GM: Dell Demps
Head coach: Alvin Gentry
2016-17 record: 34-48 (10th in the Western Conference)
2016-17 result: Didn’t make the playoffs
Key departures: Tim Frazier
Key acquisitions: Rajon Rondo, Ian Clark, Tony Allen
The direction of the NBA can be explained simply by looking at the New Orleans Pelicans.
They have arguably the best centre and power forward in the league in DeMarcus Cousins and Anthony Davis. The former averaged 26.1 points and 11.7 rebounds over the course of his three-consecutive all-star seasons, while the latter is only three years removed from posting the 12th highest player efficiency rating in NBA history, only behind Wilt Chamberlain, Michael Jordan, LeBron James and Stephen Curry.
And yet the Pelicans aren’t looked at as a team capable of competing for a championship. Heading into 2017-18, they’ll be striving to make the playoffs, something they haven’t done since firing Monty Williams after he guided them to the 2015 postseason.
New Orleans is certainly on the clock, also knowing their big-time 2017 trade deadline acquisition in Cousins is now only months away from becoming a free agent. They made a couple moves in the off-season, ones that will either work beautifully or will fail to maximize the talents of their two premier bigs.
In former one-time all-star Jrue Holiday, it’s hard to know what to expect. He might be the one of most kind hearted players in the league, but his track record doesn’t exactly warrant the five-year, $126 million deal the Pelicans signed him to this summer.
New Orleans also brought in Rajon Rondo, who led the NBA in assists in 2015-16 when playing with Boogie in Sacramento. They’ll be looking to produce the same magic and chemistry, something that should be a lot harder to do considering their lack of shooters. That problem worsened over the off-season after they added Tony Allen who, despite being named to last year’s all-defensive second-team, won’t provide the necessary spacing they’ll need in their starting lineup as a career 28 per cent three-point shooter.
Things are certainly about to get interesting in The Big Easy heading into 2017-18….
Potential Breakout Player
If there’s one player on the Pelicans who hasn’t made a knack of losing over the past couple years, it’s Ian Clark. The former Warriors guard signed a one-year deal worth the minimum. The 2017-18 season will be a year in which the now five-year pro will be able to prove himself in a breakout year, even as he continues to come off the bench.
What a successful 2017-18 season would look like
The Pelicans have enough talent in their frontline itself that they should be a shoo-in to make the playoffs. Anything less, and their season would be considered a failure. It’s the reason why the traded for DeMarcus Cousins, while deciding to let go of a promising young star in Buddy Hield.
But first Cousins and Anthony Davis will need to find their rhythm alongside one another after going 7-10 in games that they played in together in 2016-17. With a full 82-game season ahead, the two all-stars should be able to make things work. Davis has never been one to demand the ball, instead he’ll be able to continue to take care of all the Pelicans’ leftovers.
In the meantime, they should be able to rely on their defence, which finished ninth in defensive rating last season. That was also without Jrue Holiday for 15 games, and now that they have Tony Allen, their identity as a team that can grind out wins with their defence should only continue to grow.
Three-point shooting aside, the Pelicans desperately need someone who can create their own shot in the backcourt. If not, every defence will be able to cram the paint in order to disrupt any big-to-big action between Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins.
Last season, Holiday saw his scoring average drop to 15.4 points a game. If it happens again, it could be problematic to the point where the Pelicans simply realize that they don’t have enough, leading to a Cousins trade at the deadline. It’s better than running the risk of losing him for nothing come the summer when every team will be at his doorstep. It would also mean another season down the drain for a Pelicans squad that once looked to be one of the scariest up-and-coming teams when they made the playoffs in 2015.