some semblance of a usable rotation that can guide them into the final Western Conference playoff spot? I don’t believe so, but boy, do I want to. Let’s get weird, NBA.

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