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2014-15 Regular Season Roundtable #1

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Every week or so, the staff at The Bird Writes will get together an answer some pertinent questions that may be on some minds.

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1) What player has surprised you the most thus far? (It may be positive or negative.)

Brian: Eric Gordon has been all kinds of weird so far. His shooting has been so bad that he might need a trip to the optometrist, his usage is down below 20% for the first time in his career, his turnover rate is the highest in his career, and his assist rate has plummeted to 5%. Obviously, it's been a bad five games for EJ. However, there remains hope. Gordon has some good stuff going on, especially defensively -- his steal rate is the highest in his career, his block rate is up there as well. We know he's a better shooter than this, so I think we might be in line to see a bit of a comeback from Eric Gordon.

Chris: I am going to go with the play of Omer Asik as my most surprising.  Frankly, I underestimated the impact he would have in games on the defensive end night in and night out.  His ability to have such a positive impact, without fouling, is truly a skill that many bigs do not have.  After watching the likes of Chris Kaman and Greg Steimsma over the last few years, Omer Asik is a surprising delight to watch.

David F: Eric Gordon. He looked healthy and spry during the preseason. He's putting forth tons of effort (relative to Gordon) on the defensive end. He just can't hit the ocean from a boat right now. It is not a matter of making difficult shots. Gordon needs the wide-open ones to go in. Hopefully Saturday night against San Antonio broke the deep freeze.

David S I'm going with Austin Rivers here. Austin definitely looks like a player who's continuing to show growth in his 3rd year through being more assertive driving the basketball and making solid decisions in general. It's gotten to the point where myself (as well as most other Pelicans fans) would prefer to see Rivers in the game in late game situations instead of Eric Gordon, with some of that decision based on Gordon's poor play to start the year too obviously. I still can't fault the decision to not pick up his 4th year option (due to Demps' desire to re-sign Asik), but I'm liking what I'm seeing from Rivers thus far.

Jay: Tyreke's shooting. We always hear about player X taking a ton of shots and improving his shooting in the off-season but usually the same old shooter shows up on game day. If you're a betting man you'd put your money on his shooting crashing back to Earth, but if it doesn't, Reke's first All-Star appearance is a strong possibility.

Matt: The biggest surprise so far for me has been Eric Gordon; I expected Rivers to start like this after seeming motivated and in a contract year. Gordon, on the other hand, has surprised me in a positive and negative way. The positives are seen in the effort levels of his defense, although he's still far from a lock down defender. Perhaps the biggest surprise though, has to be how awful he's began the year on the offensive end.

Nikkoewan: Easiest answer right now is Austin Rivers. He just looks comfortable. Last season, he looked like he was still figuring himself out after looking completely lost in his rookie season. Now, he's calmer, more in tune with himself and it's been a healthy surprise.

Zachary: Can I say Gordon, even though it's not that original to pick on him anymore? He's shooting 28 percent from the floor, 18 from three and he's on the wrong side of a 10:6 turnover to assist ratio. He is playing like the Walking Dead zombie version of himself, only the little alien dudes from Space Jam took his talent on top of that. He's a talent-less zombie right now. Kinda like Cher.

2) What new coaching implementation (specific play, scheme, strategy) has appealed to you the most?


Brian: Heading into the season, I was really worried that Monty would go full Monty on us, bringing Tyreke off the bench and having John Salmons/Jimmer play lots of minutes at the three. That hasn't happened. Evans has played with the starters, which gives Tyreke the space he needs to operate (and it doesn't hurt that he can suddenly knock down threes himself). So far, Tyreke has only played 50 minutes with Rivers, 12 minutes each with Jimmer and Ajinca, 5 minutes with Babbitt, and 4 with Miller. All the rest of the time, he's played with the best five other players on the team.

Chris: Starting Tyreke has been the most appealing new strategy this season. Reke was definitely not comfortable last season coming off of the bench, but once shifting to the starting role toward the end of last season, he has proven to be worth every penny of his contract. Here is to hoping he doesn't fall in love with his outside shot too much though.

David F: Short big man rotation. Outside of a short stint in the second quarter of most games Monty Williams is sticking to AD, Asik and Anderson down low. Anderson is still being brought along slowly -- 29 minutes against Dallas is his season high, so I do not see much room in the rotation for Ajinca. Withey and Young feel like practice squad players at this point.

