This was going to be the year. The New Orleans Pelicans were finally going to be healthy and have a serious chance at building on last season's remarkable run into the playoffs. Sure, Quincy Pondexter was going to miss a week or two early on recovering from knee surgery but the rest of the team was ready to go!
As Lee Corso would say, not so fast my friend!
Just a couple weeks later and things are starting, once again, to look rather grim on the injury front. First came the news of Jrue Holiday's minutes restriction. Ultimately this should be a good thing if it results in Holiday being an everyday player who can put this nagging injury behind him. There is no other Pelican better positioned to become the second banana to Anthony Davis currently on the roster. If, and that is an enormous if, Holiday can stay on the court he is a very good point guard on a trajectory not dissimilar from Michael Conley.
After the Holiday news there was the first preseason game. Tyreke Evans was held out as a precautionary measure but has since returned to action. However, Alexis Ajinca left the game with a hamstring strain. Initial reports have Ajinca out for four to six weeks. That puts a window on his return between October 31st (two games missed) and November 14th. Just days later starting center Omer Asik suffered a calf strain during practice. Asik is expected to miss three weeks which could put him back in the lineup as soon as October 29th.
Not content to stick just to big men the injury bug moved along to the backcourt. Norris Cole suffered a high ankle sprain and does not have a timetable for return according to the team. Times-Picayune reporter John Reid put a six week time frame on Cole's return to action. Give or take November 23rd before Cole dons a Pelican uniform for the regular season.
|Player||Injury||Out Until||Games Missed|
|Omer Asik||Calf Strain||October 29th (?)||2|
|Alexis Ajinca||Hamstring Strain||October 31st - November 14th||2-10|
|Quincy Pondexter||Knee||November 14th (?)||10|
|Norris Cole||High Ankle Sprain||November 23rd (?)||14|
|Jrue Holiday||Stress Reaction||Minutes Restriction (No B2B's)||7 B2B's until Jan|
The Pelicans schedule out of the gate is brutal, as I have already discussed. Five back-to-backs, all of which are against a rested opponent, is bad enough. Add in that the Pelicans play seven home games against ten on the road, along with a nasty list of opponents and this a recipe for a very slow start to the year. New Orleans will face the Golden State Warriors and Atlanta Hawks twice a piece while tossing in games against three other title contenders in the San Antonio Spurs, Oklahoma City Thunder, and Los Angeles Clippers. A record of 6-11 or worse is not out of the question.
December, unfortunately, is not much easier for the Pelicans. While they face fewer back-to-backs (two) during the holidays they will largely be on the road against difficult opponents. It is not too much of a leap to say New Orleans will be hovering around .500 as the calender flips from 2015 to 2016. Thankfully January is ripe for the picking as the Pelicans have a schedule tailor-made for a big run. It's no wonder Alvin Gentry is already talking about lowering expectations in the early going.
Gentry stressed today that Pels won’t rush injured players. Might struggle early, but will be "a very good basketball team" when healthy.— Brett Dawson (@BDawsonWrites) October 14, 2015
Hopefully the Pelicans will rally together and climb aboard AD's shoulders to weather this storm, proving my concern to be unwarranted. If, come New Year's Eve the Pelicans find themselves a couple of games over .500 it would be a significant accomplishment considering injuries up to this point and the daunting schedule.
Each of the past two seasons New Orleans was right around .500 at the New Year. In 2014 injuries proved to be the Pelicans downfall. In 2015 a couple savvy trades and pure grit got them in the playoffs despite another wave of missed games by key contributors.
This year to injury bug arrived much earlier. Can the Pelicans survive the onslaught? It will take more than a couple months to have a solid answer.