1) To answer the biggest question on every fan's mind, will the Pelicans make the postseason? If so, what will be their playoff seed and how far will they get?
Brian: The Pelicans don't make the postseason. The Clippers, Spurs, Thunder, Warriors, Blazers, Mavericks, Suns, and Rockets all make it. Pelicans win 38 games based on a lackluster defense and injuries to key players.
David F.: Sadly, I think not. The Pelicans will be knocking on the door to the playoffs all season long but ultimately miss by a couple games, finishing as the 9th seed in the Western Conference. However, the team will greatly improve, winning about 45 games.
David S.: As much as it pains me to say it, I'm gonna have to lean towards no on this one. The West is just too strong and too deep to climb into the top 8 this year, even with another year under the belt for Anthony Davis. AD will do AD things, the team will be better defensively, and hopefully everyone will stay healthy, but even with the declines I see for Portland and Houston I just don't see a way New Orleans butts its way in. The Pels will finish above .500 at 44-38, but will place 10th in the West and outside the playoffs.
Oleh: I believe in the talent on this team. While I don't trust Monty 100%, I don't think he'll be detrimental to the point of costing us the postseason. The million dollar question though is health, and it's really a coin flip these days. After everything that transpired a season ago, I'd like to think we're due and the bug bites elsewhere. Pelicans make the playoffs as the 6th seed.
Will: Man, this is tough. The West is a gauntlet and this team is pretty thin outside of their top 7 or so guys (many of whom have had injury issues). I'm going to be optimistic and say they stay healthy and make it in somewhere in the 5-8 range. Way too early to predict how they'll do once they get there.
Rohan: I've consistently had them on the outside looking in, in past years, but I do think they'll be in play for a playoff seed until the end this year. With the health of this team being what it is, it's hard to make definitive statements of course, but as we've repeated ad nauseum, this is a good team when healthy.
2) What will prove to be the Pelicans biggest weakness? The bench, the small forward position or injuries? Something else?
Brian: The small forward position will prove to be the team's biggest weakness because the lack of a defensive stopper will cause the pelicans to lose a lot of games down the stretch against good wings.
David F.: Finishing games. While Anthony Davis is the undisputed alpha dog on the roster I do not trust this team to properly deploy his skill set in crunch time. The roulette wheel of "whose turn is it" among the guards combined an affinity for mid-range shots throughout the organization will leave multiple wins on the table this year in the final minutes.
David S: The biggest weakness for the Pelicans has to be the small forward position. Eventually the main players for the team will play a year (mostly) healthy and together, and we know how deadly the core 5 can be on offense. But I still don't like Evans at SF, and prefer him as the lead ball-handler and distributor for the 2nd unit. Yes Monty can organize his subs such that Evans could come out in the 1st and come back in to lead the 2nd unit in the 2nd quarter, but I would just prefer a steadier starting option at SF. I still have faith in Darius Miller being a solid NBA player, but he, Babbitt and old man Salmons don't exactly instill confidence at that position going forward.
Oleh: Rotations. I'm not ready to buy Monty is going to give our players more freedom nor prove he's a better manager of personnel.
Will: I really hope it is not injuries, but if any of the key guys miss significant time, this team is in trouble. I'm going to go with the bench/depth. We see Monty experimenting with staggering Gordon's minutes, which I think will help. If he reverts to playing 5 bench guys at once, we could see leads evaporate in seconds quite often.
Rohan: A combination of rotations, who plays consistently at the 3, and an unwillingness to go to traditionally unconventional lineups that have more success on the floor. Defense, to a degree, should improve with Asik's addition even if Monty Williams' schemes fundamentally don't change, but the fact that the team didn't properly address the 3 at all this summer seems likely to come back to bit them at some stage.
3) Next to Anthony Davis, who will be the Pelicans second most valuable player? Answer this however you like. Based on some advanced metric, who will be an ever important glue guy, etc.
Brian: I'm picking Tyreke Evans by a hair over Ryan Anderson. I'm not entirely sold on Ryno's health and I think the awkward front court arrangement will limit Monty's deployment of Anderson. Instead, Monty will wind up using Tyreke as his Swiss Army knife, using him to initiate the offense at times and assigning him to the top perimeter threat on defense down the stretch.
