Grading the off-season and in particular the draft of each team to go along with specific trades or free agent signings is really popular. It generates tons of web traffic. It is the same way with lists ordering players, teams, power rankings, "Who's Hottest". You name it, ordering or grading things is a mainstay of how sports are covered in this country.
Betting on sports is another one. It tags right along with lists as Vegas determines who is favored and who is the underdog. Over or under performing the expectations of Vegas is largely seen as a concrete method of defining success or failure among writers. All but the elite team who come into the season thinking championship can be graded by their performance relative to the preseason Over/Under.
Last season the Pelicans under performed expectations. Of course, when two opening night starters (Jrue Holiday and Jason Smith) along with the expected sixth man (Ryan Anderson) are sidelined for the season before the calender even turns to February achieving those win totals is darn near impossible. Depending on the source the Pelicans were expected to win 37 to 41 games. Vegas was actually higher on the Pelicans than most national writers coming into the season, with Sportsbook.com putting the O/U at 40.5 wins.
This season the number is even higher, thanks in large part to the expected growth of Anthony Davis and a ragtag team of role players dragging New Orleans to a 34 win total. Averaging out the four O/U's in this post by CBS Sports I created what Vegas believes to be the NBA standings (more or less) next season. Let's take a dive into those numbers.
|Team||O/U Average||13-14 Record||Difference|
|1||Oklahoma City Thunder||57.5||59||-1.5|
|2||San Antonio Spurs||56.6||62||-5.4|
|3||Los Angeles Clippers||55.5||57||-1.5|
|4||Golden State Warriors||51.1||51||0.1|
|7||Portland Trail Blazers||49||54||-5|
|New Orleans Pelicans||43||34||9|
|Los Angeles Lakers||32.1||27||5.1|
|New York Knicks||40.8||37||3.8|
It should catch the eye that Vegas expects the Pelicans to improve dramatically despite playing in the toughest division in the NBA. The only teams expected to improve on their win totals more are the Cleveland Cavaliers (you might have heard they added the best basketball player on the planet AND Kevin Love) and the Milwaukee Bucks (who should be better than complete dumpster fire).
Grades on the Pelicans' offseason varied wildly. NBA.com gave them a C-, Sports Illustrated felt Dell Demps earned a C+ as did their related Fansided website. CBS Sports thought the effort worth a B. I gave the Pelicans front office a B+ largely brought down by the acquisition of John Salmons. Bleacher Report led the way handing out an A-. That's a broad spectrum for a team that Vegas thinks will improve more than everyone not adding LeBron James or coming off the worst season in franchise history.
The big issue is that even if the Pelicans meet those expectations it is unlikely 43 wins will make the playoffs in the West, even though it could possibly near home court advantage in the Eastern Conference. 43 wins also feels like a very dangerous number to bet on either direction. If the team has average health and Anthony Davis breaks out 43 is really low. If the injury woes continue and Monty Williams decides playing the "right way" is more important than winning it could be another trying season.
As I wrote in May some perspective is always a good thing. The Pelicans are entering the fourth season of a rebuild ahead of schedule. Seattle/OKC, Memphis, Golden State, and the Clippers all missed the playoffs for at least four seasons before becoming perennial playoff teams. None of those franchises even reached .500 in the fourth season.
Other rebuilds in the Eastern Conference show similar timelines. Detroit has missed the playoffs for five consecutive seasons. Cleveland did not sniff the playoffs while LeBron James took up residence in Miami for four years. The Washington Wizards missed the playoffs for five consecutive seasons from 2008-09 to 2012-13.
The Pelicans currently have missed the playoffs for just three straight years. Three years after being forced to trade away a superstar (thanks to both his personal desires and those of the "owners", the NBA looking to sell the team) New Orleans finds itself on schedule; if history is any guide they are actual ahead of a reasonable rebuild timeline. If Vegas knows anything about sports Dell Demps had himself a hell of an offseason.