David S: This may sound silly/overly simple to some, but I would say the most notable strategic implementation the Pelicans have had all season was running an Anthony Davis isolation play at the top of the key. It cleared everybody else out for the winning bucket at San Antonio this past Saturday. I have seen far too many broken plays/long-Tyreke jumpers in late game situations this year and over the past season plus. Just giving the ball to their best player and letting him go to work was the best decision Monty could've made in that situation and I'm glad he did it. More clutch time shots for Anthony Davis please!

Jay: Tyreke in the starting lineup. I hate to go back to the well but moving him from the bench where, for whatever reason, he wasn't comfortable to the starting lineup has been a delight. Early on, I worried that Jrue would struggle to find his offensive rhythm with another guard dominating the ball, but the good doctor appears to be one of the most flexible players in the rotation. Evans unstoppable drives have truly been the catalyst for the Pels offense early in the season.

Matt: Icing the pick and roll has been something I've been asking for since last year. After spending time with Coach Thibodeau at Team USA, Monty finally has seemed to welcome it and has made use of it in his defensive scheme. Making teams shoot one of the most inefficient shots in the league -- the long mid range shot -- and not giving up lay-ups and three's is the start of a good defense.

Nikkoewan: Icing and dropping low on ball screens. Hedging hard is great if you don't have shot blocking bigs (and also if you have quick bigs) but we have two of em so no problem for us.

Zachary: Not to get too technical, but I like the part where Asik is awesome and feeds Davis the ball down low the same way Chunk fed Sloth Baby Ruths in The Goonies.

3) Has the Pelicans early start changed your belief of making the playoffs this season?


Brian: Absolutely. The defense is now seventh in the league, the team is first in the league in field goal attempts within 3 feet of the basket, and the shooting is going to improve and make the offense better than 16th in the league. With the Thunder in dire straits, I'm starting to like the odds of the Pelicans sneaking into the playoffs.

Chris: I truly believed before the season started that the Pelicans would make the post season and their early season performance has strengthened that belief. It also helps that OKC has caught the injury bug, similar to what plagued the Pels last season, and they may have a tough time recovering to make the playoffs. Barring injury, the Pels will be in the playoffs, AD is just too good to be denied.

David F: Slightly. The team has been competitive with everyone they have faced. Both the Orlando and Charlotte games felt like New Orleans had significantly more talent and the ball going through the hoop was the only thing keeping either from being a blowout. Asik has exceeded my already high expectations. Monty is doing some nice things lately and taking chances (Rivers at small forward?!? I could not have expected.)

David S: It has made me believe the playoffs are within the realm of possibility, as long as the team can continue to find a way to win close games (at home and on the road), against elite or at least playoff-caliber competition. The team still has lulls starting the 2nd half which concern me and almost giving the game away to the defending champs gave me doubts about the team's killer instinct. But if they can translate these early season close wins into more of the same down the road, it might be just enough to squeeze past the other tough competition out West. Because EVERY game matters, all 82 of them.

Jay: No. Unless there was a big injury I wouldn't ever judge the prospects of an 82 game season on any five games. Before the start of the season, I expected the Pels to be a playoff team so consequently nothing has changed.

Matt: I don't think these 5 games have changed the play-off scheme, although beating the current champions on the road is a great sign at the start of the year.

Nikkoewan: Not in anyway. Our 3-2 record can barely be considered as an "early start". I'll wait a couple more months.

Zachary: Slightly, but the West is so good it still doesn't bode a ton of extra confidence for a guy like me who that didn't have them making the playoffs anyway. Plus, is Sacramento good now? Damn it, I think they're good now.

4) Do you feel Anthony Davis will remain a legitimate MVP contender for the entire season?


Brian: No - I feel like by April, the MVP discussion will center on the best players on the best three or four teams (James, Paul, and Curry will get most of the play).

Chris: I do believe that he will remain a candidate, but I do not think that he has a shot to win the award.  Sure, if he keeps putting up video game numbers, he has a shot. However, as we saw in 2007 with Chris Paul, just because a player SHOULD win the MVP award doesn't mean he will. Usually, a player has to have a couple MVP worthy seasons before winning the award. Factor in the Pels performance as a team, and it would be hard for the voters to give the award to a player on a team that doesn't finish in the top 4 in their respective conference.

