This exercise will look at the young, building and very entertaining NBA teams that are looking to gain contender status. Some of these teams appear to be on the fast track while others are grasping to build around a cornerstone player. We’ll look at the savvy and the haphazard, while enjoying an optimist’s view into the looking glass. It’s summer, real NBA games won’t start for another 4 months and so what better time to paint a rosy picture of what could be for the NBA’s mid-tier teams? Today’s team – the New Orleans Pelicans.
UPDATE – This just in from brother-in-law Jeff, an actual living, breathing Pelicans fan: “They’re definitely committed to defining Davis as a PF, not C, based on Asik and Ajinca signings. Since Davis pick, they’ve taken Austin Rivers and sold/traded every other pick for Holiday and Asik. Gave up Greivis and Robin Lopez for Tyreke. Basically just a parade of bad moves since drafting Davis. Oh and Davis is quite possibly the best any 22 year old has ever been at the game of basketball, which makes up for a lot.” Well said.
Who are they? Essentially the Cleveland Cavaliers circa 2003-09. It’s a testament to Anthony Davis that these guys are considered favorites for the 7th seed in the West. Their piss poor job of surrounding their superstar with talent is reminiscent of LeBron’s first go-round with Cleveland. You can’t blame them for being misled by Philly on Jrue Holiday’s health, and the laughably small $3 million restitution for that debacle won’t make it right. The other guards they’ve targeted have been less than stellar companions to the Brow at best (Tyreke Evans) and complete duds at worst (Eric Gordon). But at the end of the day the Pelicans have a generational cornerstone in Davis, whom they’ve locked up to a long term deal, and any building team would commit atrocities for that luxury. One key addition is new coach Alvin Gentry, fresh off an NBA title as a Warriors assistant. Gentry will be a step up from Monty Williams from a play-calling perspective, and here’s hoping his time with the Warriors will help him shape this team in their image.
How have they been built? Davis was the No. 1 overall pick after David Stern rigged the lottery to help the formerly league-owned team get in position for a once in a lifetime player (just kidding, kind of). The rest of the pieces have come in free agency and minor trades, but as mentioned above, this team hasn’t really been built per se, more like randomly pasted together like a 3rd grader’s art project.
Core group – Anthony Davis, Tyreke Evans, Jrue Holiday, Omer Asik. Davis may be the second best player in the league right now, and projects to sit atop the throne for many years going forward. He’s a fantasy basketball player’s dream – compiling points, rebounds, blocks, assists and steals at an elite level, and his dominance transcends the stat sheet. He’s a one-man floor spacer, drawing defensive attention whether he’s posting up, spotting up or running the break; not to mention he’s one of the best defensive big men in the game. Evans silenced some critics with solid numbers (17 points, 7 assists, 5 rebounds per game) in a season where he was relied upon heavily. The downside with Evans is he doesn’t bring enough to the table defensively to make up for his easily criticized volume shooting and erratic playmaking efforts. Holiday unfortunately remains a question mark, though there have been some reports that he is back on his feet and rehabbing with his brother. Asik is solid and frees up Davis to roam on defense.
Role guys – Eric Gordon, Norris Cole, Alexis Ajinca, Quincy Pondexter, Ryan Anderson, Dante Cunningham, Alonzo Gee, Kendrick Perkins….yuck.
Boom or bust potential – Really nothing of note here. We know who these players are. Why their big moves this offseason were locking up Ajinca and signing Perkins is beyond me. Their deficiencies are mainly on the wing – shooting and perimeter defense. They did nothing to improve in those areas.
Optimist view – The sole reason I’m including the Pelicans in the group of NBA Risers is because of Anthony Davis; if he stays healthy they will win more than they lose, but to make the next leap into the West’s elite they’ll need to show more savvy in the front office. Last year’s 8-seed – where they were swept by the eventual champs Golden State – should have an inside track to the 7-seed, perhaps higher should one of the core six West teams suffer catastrophe. The true optimism should come next offseason, when an expanding cap gives them the flexibility to attract another star or two to join the Brow on Bourbon Street.