Predictions for the Pelicans this season existed in a fairly wide range. ESPN projected a record of 37-45 for the season. Bleacher Report projected 39-43. Bill Simmons (below) expected the Pelicans to give away a top seven lottery pick again this season. Ben Golliver of Sports Illustrated expected the Pelicans to win fewer than 39 games and was willing to bet his house on it. None of these projections expected Jrue Holiday to miss 48 games or Ryan Anderson to miss 60. In case you have forgotten, ESPN's enormous Forecast Panel of 210+ writers ranked Holiday 43rd and Anderson 56th in the entire NBA.
All of these predictions were incorrect, all but Bill Simmons expecting the Pelicans to win 37 or more games. To prove a point, in order to hand over a top seven lottery pick, the Pelicans would have needed to win at least six fewer games. Despite Anderson and Holiday missing a combined 108 games (they missed a combined 5 last season, so hold your "injury prone" comments), I would say the Pelicans have significantly overachieved this season.
Diving a little deeper, all these predictions also assumed that the Phoenix Suns would be horrendous. ESPN put them at 22-60. Bleacher Report at 19-63. If someone can find me anyplace predicting the Suns would win 47 or 48 games, I would love to see it. The Pelicans were expected to win 37-39 games, instead they won 34. Think, just maybe, those four losses to the Suns this season being wins if the predictors were right had anything to do with it? Sometimes a team just wins games, the Suns beat the Pelicans 104-98, 101-94, 116-104, and 94-88.
The Suns were better than predicted, much better, but that doesn't mean the Pelicans were worse than predicted. Injured, sure. The Suns this year were better than the Pelicans. Eric Bledsoe missed one game and Goran Dragic missed one game in Phoenix's match-ups with New Orleans. On the other hand for the Pelicans, Ryan Anderson missed four games, Jrue Holiday missed two games, Jason Smith missed two games, and Anthony Davis missed one game.
Congratulations to the Phoenix Suns for wildly exceeding expectations, being armed with both cap space and lottery picks to improve, and most importantly picking the right head coach. But remember that the Pelicans were the second youngest team in the NBA, sustained the worst level of injuries this season in the league, and still missed their projections by roughly four games.
The writers here at Bird Writes were slightly more optimistic than those national outlets. I expected 41-46 wins this season. Rohan's statistical model projected a 43-39 record with Brian Ball projecting the low end of wins being 36 wins should Gordon and Evans miss significant time. Before the regular season even started I said the following -
I am confident that the Pelicans front office looked at their roster this year going into the draft and determined two concrete things. One, the team would be better this year. Two, other franchises in the NBA are going to get worse on purpose. In the face of that information tanking is ruled out immediately. I look at DraftExpress and cannot get myself excited about having the 10-14 pick next summer. A lot is made that the Pelicans traded Nerlens Noel, but it could have easily have been Oladipo or Bennett. I guarantee you if it was Bennett and next year's first round pick for Holiday the reaction would not have been nearly as negative. That 15 minute window of "Block City" captivated many hoop heads. Oh, and then there is this to consider...
As you see, even looking on the worst side of things from my perspective in October, the Pelicans were looking at giving up a 10-14 pick. Although I was not expecting the Pelicans second and third best players to miss 108 of 164 games. But here we are, about to watch the Pelicans surrender the 10th overall pick. Take a peek at the Draft Express board: Doug McDermott, Jusuf Nurkic, Tyler Ennis, Gary Harris, Nik Stauskas. A real murder's row the Pelicans are likely giving up. Oh, and about "Block City". The Pelicans are doing just fine as they led the NBA in blocked shots this season.
Two Big Moves
The Pelicans made two huge moves this season, both of which have been panned by the national media. First, the trade of Nerlens Noel and the 2014 (protected top five through 2019) First Round pick. As it stands, the Pelicans have a 4% chance of keeping the pick, and a 96% chance of giving a 10th or worse pick to Philadelphia. Jrue Holiday played just 34 games this season. What did he do in those 34 games? Post a career best 2.55 Assist-to-Turnover ratio (better than Tony Parker, John Wall, Damian Lillard, Kyrie Irving, Steph Curry, Russell Westbrook, and Goran Dragic just to name a few) and a career best 17.1 PER. ESPN's new Real Plus-Minus is extremely kind to Jrue's defense, rating him 4th among all point guards. Is that statistic worth anything? I don't believe so, especially when Derek Fisher is 3rd. But hey, it's a number.