David F: The MVP race will feel wide-open until January or February, at the earliest. Then national writers will begin to whittle it down to great players on contending teams. If New Orleans is still in the playoff picture at the All-Star break he will be a contender until the very end.

David S: The short answer, unequivocally, is yes (barring-injury). The dude is a beast and already a top-5 player in the league. Look out world, here comes the Brow.

Jay: As long as the Pelicans are in the playoffs, AD will continue to get MVP buzz. In addition, they will need to be considered a contender in the Western Conference (think Bulls in Rose's MVP season).The MVP race is simple, you've got to win...to win.

Matt: No doubt, Davis will put up the numbers to win the MVP. He becomes a legitimate contender if the team continues to win and make the play-offs.

Nikkoewan: Yes. Definitely Yes.

Zachary: I think that the Pelicans have to remain in playoff contention for him to be an MVP candidate. Voters just plain don't give much thought to super-talented guys on non-playoff teams. Is Davis talented enough to win an MVP? Yes. Are the Pelicans going to be good enough to garner those sentiments? That's the hard part to foresee.

5) If there was one thing you could change, what would it be? Ie. a rotation change, minutes for a particular player, a change in coaching strategy, pretty much anything you can think of that is related to our basketball team.


Brian: I'd like to see the bench play more minutes, which is strange. Obviously, that will reduce the team's chances of winning in the early part of the season. But, I'm worried about the lack of depth this team has - there are several people that, if they were injured for more than a few weeks, could dash the team's chances of making the playoffs. Having the top six players play less than 35-ish minutes per game would also help preserve their bodies throughout the long season as well as help develop some of the young(ish) talent.

Chris: Even though Gordon played better against the Spurs on Saturday night, I still feel he is best utilized on the second unit. His skills are going to waste, while playing the majority of his minutes with Tyreke and Jrue because he just doesn't get the touches he needs to succeed. I would like to see a player that can perform without major touches and can spread the floor, like Jimmer or Babbitt, start for the Pels and bring Gordon in as the first sub off the bench with Rivers.

David F: Do better than signing John Salmons and Darius Miller. Imagine the possibilities that open up if the team keeps Omri Casspi and signs a wing with a pulse. The Salmons/Miller/Babbitt trio has zero points in 37 minutes. How is that even possible?

David S: One rotational change I would make as coach is starting Rivers alongside Holiday and shifting Gordon to a sixth-man role. Even if its just a short-term change, it's necessary to see if it yields a positive shift in Eric Gordon's performance. Like Fish stated earlier, the effort (especially on defense) is there, and his jump shot is just not falling. Perhaps getting a ton of usage with the 2nd unit will increase his confidence and get the most we can out of this frustratingly talented player. I'm still rooting for you Eric Gordon. You still have time to make us proud

Jay: Regardless of who starts, I would like to flip flop the minutes between Rivers and Gordon. Sadly, the truth is the-make-Gordon-valuable-enough-to-trade ship has sailed. We're stuck with him, so we need to act accordingly. Rivers, on the other hand, might be able to build enough trade value to bring back something decent in a trade. If New Orleans doesn't go that route, giving him the starting nod or at least starting minutes would do wonders for his already high confidence.

Matt: I'd like to see as little of John Salmons as possible at the moment. He's been awful on both sides of the ball. I prefer the 3 guard line up of Gordon, Rivers and Jrue, or when swapping Reke for Gordon. Even Babbitt should provide better shooting or Miller the stronger defense were Monty to go that route. I just don't see what Salmons can bring to the team after 5 games.

Nikkoewan: I'd like to see Withey get in the game more than Ajinca at this point. We know what Ajinca can do. We still don't know what Withey can do (obviously, the staff has an idea). More a selfish reason than anything else.

Zachary: Maybe it's not quite answering the question, but if I could change anything about the team I'd change their name back to the Jazz. Come on Utah, this is ridiculous now. You can have whatever name you want, just give us back Jazz. That's going to bother me till the day I die or the day we get the name back. Whichever comes first.