All real NBA fans know that last night the NBA released the schedules for each team, but for those of you who don’t know… well now you know! Now, let’s get to what we really care about: the Pelicans’ schedule and, as the title of this article states, how many games can and/or will they win?
In my opinion, this year’s Pelicans will be healthier and stronger than the 2014-15 squad. Although there were no major offseason additions to the roster itself, the continuity of them playing together, along with new coaching, and (fingers crossed) a healthier year will lead to a much more successful 2015 campaign.
Under Alvin Gentry, the Pelicans' offense should experience quite a boost in pace, which shouldn’t prove to be difficult seeing as they were 27th in possessions per 48 minutes last season (via espn.com). This should result in more points in transition, more open shots, and just overall more points.
That all sounds great, but some may be asking, "What about our defense? Will that improve or could it get even worse?" For those thinking this question, that is why Dell Demps hired Darren Erman. If you are not aware of just how good of a defensive coach Erman is, here is a succinct but telling quote from Rajon Rondo who was considered one of the best defensive guards in the NBA not that long ago.
"He’s the best guy in the league to me as far as scouting reports," Rondo said. "I call him Baby Thibodeau. Thibs is the best at it, to me, defensively. He’s the best defensive coach I’ve ever played for. (Erman is) pretty much a miniature Thibodeau."
To be referred in the same pedigree as Tom Thibodeau is a pretty big deal, but besides the accolade, Erman has the record and reputation to back it up.
Just a reminder, last year the Pelicans went 45-37, good enough to take the 8th seed in the ultra-competitive Western Conference. Many like to point out that last year’s playoff berth did come as the result of Kevin Durant missing a total of 55 games and Anthony Davis hitting an amazing game winner against the Thunder. However the Pelicans were not without their own significant injuries: Anthony Davis missed 14 games, Ryan Anderson and Eric Gordon missed 21 games, and Jrue Holiday missed a whopping 42 games!
With all of the players slated to start the season healthy and several traditional powerhouses, the Trail Blazers and possibly the Mavericks, going from an annual dark horses to longshots of making the playoffs, at best the Pelicans should make another trip to the promised land. So, now that I have covered the main differences in the team from last year to this year, let’s project exactly how many wins better this team will be.
Taking a look at the schedule, the Pelicans play 40 games against teams that had losing records last season. In 2014-15, the Pelicans went 26-14 against this tier, but I feel there is reason for optimism. As in the team will win 33 of those games this time around.
I couldn’t decide between 30 and 35 so I cut it down the middle and rounded up, seems reasonable to me. Honestly, though, among the top 6 teams in the West last season, they averaged 33.7 wins against teams with sub .500 records. With the Pelicans looking likely to break into this elite group, 33 sounds just about right, no?
The remaining 42 games are against .500 records or better. However, four of the games this upcoming season are against the Portland Trail Blazers who are a significantly worse team on paper than last season. I give the Pelicans a clean sweep against them and their win total now stands at 37.
That leaves the Pelicans with 38 games against the .500 and above teams, however that shouldn’t scare anyone seeing as how the Pelicans finished a respectable 19-23 against teams with winning records last season.
Taking a closer look at these remaining 38 games, 18 of them are in New Orleans where they posted a 28-13 (13-7 against .500 and above teams) record which means there is a home court advantage in place. Let’s say the Pelicans win a similar percentage of home games against .500 and above teams so add another 12 wins.
The Pelicans win total is now at 49 with 20 away games left and all of them against .500 and above teams. On the road, the Pelicans seemed to struggle posting a subpar 17-24 road record (6-15 against winning records). In keeping with this bar, let’s just pencil in the Pelicans winning 6 of these remaining 20 games.
The grand win total stands at 55 wins. At first glance, this may seem a bit high, and it just might be. Don't forget, though, that this is a Pelicans’ blog article, so optimism is welcome. It's not irrational to assume the Pelicans are due in the injury department, or if the team improves in the manner that I stated earlier. Heck, maybe the entire organization gets the opportunity to ride on the back of a Unibrow-MVP season.
I repeat, none of this is completely unrealistic, but for argument's sake, let's consider this a soft ceiling for the Pelicans. If the chips fall right, they could do this well, but it's understandable for naysayers to take a few steps back, say to around 50 wins this season.
So as of August 13, 2015 (when I wrote this article) I, Jason Albert, officially predict that the New Orleans Pelicans will go 52-30 (assuming we stay relatively healthy).
I guess we’ll have to wait and see! Let me know what you all think in the comments section below. Is 55 too high? Is 50? Will they even get back to 45 wins? Or will they surpass all of these expectations and hit the NBA title contender, home court advantage number of around 60 wins???