David F.: Omer Asik and it is not even close. While the media questions how the offense overall will perform, this team finished 13th in offensive rating last season, despite injuries and the combination of Greg Stiemsma and Al-Farouq Aminu playing over 3000 minutes (including an unconscionable 435 together). Asik has proven in Houston to be a functional offensive player and a defensive stalwart. The Pelicans did not have that at center last year.
David S.: The Pelicans' 2nd most valuable player (if this already wasn't evidenced by his absence last year) to me is Jrue Holiday. Tyreke may be the 2nd most talented player on the roster, and Anderson (shooting, shooting, more shooting) and Asik (defense, rebounds, more defense, more rebounds) both bring essential functions to the team, but as the point guard of this team Holiday is crucial to the team's overall success. He spears the head of the defense, an area which the teams fill-ins (Roberts and Rivers) struggled mightily at last year. And his continued development and chemistry with Davis is something I'll be watching all season. This guy is a former All-Star and a great two-way player. I'm really looking forward to seeing a full season of Jrue in blue and gold.
Oleh: I'm with David -- Asik is going to do wonders. The Pelicans defense has been putrid for two straight seasons, folks. With the addition of just one man, it has a real chance of being respectable. Any time I have trouble falling asleep at night, I glance at Asik's basketball reference page. Among other things, his rebounding numbers and personal foul rate put me right at ease.
Will: I think Ryan Anderson's return will be great for the offense, and Asik will clean up a lot of the ugliness last year on the other end, but I will go with Tyreke Evans. This is clearly Davis' team, but if there is one guy who looks poised to turn a corner on this team, it's Evans, as he looked absolutely dominant on the back end of last season.
Rohan: Omer Asik. Monty Williams will be tasked with taking this team from the absolute dredges of the league last year to moderate respectability, and no addition helps more here than an elite rim protector. Anthony Davis' defense is helped, guard defense gets a new back-line, and paint defense should look vastly different this season.
4) Who will be regarded as the team's biggest disappointment?
Brian: I know it's hard for John Salmons to disappoint, but he's going to be paid a good chunk of change to mostly sit on the bench - my vote is for him.
David F.: Jrue Holiday. His counting stats will be unimpressive and with the death of Synergy's public website his defense will be undervalued. While Tyreke Evans should have significantly more success due to the potential shooters on this roster Holiday's diminished usage and per game and minute stats will become a sore point.
David S: Again I hate to say this but I'm gonna have to go with Evans here. Gordon is the easy answer but we've already come to expect less from him than we once did. I don't see Anderson or Asik struggling playing next to AD (as long as they're not asked/expected to do too much). But that's exactly what might happen with Tyreke. He's going to start at SF and at times also be asked to spread the floor next to Holiday, Rivers, or others and also run the offense on occasion. I'm not saying Tyreke will have a horrible statistical year or anything, but just that we should maybe temper our expectations of him. He's (at most) the 3rd banana going forward on this team.
Oleh: Darius Miller. He showed glimpses last season so the Pelicans gambled bringing him back. During preseason, he went from the favorite to start at SF to possibly a 4th string role behind Evans, Babbitt and Salmons. All in the matter of just a few weeks.
Will: This one is depressing and I was trying to be optimistic! If forced to answer, I'd go with Jeff Withey, who a lot of us liked coming out of Kansas, but doesn't look to be in line for many minutes this year after a disappointing offseason.
Rohan: I'm going to have to follow David here and go with Jrue Holiday. He has and continues to figure to suffer due to the presence of other higher usage players on the team in terms of counting stats; in the most likely scenario, even a high efficiency season will likely go underappreciated.
5) Will having three dominant guards (Holiday, Gordon, Evans) on the roster prove successful?
Brian: I don't think so - it would be extremely tricky to do right, but Monty is loathe to deploy small-ball lineups, I bet we'll be treated to lots of Evans off the bench and Gordon disappearing, sadly.
David F.: It will be successful in terms of winning games. But referencing the above, there will be plenty of opportunity to nitpick how these players mesh together. There simply are not enough possessions for these three guards to produce the per game statistics people expect from their contract values if Anthony Davis and Ryan Anderson are properly integrated into the offense.
