[EDIT: A little over a week ago, a similar article was published, but to my dismay, multiple errors were found with the working data. However, not all is lost as we should remain as hopeful as ever regarding the use of Pelicans and playoffs in the same sentence!]
The New Orleans Pelicans finished the preseason with a record of 7-1, second best in the entire league. Moreover, five of the wins came against playoff-worthy competition: Houston, Dallas, Atlanta, Oklahoma City and Washington. The lone loss was at the hands of the reigning NBA champions, the Miami Heat. Should this small, somewhat irrelevant sample size be taken a little more seriously?
Well, since the 2001 season (but excluding the strike shortened 2011 season), preseason teams, that have posted either one loss or none, have gone on to make the playoffs 84% of the time. 16 out of 19 teams. The three anomalies:
1) 2010 Utah Jazz - finished the season 11th. However, remember that year Jerry Sloan quit and Deron Williams was traded to New Jersey.
2) 2012 Philadelphia 76ers - finished the season 9th. Jrue Holiday and the rest of the team swooned down the stretch. Fatigue?
3) 2012 Toronto Raptors - finished the season 10th. Kyle Lowry had a monster preseason, but injuries derailed him and Jonas Valanciunas in the regular season.
Will the Pelicans add themselves to this disgraceful short list?
Well, let's have a look at the numbers. This preseason, the Pelicans offense was a juggernaut. Overall, we ranked 5th in team scoring (101.0 PPG), 6th in scoring differential, 1st in FG%, 2nd in FT%, 1st in 3-point FG% and 17th in turnovers.
Unfortunately, the defensive statistics sit mostly on the other side of the happy spectrum. The Pelicans ranked 13th in points allowed (94.5 PPG), 27th in FG% allowed, 24th in personal fouls, 23rd in blocked shots and 18th in rebounding differential (both OREB and DREB). The one lone bright spot was the steals category -- 4th with 11.0 swipes a game. Undoubtedly this, combined with average offensive execution, led to a ranking of 2nd overall in team turnover differential.
While it would be nice to hang the hat on defense, many teams have gone on to reach the playoffs with dominating offenses. Brian Ball has already explored how the 3-ball might be elite. However, the Pelicans should be much more than that: our backcourt is loaded with scoring-minded playmakers, Monty Williams looks ready to take advantage of the team's speed and athleticism, and we have Anthony Davis, the best young 2-way frontcourt player in the league.
So does a perfect preseason record mean anything? Quite possibly, yes. Barring too many prolonged injuries or the occurrence of something obscene (ie. Anthony Davis being traded away), the Pelicans seem primed to make a realistic playoff run. Count me in as a believer.