2013--14 RECORD: 34--48 (5TH IN SOUTHWEST) COACH: MONTY WILLIAMS (5TH SEASON WITH PELICANS)
Last season, 24 teams allowed fewer points per possession than the Pelicans. Among them were the rebuilding Celtics and Magic, the hopeless Kings and the hapless Cavaliers. Anthony Davis's presence alone should have ensured better results for New Orleans, but the young, thin roster surrounding the NBA's leading shot blocker crumbled.
Some progress on defense is inevitable, given that the 6'10", 220-pound Davis, 21, will continue to sharpen his timing and positioning in his third season. But he'll also get support from one key addition and a much-needed returnee: 7-foot center Omer Asik, who was acquired from the Rockets in a three-team trade, and 6'4" point guard Jrue Holiday, who missed the team's final 48 games last season with a stress fracture in his right tibia.
Asik's arrival accentuates a strength. With little flexibility to upgrade the shaky perimeter defense of Tyreke Evans and Eric Gordon, the Pelicans surrendered a 2015 first-round pick to land Asik. The mobile, physical Asik, 28, can protect the rim, wall off opponents from the most valuable real estate and then sweep the glass; he led the league in total rebounds in 2012--13, his only season as a starter in four years. Holiday, meanwhile, brings enough size and length to smother guards at the point of attack. Defensive respectability is very much within reach.
14.3 PPG; 7.9 APG; 4.2 RPG; 44.7 FG%
15.4 PPG; 3.3 APG; 43.6 FG%; 39.1 3FG%
14.5 PPG; 5.0 APG; 4.7 RPG; 43.6 FG%
20.8 PPG; 10.0 RPG; 2.8 BPG; 51.9 FG%
5.8 PPG; 7.9 RPG; 0.8 BPG; 53.2 FG%
19.8 PPG; 6.5 RPG; 43.8 FG%; 40.9 3FG%
7.7 PPG; 2.3 APG; 1.9 RPG; 40.5 FG%
Davis is MVP-like, and the young vets mesh to clinch the team's first playoff berth since 2011.
The expensive pieces don't fit, and the trade value of Evans and Gordon continues to plummet.
A RIVAL SCOUT SIZES UP THE PELICANS
This is one of those "if" teams: If the Pelicans are healthy, Monty Williams has an interesting, playoff-contending lineup that can play big but still be athletic.... Defenses focused on Anthony Davis, but he delivered anyway. He has a length advantage over most opponents, he can score in the paint, and he has good ball skills. The next step is consistently making jump shots, an area in which he's already improved.... Omer Asik is a nice addition next to Davis as a quality team defender, a big-time rebounder and a space-eater.... Losing Ryan Anderson [to a neck injury] for most of last season was big because he rebounds and spaces the floor. Year after year he's been a reliable, high-volume three-point shooter.... Tyreke Evans puts his head down and drives—he's not a point guard. You'd think he would get to the free throw line more, but he's so big and strong that he absorbs contact and doesn't get the call. Evans can attack in transition, but that hasn't been the Pelicans' style under Williams, in part because injuries have kept their top guys from playing together.... Eric Gordon is better as a third guard than a starter, the guy you tell, Just go score.... Jrue Holiday has to be the distributor when he plays with Gordon and Evans. When Holiday gets chances as a spot-up shooter, though, he is effective.... If Austin Rivers accepted what he is—a backup point guard who can run a team—he could be serviceable. But he plays like he thinks he's a great scorer. He doesn't finish enough plays.
LAYNE MURDOCH/NBAE/GETTY IMAGES
The budding Davis gets help inside.