Fly Pelicans, Fly!

00:00 November 04, 2013
By: 2Fik

With studs like Andrew Wiggins available, most people believed that the New Orleans Pelicans would play out the year in a slow rebuild with the hopes of winning next year's draft lottery. The consensus amongst experts and pundits was that the biggest change the Pelicans would undergo this off-season would be their name (and even the 'Pelicans' name was received with mixed reviews.) So after 15 seconds of sticking with the script and selecting the injured Nerlens Noel in this year's draft, they shipped him and next year's top-5 protected first round pick for point guard Jrue Holiday. Acquiring Tyreke Evans via sign-and-trade would cement the "mortgaging their future" narrative that analysts would label the Pelicans with.

Last year the Pelicans found themselves in a situation where they could outwork some teams, but couldn't keep up with the contenders. As a team that didn't have much talent or experience, it made sense to limit the amount of possessions in a game, and the Pelicans did, playing at the second-slowest pace in the league. While the Pelicans scored at a decent rate, being about league average when taking into account pace, that same equation shows just how atrocious they were on defense. The Pelicans ranked 28th in the league on that side of the ball, barely over the lowly Charlotte Bobcats and Sacramento Kings.

Coach Monty Williams stated that in order to pick up the pace, they can't keep "taking the ball out of the net." Having a healthier and more experienced Anthony Davis will help the defense as he should surpass last year's 28.8 minutes per game this season. The Pelicans also brought back Al-Farouq Aminu (called "Chief"), who was the team's best perimeter defender last year. Holiday, who averaged 1.6 steals per game last season, will be extremely valuable in getting the Pelicans some defensive stops and easy baskets, as they were last in the league in steals in 2012-13. As Chief said when I asked him about the prospect of playing alongside Holiday on defense, "It's going to be fun, man. He's going to be able to start off the defense at the point guard position and that is going to allow me to play a lot of passing lanes."

In order to counter the loss of Robin Lopez, the Pelicans added Greg Stiemsma. Stiemsma averaged less than 16 minutes per game for the Minnesota Timberwolves, playing behind stars Kevin Love and Nikola Pekovic, but he still managed to block 1.2 shots per game. Stiemsma is a candidate to start at center this year, allowing Davis to start games at his natural power forward position.

On offense last year, neither Greivis Vasquez nor Austin Rivers forced defenses to respect their ability to finish at the rim, allowing teams to focus on sharpshooting power forward Ryan Anderson and Davis. But teams won't have that option this year. Holiday made his first All-Star team last season, posting career highs in points per game (17.7) and assists per game (8). Evans, who was Rookie of the Year in '09-'10, shot a career high 47.8% from the field last year. Flanking them with shooters such as Anderson (213 3pt field goals made last year, good for 2nd in the NBA ), Anthony Morrow (a career 42.4% 3pt shooter) and Jason Smith, will only make it easier for the trio of Holiday, Evans, and Eric Gordon to create, cut, and get Davis the ball with space.

Like Davis, the hopeful progression and health of Gordon is a huge part of this team's offseason. Playing in only 42 games last year, it is easy to forget how high his stock was two years ago, when he and James Harden were two of the best young shooting guards. While no one would compare Gordon to Harden anymore, it's easy to get excited about Gordon starting the season healthy for the first time since 2010, when he averaged 22.3 points per game and shot 36.4% from beyond the arc. As Monty Williams pointed out "[I] think his first game with us he knocks down a game-winning shot, so we know that he can do that and now we feel like he has some other guys on the team, younger guys, but guys who've been in games before that can grow with him."

While many teams are trying to bottom out, the Pelicans are trying to get better both in the short and long term. They aren't a championship contender, but they are ready to make a push for the playoffs. For all the talk of "mortgaging their future," they currently don't have a player over 27. Just look at how the Bobcats have struggled developing their young players into superstars as they continue to bottom out for more lottery picks. And it isn't like this team was going to end up with a worse record than the Kings, Sixers or Magic even if they did stay put. With the recent success of the Houston Rockets, Indiana Pacers, and Memphis Grizzlies, there's a blueprint for what the Pelicans are doing in order to become a contender. Stockpiling assets regardless of position has worked for teams.

Like many things in New Orleans, there are people who may not understand why this team did what they did. The city had to live through multiple years with threats of the team moving to Seattle or being contracted. While pundits based in Los Angeles, Chicago, and New York may think it is easy to simulate a losing season a la some video game, in order to position themselves for the 'Riggin' for Wiggins' sweepstakes, the games are played on the court. The Pelicans want to have their rebirth now; the city wants to celebrate their team now. As Monty Williams said in reference to unleashing Anthony Davis on the league this year, and which could be the motto for the whole team, "You go now." The talk is over; let's see what these Pelicans can do. Home Games

Nov. 5 Phoenix

Nov. 8 Los Angeles

Nov. 16 Philadelphia

Nov. 20 Utah

Nov. 22 Cleveland

Nov. 26 Golden State

Dec. 4 Dallas

Dec. 6 Oklahoma City

Dec. 11 Detroit

Dec. 13 Memphis

Dec. 27 Denver

Dec. 30 Portland

Jan. 8 Washington

Jan. 10 Dallas

Jan. 13 San Antonio

Jan. 15 Houston

Jan. 18 Golden State

Jan. 21 Sacramento

Jan. 26 Orlando

Feb. 1 Chicago

Feb. 3 San Antonio

Feb. 5 Atlanta

Feb. 7 Minnesota

Feb. 19 New York

Feb. 24 Los Angeles

Mar. 7 Milwaukee

Mar. 9 Denver

Mar. 12 Memphis

Mar. 14 Portland

Mar. 16 Boston

Mar. 19 Toronto

Mar. 22 Miami

Mar. 24 Brooklyn

Mar. 26 Los Angeles

Mar. 28 Utah

Mar. 31 Sacramento

Apr. 9 Phoenix

Apr. 14 Oklahoma City

Apr. 16 Houston

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