New Orleans Pelicans 2015-16 Season Preview
2014-15 Record: 45-37, No. 8 in the West, No. 5 in the Southwest Division
Roster Additions: Alonzo Gee, Kendrick Perkins, Chris Douglas-Roberts, Jeff Adrien, Corey Webster, Bryce Dejean-Jones, Sean Kilpatrick
Roster Subtractions: Jimmer Fredette, Jeff Withey, Toney Douglas
Fired Head Coach Monty Williams
Hired Head Coach Alvin Gentry
Hired Assistant Coaches Darren Erman, Robert Pack, and Phil Weber
SB Nation affiliate: The Bird Writes
The Pelicans were 20-21 at the halfway point, but finished strong with a 25-16 record the rest of the way, including winning eight of their last 11 and beating San Antonio in a do-or-die last game of the regular season. That win got the Pels into the playoffs as the No. 8 seed, where they were rewarded by facing the juggernaut known as the Golden State Warriors.
Down 2-0 in the series, New Orleans had a 20-point lead in the fourth quarter of Game 3 at home before the Dubs stormed back and tied the game on a buzzer-beater by Steph Curry and then went on to win it in overtime. Game 4 was a blowout to complete the sweep, which definitely had nothing to do with the way Anthony Davis played. He put up 36 points on 14-20 shooting (mostly jumpshots), along with 11 rebounds and 3 blocks, which was pretty close to his series average of 31.5 pts, 11 rebounds and 3 blocks (on 54% from the field).
A New NBA Overlord Cometh
Yes, all the hype is completely true, and then some. Anthony Davis is already one of the most singular players in the league, with a truly incomparable range of abilities on both ends of the floor. (He’s also working on a 3-point shot. Shudder.) He is absolutely astounding to watch in person, so do yourself a favor sometime soon.
Last year, he led the NBA in blocks, PER, PIE, Efficiency, and was second behind Curry in Win Shares per minute on the floor.
In clutch situations (5 min or less in a game with a 5 point or less differential), Davis was straight Cash Money Young Money Billionaire style, leading the league in Player Impact Estimate. This was in no small part helped along by a phenomenal 30.3% defensive rebound percentage, 61.7 FG% and 88.9 FT%. This, despite having virtually the same usage rate as Tyreke Evans in these circumstances (Davis at 29.6%, Evans at 28.7%). Evans actually had a higher usage rate than Davis in the fourth quarter overall. Top stars’ usage rates ranged from 35-53% in crunch time last year. Davis can do something with the ball from anywhere inside the 3-point line. There is no excuse here.
Poor offensive game-planning, stagnant possessions with lots of isolation, slow pace, and erratic defense kept the Pelicans from truly flying last year. You could also point to injuries to Jrue Holliday (36 GP), Eric Gordon (53 GP), Ryan Anderson (57 GP), Omer Asik (57 GP) and even Davis (59 GP), but there were plenty of reasons to fire coach Monty Williams after the most successful season the franchise has had since the Chris Paul era.
A New Plan of Attack
Enter Alvin Gentry, who promises to run the offense through his most talented player way more often. The earliest of returns show him true to his promise, as Davis had a 43.5% usage rate in the preseason opener.
Gentry worked with Tim Duncan as an assistant coach in 1999, was on the staff of the fun-and-gun Suns in the mid ‘00s, and was an associate coach with the prolific Warriors last year. This is his fifth turn as head coach (previously having been the main man with the Heat, Pistons, Clippers and Suns), and his up-tempo offensive style should make the most use of the playmaking of Evans, Gordon, and Holliday.
The kind of impact he can have on last year’s No. 27 ranked defense, however, remains to be seen. Assistant Darren Erman has simplified last year’s defensive scheme, which often left players out of position and gave up an unacceptable number of shots at the rim—especially considering Davis and Asik are on this team.
Looking for Continuity while in Transition
Davis, just 22, is locked in as the franchise cornerstone for years to come after signing a five-year / $145 million extension in the offseason. What isn’t so clear is who else on the current roster will be part of the core the team builds around. This season will likely be crucial to determining that, as there were no significant changes made in the offseason in favor of continuity—yet the Pelicans still need to make marked improvements in order to seriously contend in the daunting Western Conference.
Evans and Holliday have both shown tremendous upside but have been ball-stoppers in the half-court game. The superbly athletic 6-foot-6 Evans will be used mainly at point guard this year, and Holliday will be on a 15 minute per game restriction until around midseason because of ongoing concerns about his tibia. They are both under contract for the next two years for around $11 million per year apiece and are about the same age (Evans is 26, Holliday 25). How well they take to the team’s new schemes will likely guide decisions about them moving forward.
Veterans Gordon and Anderson are in their walk year. They will be counted on as big offensive contributors and would seem to fit Gentry’s schemes well, but their next contract likely won’t.
Quincy Pondexter and Dante Cunningham have a chance to be a nice swingman combo, the former as a 3-and-D specialist and the latter as an energy guy and slasher. Both could thrive at a fast tempo.
Big man playing time will be an interesting balancing act this year. Asik has a reputation as defensive enforcer, and has been playing RoLo to Davis’ LaMarcus, to put it in Blazers’ fan terms. Yet he was virtually invisible in last year’s playoff series and was widely jeered by the home fans as a result. He doesn’t fit Gentry’s predominant offense, but he is locked in at an affordable $11 million dollars per year for the next four seasons. The more athletic and offensively-minded Alexis Ajinca may push for more playing time after re-signing for four years and $20 million. But Ajinca and long-range bomber Anderson both offer little defensively; how much will the team be willing to give up at the back end to keep the offense flowing?
New Orleans’ offense was already efficient last year, and promises to be even better this season. The biggest factors in determining how far this team can go are how quickly they can figure out optimal rotations, how well they can limit turnovers as they adapt to an up-and-down the floor game, and how much their team defense grows. Certainly they seem to have the talent to improve quite a bit on the defensive side of the ball, and should also benefit from a sense of continuity; we’ll see if they have the commitment and communication.
The Pels should be expected to make the playoffs, but best-case scenario would likely only get them to the No. 6 seed in the West. To get out of the first round, they would likely need some luck, injuries to their opponent, or legendary play.
Well, at least they know they have one guy capable of the legendary play bit.