David S: It was an extremely small sample size, but we saw what this team could do for stretches offensively with the 3 guards playing with AD and Anderson down low. It was super nova level awesomeness. The trick is spreading out the minutes between them while finding out which pairings work and which don't. I think the team can be successful (in terms of wins and losses) with all 3 ball-dominant guards on the team. But we all know the writing is on the wall for Eric Gordon, so this might be his last chance to prove he can be a guy New Orleans can lean on for offense (especially in late-game situations) and consider keeping when his current contract expires.
Oleh: Hat tip Brian. An in-game manager like Rick Carlisle or Gregg Popovich? Sure. But Monty? I'm not feeling it. He's shown to be a wonderful leader of overachievers, but has yet to make a positive impression when it comes to managing real talent. Instead of utilizing what's in front of him, he allows the beliefs of his specific system to dictate too much.
Will: I certainly think it can be. Holiday and Gordon both work well enough off the ball for it to present major problems for the opposing team. Monty also seems to know that he needs at least two shooters out there with either Rivers or Tyreke, which I think will help both of them. I already picked the playoffs, so I'm saying yes.
Rohan: I was optimistic about it last year when the roster first came together for the simple reason that all three had been higher usage in the preceding years before joining New Orleans due to relatively artificial circumstances (injuries on Philadelphia and Sacramento as well as Gordon's presence as the only "scorer" on a terrible New Orleans team). Due to the start-stop nature of injuries last year, this didn't really get a chance to correct itself. But the fact that both Holiday and Evans are very strong (Evans, especially, given his position and reputation) assist guys makes me willing to believe in them one more time.
6) Name one bold prediction for either the team or an individual player.
Brian: The Pelicans will miss the playoffs with a winning record.
David F.: Ryan Anderson will make at least 200 threes this season. He has only done it once in his career (2012-13) and has the recovery from neck surgery hanging over him. I saw enough in the preseason to say even if he misses some games the looks are going to be there for him so often that he will clear 200 makes. The Pelicans as a team only combined to make 486 last year for some perspective.
Oleh: Many of Eric Gordon's statistics climb back to respectability. For the first time since donning a New Orleans uniform, he's happy and healthy. Who knows how long this combination lasts but maybe things finally work out? Hey, the question DID ask for bold!
David S: My bold prediction is: New Orleans will finish in the top 10 in team offensive rating (points per 100 possessions) and top 15 in defensive rating (thank you AD and Omer Asik).
Will: Not sure how bold this is, but I'll go with Tyreke Evans averaging somewhere around 15-5-5 for the season, and getting more respect than he has since his rookie year.
Rohan: Austin Rivers becomes a league average backup with obvious value on both sides of the ball. Given his strong improvement last year, this isn't the boldest prediction, per se, but he's not quite all the way there just yet. Couple that with how down I was on him at the tail end of his rookie year, and this is something I'd be delighted with and generally surprised by.
7) Will the Pelicans make a sizable deal before this season's trade deadline? Should they?
Brian: No, they won't. I think it's basically a league-wide problem - no GM wants to make a move until there's more certainty around the cap.
David F.: I seriously doubt it. The continued uncertainty of the future financial landscape and risk adverse nature of NBA GMs in the face of that uncertainty will lock up the market as a whole. Big moves will not happen until the summer. They should seriously consider any offer to take Eric Gordon off their hands if only to open up pairing Tyreke and Jrue long term. Gordon's position in the rotation is going to gum up those two developing as a pair.
David S: I just can't see the Pelicans making any major trade move around the deadline that didn't involve giving up Anderson or Asik. Obviously Davis and Holiday are untouchable and although he has just one year left on his contract (a $15 million player option he will almost surely pick up) it's going to be very difficult finding a team to take on Eric Gordon, not named the Philadelphia 76ers. A minor deal to add a veteran at the wing or another big could happen if Dealin' Dell works his cap magic to acquire a piece without giving up anything substantial. But barring some crazy unforseen circumstances I just don't see New Orleans making a big splash mid-season.
Oleh: No. Dell Demps still wants to give this group a chance and Eric Gordon won't make himself valuable enough to where we get a real asset or two back in return.
Will: The odds are probably against this, though them not picking up Rivers' contract could point towards something happening. Should they? Well, they certainly shouldn't just for the sake of doing something. The team has relatively few assets that would fetch much on the market, but if Dell can find something that betters the team and doesn't sacrifice much long-term flexibility, go for it.
Rohan: I don't see it unless things seriously, seriously blow up, whether that's through another season of terrible injury luck or something else.
