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Monday, November 10, 2014

SDH's 2014/2015 NBA Worst to First Previews and Predictions: 18. New Orleans Pelicans

Overall Win/Loss Record :  34-48,  fifth place Southwest Division

2014/2015 Projection: 43-39, fifth place Southwest Division, tenth place Western Conference

Preseason Rank

Last season’s Team Statistics and League Rank

  • Points Scored: 99.7 (18th)
  • Points Allowed: 102.4 (19th)
  • Team FG%: .459 (11th)
  • Opponent’s FG%: .465 (24th)
  • Team FT%: .769 (11th)
  • Team Three Point FG%: .373 (6th)
  • Rebounds per game: 41.7 (22nd)
  • Opponents rebounds per game: 41.7 (9th)
  • Turnovers per game: 13.0 (4th)
  • Opponents turnovers per game: 14.0 (14th)

Returning Individual Statistical Leaders

  • Scoring (ppg):  Anthony Davis (20.8)
  • Rebounds per game:  Anthony Davis (10.0)
  • Minutes per game: Ryan Anderson (36.1)
  • Assists per game:  Jrue Holiday (7.9)
  • Field Goal Percentage: Alexis Ajinca (.546)
  • Free Throw Percentage: Ryan Anderson (.960)
  • Three Point FG Percentage: Ryan Anderson (.409)
  • Steals per game: Jrue Holiday (1.6)
  • Blocked Shots per game:  Anthony Davis (2.8)
Projected Opening Day Starters Based on Past Performances and Potential Impact:

Key Reserves Rank Based on Past Performances and Potential Impact:

  1. Ryan Anderson (F)
  2. John Salmons (F/G)
  3. Alexis Ajinca (C)
  4. Austin Rivers (G)
  5. Jimmer Fredette (G)

After the three straight disappointing seasons, the New Orleans Pelicans have essentially been written off by many observers and analysts as a lost cause as not only is it a small market team with little in the way of attracting big name talent, but also the sad reality that they play in arguably the roughest and toughest division in the NBA.  Last season four of the five teams in the Southwest Division made the playoffs while New Orleans returned once again to the lottery thus giving credence the belief that perhaps this small backwater team is way out of its league.  Because of the insurmountable odds they continue to face, some have not only written the team off as a viable playoff contender, but also its ability to even survive as an NBA franchise thanks to its limited media exposure and unenviable position of being in a dead bolted  Western Conference where six playoff spots have all been spoken for.  Nonetheless, despite the odds and the negativity of the naysayers, the Pelicans continue to push fearlessly into this upcoming season in an effort to try and crack open the West's glass ceiling and looking at the current makeup of the team, that may happen sooner rather than later.  In fact one can even go as far in saying the Pelicans will probably make history as there will potentially have all five teams in the Southwest Division making the post season thus creating an even more stringent atmosphere in an already suffocating Western Conference.

Last season, despite finishing with one of the worst records in the Western Conference, New Orleans still showed slight glimpses of the makings of a potential playoff contender down the road. For starters, in spite of their record, the Pelicans showed the rest of the league that they certainly were not pushovers as they keep their games tight against their opponents losing by a little over four points per game.  The despite the relative youth and inexperience of this roster, the Pelis showed plenty of poise and discipline on the offensive end as they held their turnovers down to fourth lowest in the league while connecting on their field goal attempts at a rather high percentage of nearly .460--which was among the top fifty percentile of the league last season.  In addition to their solid shooting prowess and offensive efficiency, the Pelicans also proved to rather proficient from shooting beyond the arc as New Orleans ranked among the top ten in the league in accuracy from the three point line.  Put all those factors together and it is certainly obvious that this team which many have already mocked, ridiculed, disregarded and even ignored, may just be headed for bigger and better things and it seems even more apparent when looking at the off season moves that they made.

They were certainly were given a gift during the off-season when the +Houston Rockets, in an effort to clear away cap space in order to try and woo such marquee free agents as +LeBron James+Carmelo Anthony and +Chris Bosh,  essentially gave them one of the league's top rim protecting and rebounding big men in the league.  After a impressive first season in Houston where he averaged a double-double in points and rebounds per game while swatting an average of nearly two blocks per game, Omer Asik looked as if he could be a truly elite big man in the league for years to come.  That was until Houston decided to give him the shaft as it brought in superstar +Dwight Howard the following season which would both reduce his role and value in the eye of not only his team and its fans, but also the league in general. Now with a new team, Asik has a chance to not only redeem himself, but also reclaim his title of being one of top up and coming big men as he will once again regain the starting center that he had lost to Howard.  In addition to that, he will paired with arguably the league's best future hall of fame prospect in Anthony Davis thus giving the New Orleans Pelican potentially the NBA's most intimidating big man tandem that has the potential of producing around 30 points, 20 rebounds and five blocked shots per game.

