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New Orleans Pelicans 2014-15 Season Preview

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SB Nation blogger previews visit the Crescent City and the next NBA superstar, Anthony Davis

Crystal LoGiudice-USA TODAY Sports

New Orleans Pelicans

2013-14 Record: 34-48 (Seven game improvement over 2012-13)

Key Losses

Al-Farouq Aminu, Anthony Morrow, Brian Roberts, and Jason Smith all departed in free agency. Pierre Jackson and Melvin Ely were traded.

Key Additions

Omer Asik, Jimmer Fredette, John Salmons, Russ Smith, and Patric Young. In addition, Jrue Holiday and Ryan Anderson are both returning from season-ending injuries.

What significant moves were made in the off-season?

Since trading away Robin Lopez to acquire Tyreke Evans the Pelicans have operated a revolving door at the center spot. Jason Smith, Anthony Davis, Alexis Ajinca, and Greg Stiemsma all started at center in 2013-2014. This off-season GM Dell Demps struck early, agreeing to a trade for Omer Asik the night before the 2014 NBA Draft.

To complete the trade New Orleans went through a byzantine set of smaller transactions in order to keep the majority of the roster together. The Pelicans 2015 First Round pick (1-3 and 20+ protected), the Clippers 2016 Second Round pick (top-55 protected), Melvin Ely's unguaranteed contract, and cash considerations went out; Omer Asik and Omri Casspi (for but a moment) came in.

Demps also traded the draft rights to Pierre Jackson for Russ Smith on draft night. Patric Young is an undrafted rookie. The room exception was partially used to bring in NBA veteran - and one-time teammate of Coach Monty Williams - John Salmons to NOLA. Jimmer Fredette was signed to a one year minimum contract.

What are the team's biggest strengths?

Anthony Davis. Expanding on that basic premise, the near limitless heights to which one attempts to define AD's ceiling as a basketball player. Davis just completed the most efficient season a 20 year old has ever recorded in NBA history - this is a player whose biggest strength coming out of college was his defense while his offense was anticipated to be somewhere between "project" and "limited". Those projections have proven to woefully undersell his potential on the offensive end.

Beyond Davis, the Pelicans excel at getting to the basket. Unfortunately for both Tyreke Evans and Austin Rivers, making the shot created once they get to the rim proved to be too tall a task in 2013-14. However, the simple ability to penetrate at will combined with three point shooting threats Jimmer Fredette (47.6% from three last season), Ryan Anderson (40.9%), Eric Gordon (39.1%), Jrue Holiday (39.0%), and John Salmons (38.7%) should combine to create an efficient offense. The Pelicans finished 13th in the league in Offensive Rating despite the injuries and lackluster production at center.

What are the team's biggest weaknesses?

Health. Monty Williams started 24 different starting lineups last season. The Finishing Five (Holiday, Gordon, Evans, Anderson, and Davis) missed a combined 151 games. In addition to that opening night starter at center Jason Smith missed 51 games thanks to knee and shoulder issues. Starting the season off on the wrong foot once again, Tyreke Evans is out with a strained hamstring while Jrue Holiday stated he was 75% at media day. Seven full months after surgery to correct the stress fracture that put him out for the season in early January.

Beyond that, the Pelicans struggled to defend last year, finishing 26th in Defensive Rating. Remarkably, that is actually an improvement over 2012-13 (28th). Monty Williams is a defensive coach first and is very excited about the addition of Omer Asik. Whether his addition along with increased familiarity on the roster can lead to real improvement remains to be seen.

What are the goals for this team?

Playoffs or bust seems to be the mantra around this franchise. While GM Dell Demps acknowledged that the playoffs are a goal he did quite a bit of hedging around making absolute statements at media day. Making the playoffs in the Western Conference could require 50 wins this season; a 16 win improvement over last year.

The real goal is substantial improvement ; on the court and in the training room. In order to gel as a team these players must actually take the court together. That simply did not occur last season, setting the rebuild back a year despite the improvement in record.

What is Anthony Davis going to do this season?

Amaze. Excite. Bend your perceptions of what is possible on the basketball court. Davis will block shots you previously thought were unblockable, like Dirk's one-legged fadeaway or LaMarcus Aldridge's turnaround. He will catch and finish impossible alley-oops thrown merely in the direction of the back board. Most importantly, Davis will lead.

Bend your perceptions of what is possible on the basketball court.

It will not always be in overt ways seen in highlights (unfortunately unless you live in the Greater New Orleans area or purchase NBA League Pass, you will rarely see the Pelicans on your television) but Davis will lead this franchise.

Before last season there was some question as to who would be the leader on the court and in the locker room. No longer. Davis is a bona fide superstar in the NBA. The time spent with Team USA was marginalized by the quality of competition in telecasts, but that is not where players draw true value from the experience. Instead it is in practices and down time off the court, surrounded by the stars of other franchises.

As they say, iron sharpens iron. Instead of a summer of pickup games, photo-ops, and media appearances (although he hit all of those as well) Anthony Davis spent over a month practicing against DeMarcus Cousins and Andre Drummond. That is a significant step up from practicing against Jason Smith, Alexis Ajinca, or Greg Stiemsma. Defending the basket against a driving James Harden or Derrick Rose each practice is likewise an increase in difficulty from the players Davis will see most nights in the NBA.

Anthony Davis has a better understanding of what being an elite player in the NBA is going to take this season. He has a capable partner in crime to keep the load from weighing him down too heavily on defense or the glass in Omer Asik. Davis also has some 10-12 more pounds of himself to withstand the battles beneath the basket.

Expect to be astonished as Anthony Davis does things on the court you have never seen before. Liftoff occurred last season, followed by a 10 game streak through the sky as the Unibrow gained altitude. This season he takes his place among the stars.