8) Will Anthony Davis win the MVP, DPOY or MIP? Will he make the NBA 1st, 2nd or 3rd team? Will he make the NBA defensive 1st or 2nd team? Please list all the accolades.
Brian: No, but I'll give him 4th in the MVP voting and 3rd in the DPOY voting. He'll get second team all-NBA honors and second team on the nba defensive team as well.
David F.: Davis will finish in the top 8 of MVP and DPOY voting. He will make the All-NBA Second Team and Defensive Second Team as well. AD will also make his second consecutive All-Star Game. Davis is now above consideration for MIP.
David S.: This one is easy-peezy. Anthony Davis will finish 5th in MVP voting (behind James, Durant, Rose and Curry), 2nd in DPOY (behind Noah) and won't win MIP because stars don't win that award. I think he makes All-NBA 2nd team and cements his status as the next big thing in this league. Because he is.
Oleh: Shooting for the moon here: All-Star starter, NBA 1st team, NBA defensive 2nd team and will be in the running for MVP (let's say he finishes 5th overall). He's that special of a player where a jump like this isn't totally out of left field.
Will: He's not winning MVP unless they finish something like top 3 in the West, which is far-fetched. The awards are so story-driven at this point, that it will be hard for him to win much of anything while on being on real national TV twice this year. That said, Davis' brilliance will probably earn him AT LEAST 2nd Team All-NBA and 2nd Team All-Defense, though he'll probably be worthy of 1st Team for both.
Rohan: Probably out of the MVP race unless something drastic happens in terms of team success (home court advantage in the 1st round perhaps?). I think he'll at least make All-NBA and All-Defense 2nd if healthy.
9) Will Monty Williams remain the coach beyond this season?
Brian: Monty keeps his job at the end of the year, but he's on the hot seat.
David F.: Yes, even though the Pelicans do not make the playoffs. This is more about the culture he has been able to create and Benson's appreciation of it than actual coaching ability. New Orleans will play hard every game and Williams will show the necessary improvement for Benson to give him the final year of his contract. Monty's relationship with Davis will also play into this decision.
David S: It really is a crap-shoot for Monty Williams and his place with the team going forward. I'm putting him in the same boat as Randy Wittman in Washington a year ago. If the team disappoints, is under .500 around the All-Star break and can't find cohesion as a team (sans injuries, which are an excuse for any coach) than I think Monty's days could be numbered even during the season. If the team makes the playoffs then he could get extended and we'll be stuck in the same boat Washington is as a victim of our success with a below-average coach. If I had to bet.....I'd say Monty gets axed after this year.
Oleh: Yes, as I've got the Pelicans making the playoffs. Now if they miss, it'll be curious how much improvement will be enough for him to be allowed to return in 2015-16.
Will: Already said they are making the playoffs, so I can't go back now. Monty will be back after leading New Orleans to the postseason for the first time since that other guy left.
Rohan: Yes, and I can see him keeping it even if the Pellies miss the postseason this year.
10) Will Dell Demps remain the GM beyond this season?
Brian: Demps loses his job, sadly.
David F.: No. Demps contract expires after this season and he will be the fall guy for the failure to make the playoffs. Build through the draft talking heads will rejoice.
David S: This may be more wishful thinking, as I just predicted that Monty would get fired after the season and their fates have seemed intertwined since they both came on board, but I think Dell can survive another sub-par season. While the current roster construction still leaves some things to be desired and doesn't seem like a puzzle with all the pieces fitting perfectly, I think he has done some remarkable things since he's come on board salary cap-wise and at the very least has assembled some good young talent to put around a legit superstar. I think Dell will get one more year to try his hand at building around AD before ownership pulls the plug. We're already almost halfway through the 8-9 years we know Davis will be here for sure (assuming he signs a 5-year max extension with the team, which he will). If Dell can't get the job done you can be sure ownership will let someone else try to keep AD in the Big Easy for good.
Oleh: Yes, even though making the playoffs should be the only feather he'll need in his cap, he has others.
Will: Same deal here. Demps finally gets to see the team he put together reach its potential and returns to build on it.
Rohan: I think so if they make the playoffs, but if they fall short in unconvincing style, Demps has to be more likely to take the fall than Williams, given his contract situation. But hey -- make the playoffs and all is swell!