It’s been a chaotic calendar year for the New Orleans Pelicans. Following a surprise playoffs berth in 2015, the Pels were a trendy pick to take the “next step” in 2015-16, and become a contender in the Western Conference. However, the victim of multiple unfortunate circumstances, New Orleans was mostly a non-factor by Christmas last season.
So what happened? Let’s refresh.
New Orleans Pelicans Overview for 2016-17
Last Year’s Injuries
For starters, the franchise’s cornerstone superstar Anthony Davis labored through several injuries. He missed 21 games last season, including the team’s final 14 contests, requiring knee surgery in late March. Davis also suffered a partially torn labrum of his left shoulder, however no surgery was needed.
The Pelicans were also marred with inconsistency in the backcourt. Explosive wing Tyreke Evans‘ surgically-repaired right leg forced him to miss the team’s first 17 games, as well as their final 38. Evans played in a career-low 25 games last season. He wasn’t alone. Former All-Star Jrue Holiday and shooter Eric Gordon combined to miss 54 games themselves. The Pelicans paid the oft-absent trio more than $37M in salary last season. The Pelicans’ nightly rotation simply could not overcome the instability.
Of course, most devastatingly of all, New Orleans suffered a tragedy beyond basketball when rookie guard Bryce Dejean-Jones passed away in late May.
New Orleans (30-52) finished 15 games worse than their previous campaign. To say that last season was a disaster for the Pelicans would be a gross understatement.
But now, as we look ahead towards the upcoming season, we examine the current state of New Orleans Pelicans basketball. What are the biggest differences?
Just when the franchise seemed it could use a friend, it got a Buddy. The Pelicans selected Oklahoma University star Buddy Hield with the 6th overall pick in June’s NBA Draft. Hield averaged 25.0 ppg as a senior for OU, and he was the collegiate National Player of the Year. He is expected to see a significant role in the Pelicans rotation this season.
This summer’s free agency bonanza lured away former franchise notables Ryan Anderson and Eric Gordon, as both landed big contracts with the Houston Rockets. However, New Orleans also flashed some cash of their own, inking veterans Soloman Hill (4-yr/48M), E’Twaun Moore (4-yr/34M), and Langston Galloway (2-yr/10M). New Orleans was perhaps one of the better “bargain” shoppers during the free agency period as well. The Pels retained athletic wing Alonzo Gee (1-yr/1.4M), scrappy PG Tim Frazier (2-yr/4M), and grabbed PF Terrence Jones (1-yr/1M).
Outlook for Next Season
Head Coach Alvin Gentry has his hands full at the moment, as he and his staff try to hammer-out the best rotations for this team; a task exceedingly more difficult with each day that Anthony Davis is inactive. Davis is still in the rehabilitation process for his repaired knee, but is expected to be ready to go for the season.
But is it really just that simple? Just because Davis will be healed, does NOT mean the Pelicans will compete. In 2015-16, the Pels were just 24-37 in the games Davis appeared. Despite his 36 double-doubles, Davis failed to eclipse 50% FG for the first time in his career. A possible contributing factor is that he spent too much effort in expanding his already strong offensive game. Davis launched 108 3-pt FGs in 2015-16, a dramatic increase from his previous season-high of 12 attempts. Although he did shoot a respectable .324 from deep, New Orleans would have been better served to have “The Brow” control the interior by taking advantage of virtually every mismatch.
The Starting Lineup and Rotation
The most compelling question about this year’s Pelicans is simply, who’ll be on the court?! Last season, the trio of Davis-Holiday-Evans each only played a total of 32 minutes without either Anderson, Gordon, or Ish Smith on the floor. Just thirty-two minutes! New Orleans managed 75 points in 58 possesions in that time, with Davis earning a poor eFG rating of .375. The Pelicans do not expect Tyreke Evans to be ready in time for the season, leaving Gentry plenty of holes to fill.
If Buddy Hield finds success as a rookie, New Orleans can be a dangerous team in the Western conference. He shot an unimpressive 32.7 FG% during the Vegas summer league, however the value of the minutes and experience were incalculable. If Hield can play right out of the gate, the roster flexibility Gentry will gain will be a major advantage. E’Twaun Moore and Langston Galloway have shown that they can play either of the guard positions, and with Holiday’s history of fragility, it may very well come into play. Moore was rewarded a substantial contract, after shooting 47-104 (.452%) from downtown this past year.
Simplifying the Offense
Although New Orleans will miss Anderson’s 20 ppg, his departure also simplifies their offense. Aside from Davis, the Pelicans lack a passable “stretch 4” big man. However, the addition of bruising forward Terrence Jones further defines the Pelicans’ interior presence alongside veterans Omer Asik and Alexis Ajinca, for when Davis chooses to jack-up a three ball.
With the NBA’s 2016-17 schedule having been released this past week, let’s breakdown the slate for New Orleans. Here’s what you need to know:
- New Orleans opens the season at home vs Denver on Oct 28.
- Scheduled for 17 back-to-back games
- Longest Homestand: 6 games (Jan 18-29) vs Magic, Nets, Cavs, Thunder, Spurs, & Wizards
- Longest Road Trip: 5 games (Jan 7-16) vs Celtics, Knicks, Nets, Bulls, & Pacers
- Nationally Televised Games: 14 (ESPN-4, TNT-1, NBATV-9)
The NBA’s Western Conference is indeed still a force to be reckoned with. However, the high-profile offseason departures of Kevin Durant and Dwight Howard have left some former powerhouses like the Thunder and Rockets, vulnerable to many. Could a healthy, revamped Pelicans squad emerge as a playoffs dark horse? With the Buddy & Brow duo, expect better basketball in the bayou for years to come.
Nov 29, 2013; Philadelphia, PA, USA; New Orleans Pelicans guard Jrue Holiday (11) during the third quarter against the Philadelphia 76ers at the Wells Fargo Center. The Pelicans defeated the Sixers 121-105. Mandatory Credit: Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports