The Pelicans are 6-0 in games that don't count and, for the most part, nobody in New Orleans could see. Looking at the box scores heading into the team's first home preseason game this Wednesday against the HEAT, a bunch of important stories jump out. I'm going to be using the excellent page over at dougstats for the source of my data - I suspect that there might be discrepancies if you were to look at other sources.
The lead story in the Pelicans' preseason is that Anthony Davis has reached a different plane this year. His offensive game has expanded, his defense is sharper, and the statistics bear that out. Astonishingly, Davis has scored more than one out of every five points the Pelicans have scored this preseason while averaging over 53% from the floor and 89% on free throws. He's also averaging over 3 blocks and 10 rebounds per 48 minutes so far. If he can keep up this kind of production heading into the regular season, he's a no-doubt All-Star.
On offense, the off-season changes have completely altered the makeup of the team. Thus far in the preseason, 88% of the team's threes have been attempted by five players (Anderson, Morrow, Holiday, Roberts, Gordon, in that order). Having multiple excellent shooters available has helped the Pelicans increase their 3pt% by almost 5 percentage points to 42%. The improved outside shooting has opened up more driving lanes, and the Pelicans' newly athletic roster has exploited that well - the Pelicans are shooting 30% more free throws per game this season than last season.
The early injury to Tyreke Evans meant that the preseason lost a lot of its interest. We'll have to wait to the beginning of the regular season to see how Evans, Holiday, and Gordon share the ball and how Monty will manage the rotations. In his stead, we've gotten to see a lot more of Anthony Morrow, Brian Roberts, and Austin Rivers than we expected. The perimeter defense appears to be much improved from last year. We haven't seen the easy penetrations and wide-open threes that plagued last year's squad.
On offense, Austin Rivers has been marginally better. He's shooting slightly worse from the field than last year and slightly better from the line (although still sub-60%). The good news is that he's getting to the free throw line more often, but there's no doubt that he's offensively challenged. On the defensive end, however, he's looked like a genuine NBA player, and one of the better defenders that the Pelicans have on the perimeter. We'll see if that keeps up into the regular season, when we can see the games more regularly and with better resolution.
Eric Gordon has been fantastic in his first two games back, averaging 60% from the field and almost 20 points per game. He's doing what we want out of Gordon - scoring efficiently in large quantities, keeping turnovers low, and playing good defense. Obviously, a lot of folks will snidely wonder how long he can stay healthy, but having Gordon at the start of the season will be a great luxury for the team.
The black mark of the preseason has been at the center position, where no player has been able to shine. Greg Stiemsma has failed to register any significant contribution despite having played almost 100 minutes - he's scored only 8 points and grabbed 14 rebounds in that time. In fact, he has as many personal fouls as he has rebounds. It seems abundantly clear that Stiemsma isn't a good option as the starting center. Jason Smith, who presumably had the most to gain with Stiemsma's demise, suffered a hip impingement last week
and his timetable for return is uncertain and wasn't able to play for a while. And Jeff Withey has only been able to log 13 minutes, despite playing fairly well. As a rookie, you'd think that having one player ahead of you play terribly and the another get injured is a recipe for playing time, but clearly Monty must be seeing things he doesn't like in practice.