Last week we sat down for a round table predicting the New Orleans Pelicans record and finish in the Western Conference this season. Most of our writers put the Pelicans around 50 victories. Two writers, Chris Cucchiara and Jay Dunn, put the total closer to 55. I was the lone writer to put the total firmly under 50, and actually under the over/under at 47. The difference between 47 wins and 50 is incredibly small. A couple good bounces here or there, an Omer Asik own goal, or a double clutch three pointer to seal a victory. Speaking of that, let's watch it again.
Back to the task at hand. As a bet, I would currently sit out picking the Pelicans over/under. It is way too close to what I believe to be the most likely outcome where New Orleans wins between 46-49 games this season. However, asked to make a selection I would lean toward the under thanks to the tidal wave of injuries already. One of those injuries might cost the Pelicans the Wednesday night contest against the Portland Trailblazers, a match-up that many consider a solid victory.
However, I have read quite a few folks write that the Pelicans best case scenario involves just 50 wins. There I will have to disagree quite strongly. First, let's discuss what best case scenario would really entail.
Best Case means everyone is healthy, not expecting tons of minor injuries
In the Pelicans best case scenario Anthony Davis does not miss a single game due to injury. Davis missed 14 games entirely with injury and left three others early with a variety of nicks and bruises. New Orleans went a lackluster 8-9 in games Davis missed. Five of those losses were to teams who did not make the playoffs including stinkers against the Philadelphia 76ers and New York Knicks. But, a true best case scenario doesn't end there.
Best case means everything breaks right. Think the Oklahoma City Thunder from 2010-2012. Their top five players miss a total of 12 games due to injury over two seasons. That included the lockout year with back-to-back-to-backs! Imagine a scenario where every single injured Pelican returns from injury on time or early, no Pelican is injured throughout the year, and Jrue Holiday is up to full speed by January without a setback. That is best case scenario.
82 games from Davis, Eric Gordon, and Ryan Anderson. Jrue Holiday plays in 74 games, missing eight back-to-backs in November and December. Alexis Ajinca, Omer Asik, and Luke Babbitt all back in time for opening night. Tyreke Evans returns four weeks after surgery missing just 10 games, as well as Norris Cole. Quincy Pondexter misses two weeks and just six games. If we want to truly discuss what the absolute best case scenario is for the Pelicans you assume no one suffers injuries. That's why it is the best case scenario, and why it is so rare for any team to come close to achieving.
|2014-15 Games||2015-16 Best Case||2015-16 Likely|
I would venture to say that the Pelicans likely scenario is still an improvement over what they had last year. A number of minor injuries to players while those currently injured take more time getting back into the lineup. That best case scenario team is really, really good. 55+ wins happens most of the time if the Pelicans get that kind of injury luck, regardless of what happens around the rest of the league. But the best case scenario is also a pipe dream. That kind of luck is absurdly rare and only a team or two gets it each season. Considering the record of the Pelicans training staff your skepticism is well-earned.
Worst case always involves catastrophic injury
No reason to go too far into depth with this topic. The true worst case scenario for the Pelicans this season means Anthony Davis goes out for the year relatively early with a season-ending injury. Other injuries to significant contributors follow along. If that happens New Orleans struggling to win 30 games is not out of the question. I don't like this subject. Moving right along.
Most likely is also the one everyone is sure is going to happen
Based on the past couple seasons it seems simple to pencil in Anthony Davis for 10-15 games missed due to injury, Jrue Holiday to miss significant time again, and the Pelican training staff to be one of the busiest in the NBA. 10-20 games lost due to injury for every player in the rotation. You'd be surprised to discover the Pelicans were actually better than league average on the injury front last season, the first under new athletic trainer Duane Brooks. Of course, New Orleans has had three different trainers in the past seven seasons so there is not a lot of consistency to take from just one year.
There is nothing average about the last two seasons in New Orleans. Once regularly healthy players like Jrue Holiday and Ryan Anderson missed significant time. Quincy Pondexter played injured for an undisclosed period of time to scratch the franchise back into the playoffs. Anthony Davis has yet to appear in 70 games. Does any of that mean Davis is incapable of playing in 70 games? That Holiday and Anderson will never return to form? Making those kind of broad statements loads in far too many assumptions for me.
There are injuries which are preventable and those which are random chance occurrences. Holiday's issues appear to be one of prevention, which the Pelicans have said they will act upon this season. Anderson has suffered two injuries the last two years that seem much more random. It doesn't get much more random than the terrifying blow he took from Gerald Wallace in 2014. Despite that he was able to suit up for 61 games last season, missing 21 thanks to an MCL sprain.
Ultimately no one really knows what is going to happen to the Pelicans this year. A result between 40 and 50 wins is the most likely, if we assume injured players from last season will also suffer injuries this year. Totals higher or lower than that will depend largely on luck, either good or bad.
Let's hear your predictions in both the poll and comments below.