Enemy: New Orleans Pelicans
3SOB Forecast*: 36-46
What’s the story with the Pellies?
In this era of chutes and ladders in today’s NBA, it is nice to see a franchise turn the corner and begin to push the trend in the right direction. Things are changing for the organization in New Orleans, and that statement stands for far more than just the logo and jerseys.
The bad news for the Grizzlies is that the implication of this involves Jrue Holiday moving into their division, completing the circuit and ensuring that there will be no such thing as an easy out in any division game this year.
The Pelicans officially signified a desire to be done with the rebuild phase by consummating the trade that sent Holiday their way from Philadelphia in exchange for their sixth overall pick, which was initially used on Kentucky standout Nerlens Noel, as well as their upcoming 2014 selection. With their draft pick nearly locked out of reach as it carries only top-three protection, their incentive to endure another season of poor performance is mitigated even further.
With a new lease on life as a franchise, the Pelicans were aggressive this off-season in ways that they arguably never were before. Even in the Chris Paul era, the usual summer splashes involved surrounding the point guard with aging veterans and bargain bin underachievers. The Holiday trade signaled the change in direction, but they did not stop there. They followed with zealous pursuit of restricted free agent, 2010 Rookie of the Year Tyreke Evans. The ultimate execution of a sign-and-trade deal for Evans cost them rockstar assist-man and former Grizzly Greivis Vasquez, but the swap adds a great deal of athleticism and variability to their offensive attack, where Vasquez would have prompted a lot of overlap between he and Holiday.
The fact that we’re this far in and have comfortably neglected mention of second-year phenom Anthony Davis to this point says a lot about the type of off-season that the team had. Coupling the exciting additions with the oozing promise of the sublimely versatile Davis’s development and Coach Monty Williams’s grasp on how to motivate the troops, you have the formula for what could finally wash that sour taste left by CP3’s departure right out of the mouths of the artists formerly known as Hornets fans. Throw in the fact that they’re getting the 2014 All-Star game, and there’s a lot to look forward to in New Orleans.
Super sixth-man Ryan Anderson’s summer story was the only real point of depression to damper the mood, as he lost his girlfriend of two years to suicide. Thoughts go out to him during this tough time.
Who are they cooking with?
It is an interesting road that brought Tyreke Evans to New Orleans. The tune rapidly distorted from one of “[Tyreke] won’t go anywhere for any amount” as a three, to him having “no problem at all” with playing the small forward. Maybe I’m stretching here, but I have a little hunch that there are 44 million reasons for the turnaround.
How do the other numbers feel about it? He clearly had the most productive season as a pro in his rookie year, playing the point guard nearly 30% of the time — more than he has over the next three years. A major issue for playing him on the ball, though is his inability to work both sides of the floor. Looking at last season’s shot distribution, he took a mere 8% of his shots from the left side of the floor, opposed by measurements of 73% in the middle and 19% to the right. Keeping him off the ball more enables his team to hide his one-sided playmaking to some degree. His outside shooting is improving, as his 33.8% rate in 2012-13 was far and away the best of his career, exhibiting further improvement of his off-ball prospects. As for whether he plays at the two or the three, his productivity does seem to take a dive when lined up against bigger small forwards. His eFG% for example, according to 82games, dropped from 52.0 to 45.3 when he slid up to the small forward spot.
The rest of the backcourt will be predicated on Holiday’s continued development and $58 million man Eric Gordon’s ability to simply stay on the court. If Gordon’s miserable injury woes extend into this season, the talk of Evans at the three could all be moot, as he’ll find himself back playing the two with Al-Farouq Aminu re-joining the starting lineup. As for Holiday, his ascent into the league’s elite class of point guards was quick and impressive last season. His 8.0 assists per game should only ascend even higher given a stronger supporting cast in New Orleans versus the group he had in Philly.
If you’ve been keeping score, there is a name that has been conspicuously absent from this discussion: Austin Rivers. Rivers had one of the more statistically atrocious rookie seasons we have ever seen from a lottery pick, but is determined to put a stop to the downhill slope of his career in a hurry. He started by helping his cause with 18.2 points per game in the Summer League on a near 50% clip from the field.
The last pantheon for the Pelicans to conquer will be the battle in the paint. Jason Smith is serviceable backup with a solid mid-range jumper, but he’s not exactly what you aspire to at the featured center position, while conventional logic holds the more collectively talented post permutation of Anderson and Davis each most effective at the four. There have been rumblings of the existence of mutual benefit in an inter-division swap of Anderson for Houston’s Asik, so this will be a situation to monitor going forward.
How do the good guys stack up?
Pelicans aren’t exactly terrifying birds unless you are a small fish and that imagery carries over to the basketball court unfortunately. Tyreke Evans, the talent without a position, and Eric Gordon make for a scary perimeter duo on paper but how well they will mix in still unknown. Jrue Holliday is a potent scoring PG. Anthony Davis an active big on both ends of the court but there is not a tremendous amount of depth to the team and very little chemistry overall. New Orleans also doesn’t get much support from the home fans making their home court something less than it could be. Jason Smith, Al-Farouq Aminu and Austin Rivers will be asked to step up their roles on the team but can they do it is the big question as is Ryan Anderson’s mental state after the suicide of his ex girlfriend. The Pelicans are well coached and give great effort every night enabling them to handle the smaller fishes around the league but the bigger fish don’t have to worry and right now the Grizzlies are a team that eats the bigger fish. New Orleans could steal a game but shouldn’t be a threat this season.