Asik will be among a supporting cast of extremely young, talented, and athletic players who already play with the efficiency and proficiency of a seasoned NBA squad.  Joining him in the front court will be 7' 2" French big man Alexis Ajinca who had an impressive showing last season as the Pelicans' starting center, averaging close to six points and five boards, and a blocked shot in just 17 minutes per game.   Ajinca will most likely be Asik's primary backup at the center position, while sharp shooting stretch four Ryan Anderson, who has come off the bench to average close to 17.0 points and 7 boards per game over the last couple of seasons, will return as the primary scorer off the bench.   Add three All Star caliber players in Jrue Holiday, Eric Gordon and Tyreke Evans to round out the starting five, and the Pelicans will be coming into the new season with a treasure trove of offensive weapons that will most certainly light up a scoreboard on any given game.  The Pelis have the absolute luxury of not only having just one or two players that can pour in 15 to 25 points per game on any given night, but five including Davis including a wealth of talent from in the roster from one to fifteen.

At full strength and with a healthy roster, the Pelicans can take on and withstand anything that the NBA can throw at them; however, the key remains that the team needs to stay healthy in order to compete among the West's elite.  Last season much of New Orleans' season come down to the rash of injuries to its key players such as Jrue Holiday, who was expected to take a strong leadership role on the team when he was acquired in a sign and trade deal with the +Philadelphia 76ers, as well as Anderson, who missed 60 games last season.  To help bolster their roster, the Pelicans' front office added some additional offensive punch for the second unit in the two rather key signings of John Salmons and Jimmer Freddette--players who both have had quite enigmatic careers.  Salmons has spent much of his twelve year professional career bouncing from one NBA team to another, with the Pelicans being his seventh, and his career had been rather shaky over the last three seasons; however, at 34 years old, he provides an extremely young and untested New Orleans teams with a seasoned veteran who has a strong knack at making big plays when needed.  Jimmer, unlike Salmons, has yet to show what he is capable of as he had been held to limited action; however, he has shown the ability to fill up a boxscore with his three point shooting and can certainly provide an additional option on the perimeter.

In a conference where six of the eight playoff berths have been spoken for, this young and dangerously talented Pelicans team will certainly make it even more difficult for the six teams who will battle for what few scraps remain.   Both the +Dallas Mavericks and +Memphis Grizzlies had to claw and scrape their ways to 49 and 50 win records respectively just for the privilege of being worthy enough for admittance into the post season; however, with the Pelicans entering the fray, now their chances of returning have gotten so much slimmer. Last season's middle of the range Western Conference playoff teams may also feel the heat of the Pelicans' ascension as they too may find themselves on the outside looking in if ever New Orleans manages to defy the odds and qualify for the post season.  The teams that can be seen most in threat are the +Golden State Warriors, +Portland Trail Blazers, the +Oklahoma City Thunder or any which team that has the rotten luck to not win its division; however, even the most optimistic of Pelicans fans will concede that the prospect of their team even to come close to qualifying for the post season this year. They know that for such an event to occur, something of earth shattering proportions will have to happen during the course of the regular season and thus change the entire landscape of the Western Conference.

If, for the sake of argument, the Oklahoma City Thunder for example were to lose both its star players, +Kevin Durant and +Russell Westbrook, right before opening tip off, then the Thunder would certainly relinquish its hold on one of the West's playoff spots.  The field would certainly be far wider than previously anticipated with three or perhaps even four berths open for the taking; however, such chances of something as cataclysmic to occur to one of the league's best performing teams are essentially slim to none.  Nonetheless, despite the grim outlook, the team formerly known as the New Orleans Hornets certainly have a far better outlook than many analysts or even fans given them credit for as they will come into the regular season with a healthy lineup and possibly one of the deepest and most talented in the league.  It is not unreasonable to expect an above .500 finish in around the 42 to 45 win range, but in a conference in which it took 49 wins to claim its final playoff spot, that will not nearly enough for the Pelicans to taste post season glory--at least for this season anyways.  Regardless of this season's outcome, one things is for certain, however; and that is the New Orleans Pelicans are no longer a team that anyone, even in their own division, can take too lightly.