Aside - Notice in the comments I said "-Not a move to 'win now' but to 'win soon'. That last point is big to me. This is about winning for the next four years. Not just next year... Be realistic. The pick is top five protected. If we miss the playoffs our pick is likely Mitch McGary or Isaiah Austin. Tell me with a straight face that McGary and Noel is more valuable than Holiday. On a discounted contract. Coming off his first all-star appearance. Demps did not trade Wiggins or the chance at Wiggins. He traded the chance at Mitch McGary." Those comments were posted on June 27th, the day of the draft.
Tyreke Evans was signed for 4 years and $44 Million. Bill Simmons has made it is purpose in life to bash this deal. And how did Tyreke respond this season? His most productive season as a pro. 18+ points, 6+ assists, 6+ rebounds per 36 minutes. Think per minute production is a ruse? Here is the list of players to accomplish that in the past 10 seasons. LeBron James (7 times), Russell Westbrook, and Tyreke Evans. That's it, the entire list. Tyreke somehow accomplished this despite logging 611 minutes beside Greg Stiemsma. Efficiency? Tyreke set a new career high with an 18.43 PER. Good for 5th among all shooting guards (or 6th among all small forwards).
As absurd as it sounds, I wrote that Anthony Davis was becoming a superstar on January 1st. That was before he dropped 40 on the Boston Celtics, in the midst of a historic eight game streak. For the month of March, Davis averaged 24.4 PPG and 10.8 RPG leading the Pelicans to a 9-7 record with wins over the Heat 105-95 and the Clippers 98-96. The Clippers game is of particular interest because Davis was a force despite a cold night (5-19) shooting. Without his mid-range game, AD contributed everywhere else: 13 rebounds, 5 blocks, 4 assists and 2 steals.
For the season, he finished with a 26.5 PER (4th in the league) while averaging 20.8 PPG (14th) on 51.9% shooting (21st), 10.0 RPG (10th), and 2.8 BPG (1st). Davis made his first All-Star Game before his 21st birthday. He turned in the best season in NBA history for a 20 year old. He still might make the All-NBA team according to Zach Lowe. Anthony Davis is a superstar according to Sports Illustrated, according to Grantland and according to Bleacher Report. Note that even while hating on the Jrue Holiday trade and Tyreke Evans deal, Bill Simmons wrote:
The Cans looked tanktastic until Davis ripped off this outlandish six-game streak … 42.3 MPG, 32.3 PPG, 14.3 RPG, 58% FG, 87% FT (and four wins). Good luck tanking games with a superfreak on your team, New Orleans. They’re losing this pick and they know it. You gotta love the Cans — they trade Chris Paul for 12 cents on the dollar and acquire Holiday for 150 cents on the dollar, they sign Tyreke Evans for 250 cents on the dollar, they spend a top-10 lottery pick on Austin Rivers, and yet, none of it matters because they won the Anthony Davis lottery and he’s gonna be an all-timer. The NBA … where getting rewarded for repeatedly shooting yourself in the foot happens.
Bill Simmons loves to talk about gambling. Here he is hedging his bet. He knows that right now he can make hay out of bashing the move thanks to injures (that was written on March 19th, after Jrue Holiday and Ryan Anderson were ruled out for the rest of the season) with impunity. No one can point to the Pelicans record and tell him he's wrong. However, for all the trolling, he's a basketball historian of sorts. And he knows how restricted free agency works, that Davis is in New Orleans through 2021 and between now and then Davis is going to be a top five player. The Pelicans will win, sooner rather than later, and Simmons wants to be ahead of the curve and point to this paragraph when the winning begins.
This is only the beginning of our post-season wrap up. In the coming weeks, we here at The Bird Writes will write significantly more detailed pieces on individual players, draft targets, free agent targets and much more. As I wrote in March, the Pelicans have a number of options to bring in quality role players, including the recent signing of Melvin Ely.
Thank you for frequenting our site. Thank you for voicing your opinions in the comments. We look forward to continuing to provide the best Pelicans coverage for you, our loyal readers.