With a new nickname, new uniforms, and new players the New Orleans Pelicans are definitely on the rise and quickly working its way to a playoff team. Bringing in talented guards such as Tyreke Evans and Jrue Holliday to this team will make this team a lot quicker and more fun to watch. Eric Gordon is still a gifted talent in the NBA but when you put him against a true defender like Tony Allen he will be shut down. I’m interested to see if the Pelicans keep Eric Gordon or have him on the trading block. If so the Pelicans will have to pay him $14 million till the 2015-2016 seasons. The true superstar of this team that stands head and shoulders above everyone else (literally and figuratively) and that guy is Anthony Davis. Davis is the franchise player that I clearly see is going to be the glue to this franchise that holds all of it together for the Pelicans. I personally feel Anthony Davis will be a true threat to the Memphis Grizzlies backcourt this season. His length and versatility will be hard to stop.
I still believe that the grit and grind defense that Memphis brings every game will still hurt the Pelicans this season. I expect Tony Allen working on shutting the water down on guys such as Gordon and Holliday. Mike Conley is improving more and more each season and he can still be one of the top leaders in steals and will prove that against the Pelicans. Tayshaun Prince has a tough matchup this season with Al-Farouq Aminu. Aminu is a great defender for the Pelicans and Prince will have his hands full with him this season. The Grizzlies will face the Pelicans four times this season and I see Memphis winning the series 3-1.
Mason Ginsberg (of Bourbon Street Shots):
It is no secret that this year’s New Orleans NBA franchise is vastly different from last year’s team, and in more ways than just their nickname. This Pelicans roster has been totally revamped, including changes at two of the team’s five starting positions – point guard and center – as well as a brand new sixth man. This team won’t gel overnight, but at full strength, it should be right in the thick of the Western Conference playoff hunt. For simplicity’s sake, let’s focus on the Pelicans’ likely “crunch time” lineup of Jrue Holiday, Eric Gordon, Tyreke Evans, Ryan Anderson, and Anthony Davis. How will this new group match up with the Grizzlies?
Back Court –
With apologies to Greivis Vasquez, this new Pelicans back court will be immensely improved from last season, particularly on the defensive end. New Orleans ranked 28th in the NBA in defensive rating last year, and while part of this was certainly due to injuries causing constantly changing rotations, another significant factor was what amounted to a swinging door on the perimeter. Upgrading from Vasquez to Holiday will make it far more difficult for opposing guards like Mike Conley to penetrate and get into the paint. Additionally, the acquisition of Tyreke Evans will give the team another athletic “utility man” of sorts to employ at either the 1, 2 or 3, depending on where he matches up best. Comparing individual players, it would appear as if the Pelicans’ combo of Holiday/Gordon/Evans would have the edge over Conley/Allen/Prince; however, the cohesiveness of a unit that has played together as much as this Grizzlies team has can’t be disregarded either.
Front Court –
While in terms of sheer talent, the Grizzlies’ edge on the Pelicans isn’t completely one-sided, the question here is how the two teams match up with each other, and there is no contest in that regard. New Orleans has no one who can contend with Marc Gasol as a paint protector, and no one who can dominate in the post like Zach Randolph. Sure, Ryan Anderson is one best stretch fours in the NBA and Anthony Davis continues to improve on both ends of the floor at a superhuman pace, but the Grizzlies will have a field day exposing how thin the Pelicans are down low. It is also important to note how this disparity will impact each team’s back court, as Gasol will make very difficult for the New Orleans attacking guards.
Last season, the difference for the Pelicans in their games against the Grizzlies came on the offensive glass, registering a 20% offensive rebound rate in their two losses and a 40% ORR in their two wins. Since then, the team lost one of their best offensive rebounders in Robin Lopez, so New Orleans will have to work even harder this season to fight for second chance points. Despite that fact, this matchup should be closer than many expect, but Memphis does still pose more problems for New Orleans than the other way around. A key for the Pelicans this year will be stretching that stout Grizzlies defense and forcing them to guard the three point line. Between Holiday, Gordon, and Anderson, New Orleans has capable long range shooters, but none besides Anderson have shown a real ability to knock those shots down consistently. If that changes, it could give the Pels the upper hand, but for now, the advantage goes to the Grizz.
When and Where do they square off?
November 6th: 7:00PM at the FedEx Forum
December 13th: 7:00PM at the New Orleans Arena
January 20th: 4:00PM at the FedEx Forum
March 12th: 7:00PM at the New Orleans Arena
For more Pelicans content, check out our TrueHoop comrades at Bourbon Street Shots.
*3SOB forecast projections are derived from an average of the contributing staff’s predicted win totals.