Let's start with a couple things. The first is this piece by RealGM.com's Jonathan Tjarks about the New Orleans Pelicans. He believes the Pelicans have a ton of time to build and succeed with this core. It's pretty good, and Tjarks is one of the more interesting basketball writers. I don't 100% agree with everything he wrote, but it's a pretty convincing read.
The second is this...look at this:
The Pelicans are currently tied for the eighth spot in the Western Conference with the Phoenix Suns. Behind them are the Denver Nuggets, Sacramento Kings (get well soon, Boogie), and Oklahoma City Thunder. That's a tough crowd. Of those three, I imagine Oklahoma City being the team that can eclipse them, but if Sacramento can get DeMarcus Cousins back and recreate the magic from earlier in the season, who knows. Having Jrue Holiday and Tyreke Evans trade off great games, Omer Asik stopping shots at the rim, and Anthony Davis continuing to fill the stat-sheet, one can conclude that the Pelicans are headed in the right direction.
Unfortunately, Davis left with a chest injury against Cleveland. It was a pretty tough injury to watch as Davis walked off the floor holding his chest. With New Orleans in the middle of eighth seed scrap, it would be tough to lose Davis. The Pelicans might have to sit him out a couple games, just to be sure. Having a day before the Warriors game could help, but we shall wait and see.
Oh look, the Golden State Warriors are coming into town.
Stats Of Note
The Golden State Warriors just might be the most impressive team to start the season. Currently on a 14-game winning streak, the 19-2 Warriors have made leaps and bounds on the offensive end since the arrival of Steve Kerr at the head coaching position. Under Mark Jackson, the Warriors finished 12th in the league in offensive efficiency. This season, the Warriors rank fifth, and Kerr's trust in Draymond Green and Klay Thompson has a bit to do with that, as both have made considerable leaps in their game.
After being a magnet for criticism for not being traded for Kevin Love, Thompson has started the season out on fire. He's more efficient this season, posting a TS% of 57.5. An efficient Thompson offensively, combined with his improved defensive ability makes him one of the better two guards in the league. As for Green, he's one of my favorite players in the league because of his ability to do a bit of everything. He can space the floor, he can rebound, and defend multiple positions. In David Lee's absence, he's been a great player for their starting lineup, registering the fourth-lowest defensive rating (92.2) while posting a 57.4 TS%.
Defense was one of the few things people worried about when Mark Jackson was sent packing, but so far, the defense has remained strong, ranking first among defensive efficiency at 94.5. The wing trio of Klay Thompson, Andre Iguodala, and Shaun Livingston gives Golden State three capable defenders on and off the ball. Draymond Green is a multifaceted defender, Harrison Barnes is growing defensively, and Andrew Bogut is one of the league's best rim and post defenders. Golden State's most played lineup this season (Curry-Thompson-Barnes-Green-Bogut) is posting a stingy 89.6 defensive rating and a staggering 28.0 net rating, easily ranking as the league's best lineup so far this season.
What makes Golden State fun are the two things they excel at: passing and defending the rim, both vital in winning a NBA championship. The Warriors rank first in opponent's field goal percentage at the rim, allowing just 48.5% shooting at the rim. Andrew Bogut allows a league low 38.6% at the rim, manning the best defense in the league. Draymond Green is a solid post defender, and when defending the rim, Green allows just 45.8% shooting, ranking among the top 15 in the league.
Moving the ball around, Golden State ranks second in the league in assists per game at 25.7, ranking only behind the Washington Wizards, who sit at 25.8 per game. They racked up the third-most assists this season, and rank first in secondary assists per game. Andrew Bogut is an elite passer for his position, but the combination of Stephen Curry and Andre Iguodala whizzing the ball around doesn't hurt either. The Warriors always had the talent to produce a top five offense and Kerr has unlocked Golden State's offensive potential by getting more ball movement and dribble-handoffs.
Another sneaky move? Getting production out of Harrison Barnes. Last season, he was strapped to the bench and looked scared when he played. A former top 10 draft pick, Kerr took Barnes and placed him in the starting lineup which appears to have given him the confidence to play well. The result? He has averaged 11.6 points and 6.4 rebounds per game, while shooting 44.9% from three. Among a group of solid defensive players, Barnes has improved as a defender himself, becoming more of a neutral defender with length.
Keys To Victory
Stopping Stephen Curry: Stephen Curry currently averages 23.0 points, 5.1 rebounds, 7.7 assists, and 1.9 steals per game on shooting splits of 49-40-93. He's one of the best basketball players on the planet and the key to slowing Golden State down is stopping him. The Pelicans' best bet is to throw Jrue Holiday on him and hope he can disrupt his offense to some degree. The issue? The Pelicans could really use that second defender to help Holiday. Perhaps Evans could help him here. Stopping Curry is the first step to getting a victory against the Warriors.
Bench Production: Technically, the Pelicans got 49 points off the bench against Cleveland, but Davis' absence allowed more playing time for Ryan Anderson, who scored 30. If Davis were to play, Anderson would have to produce similar production off the bench for the Pels to have a chance. Austin Rivers and Dante Cunningham will also have to produce offensively. Rivers had 11 points against Cleveland, while Dante Cunningham mysteriously played just 11 minutes and scored two points.
Tyreke Evans Game: Against the Cavaliers, Tyreke Evans went nuts, finishing with 31 points and 10 assists in Anthony Davis' absence. Against Golden State, the Pelicans will need that Evans to show up again, the one that can get to the rim with relative ease and actually finish. If Evans can give the Pelicans 70-80% of what he did against Cleveland, the Pelicans have a chance.
Should be a fun game between these two teams. Geuax Pels!