Blazersedge staff writer Chris Lucia will be writing team-by-team previews over the next month as we count down to the start of the 2013-14 season. All team previews can be found right here.
2012-2013 record: 27-55, No. 5 in Southwest Division, No. 14 in Western Conference
Roster additions: Tyreke Evans, Jrue Holiday, Anthony Morrow, Greg Stiemsma, Jeff Withey (Rookie, No. 39 overall)
Roster subtractions: Louis Amundson, Terrel Harris, Xavier Henry, Robin Lopez, Roger Mason, Greivis Vasquez
There's no question that the New Orleans Pelicans added a great deal of talent this offseason to an already solid core that featured guard Eric Gordon and power forward Anthony Davis. Former Rookie of the Year guard Tyreke Evans, All-Star point Jrue Holiday and three-point marksman Anthony Morrow were all brought in and will contribute to an improved lineup.
The real quagmire Pelicans coach Monty Williams faces this season will be finding enough minutes and touches for everyone in a loaded back court.
The starting guards will be Jrue Holiday at point and Eric Gordon at the two. This back court features two solid scorers, but neither is above average at his position shooting threes and both prefer to control the ball on offense. Gordon has been hurt, so they haven't had much opportunity to become acquainted with each other on the court.
Fortunately, Evans - who's also hurt at the moment and listed as day-to-day - is willing to play a sixth-man role. This allows Evans to play his natural position of shooting guard, with small forward Al-Farouq Aminu retaining his starting spot from a year ago. Aminu is a solid defender and one of the best rebounding small forwards in the NBA. He's a classic "glue-guy" who plays to his strengths. Evans' willingness to come off the bench allows Williams to spread his back court talent more evenly throughout his playing rotation. Besides, doesn't Evans immediately become one of the preseason favorites for Sixth Man of the Year?
Davis, the No.1 overall pick in 2012, will be a force in the paint. He's added several pounds of muscle to his lanky frame, and has been tearing up the preseason so far, averaging over 25 points a game and blocking over two shots. It's preseason basketball, so he may be seeing increased reps against bench players, but the effort he put in this past summer is looking like it will pay off in the regular season. Davis is also pretty good on the glass and shoots a high percentage. He was a solid contributor his rookie year, and Pelicans fans can expect him to be a consistent team-leader as the season progresses.
Center Jason Smith will start the season across Davis in the front court, but he's never been relied on for very heavy minutes throughout his five years in the league. He projects really well with per-36 minute stats, although he has played fewer than 16 minutes a game his entire career. At 27 years old, Smith has probably hit his ceiling and will probably split time at center with newcomer Greg Steimsma and rookie Jeff Withey. Davis could potentially slide over to the five in certain lineups, but Smith and Steimsma should take up the bulk of the minutes down low.
The aforementioned Evans immediately makes the bench better, and stretch-four Ryan Anderson is one of the best outside shooting power forwards in the league. Last season, Anderson played over 30 minutes a game and should really be the beneficiary of open outside looks this year. Holiday, Gordon and Evans are all talented slashers and have the ability to get to the hoop and break down a defense. Look for Anderson to be deadly from the perimeter while he's on the floor, forcing opposing defenses to choose between collapsing on the guards' penetration or keeping a defender in his face. Either way, defenses will have their hands full when Anderson is on the court spacing the floor.
Austin Rivers had a disappointing rookie season, shooting poorly from all over the court. If he doesn't improve his broken shot, he'll most likely be squeezed out entirely of one of the most talented back courts in the league. Backup point guard Brian Roberts is more efficient than Rivers, and swingman Anthony Morrow brings a 42.4 percent career shooting percentage from outside. It appears Rivers' leash will be short this year, considering the number of more efficient options Williams has on his bench.
The defense of this Pelicans squad should be improved from last season for a few reasons. Davis is healthy and his added weight should allow him to maintain better positioning in the post. He still has his huge wingspan and athleticism, so he's poised to be a force in the paint again.
Last year's starting point guard, Greivis Vasquez, is a pretty poor defender. Holiday and a healthy Gordon are much more athletic and capable defensively. Aminu is a rock-solid defender on the wing. The weakest link in the starting lineup is Smith, but the versatility and explosiveness of Davis should help mask Smith's deficiencies. Davis' reputation as a shot-blocker and overall defensive presence should help make this defense respectable by the end of the season.
Things may be looking up for the Pelicans, but they share a division with San Antonio, Memphis and Houston (not to mention Dallas). The Spurs and Grizzlies both feature veteran-laden, well-coached lineups and the acquisition of Dwight Howard makes the Rockets a contender. There's just not much room for a young New Orleans team to sneak into the playoffs. If Williams can find a balance with his crowded back court, the Pelicans shooters on the bench hit their open looks and Davis continues to evolve as a post-presence, don't be surprised to see New Orleans ride their offseason injection of talent into a low-seed. More likely, they figure to come out of the gate a bit slowly due to Gordon's and Evan's injuries not allowing much preseason on-court time together as a healthy unit. While they should definitely improve on their 27-win outing a season ago, fourth-place in the division and a view from outside the playoffs is also not unlikely for the Pelicans.
-- Chris Lucia | Twitter