All week Sports Illustrated is releasing their top 100 players in the NBA. Monday led things off with numbers 100-51 and three different New Orleans Pelicans found their way onto the list. Tyreke Evans leads the way at No. 58 with Jrue Holiday nipping at his heels ranked 59th. Further down the list Ryan Anderson appears at No. 72 sandwiched between Paul Pierce (71st) and Danilo Gallinari (73rd).
The entire list is a fascinating look into how two expert NBA writers, Ben Golliver and Rob Mahoney, rank players throughout the league. Be sure to check out their methodology as well to peel back the curtain into how decisions up and down the list were made. Let's dive into what these writers had to say about each Pelican.
Ryan Anderson - 72 (Last Year - 59)
The NBA’s court-spacing revolution is well underway—so much so that teams around the league have already made tactical responses to the influx of sweet-shooting big men. Anderson was among the prime targets of that response. At minimum, the rules in terms of when and how to help off of Anderson have evolved over the years and differ from most power forwards. Some teams task wing players to guard him and live with the results. Others are forced to adjust their rotational schemes to the reality that Anderson’s defender otherwise might not be able to help and recover in his usual cadence. Regardless of the specific tactic, the fact that the NBA at large has widely adapted its defensive practices to account for players like Anderson provides him with a nightly challenge.
For that reason, Anderson is more effective on some nights than others. Certain opponents can find ways to scheme Anderson out of his normal rhythm without sacrificing the base structure of their defense. That he requires that kind of attention at all says something of his capability. Anderson might not have the diversity in his game to respond consistently across a variety of coverages, though the fact that he’s a threat from distance who can contribute as a screener and offensive rebounder gives him a certain standing import.
Jrue Holiday - 59 (Last Year - 50)
Sadly, Jrue Holiday received almost as much television airtime during the Women’s World Cup, as he cheered his wife Lauren to gold, as he did during the Pelicans’ brief playoff appearance. Injuries are a bummer like that. After earning 2013 All-Star honors in Philadelphia, the 6’4" point guard has appeared in less than half of New Orleans’ games in each of the last two seasons due to ongoing leg injuries. In fact, Holiday’s injuries have been such a frustrating hang-up that the Sixers were reportedly fined $3 million by the NBA for not properly disclosing them to the Pelicans prior to the trade.
When Holiday, 25, was on the court last season, New Orleans posted a 108.8 offensive rating that was equivalent to third-best mark in the NBA. He is an experienced pick-and-roll practitioner with good size, a quality jumper and the ability to break down a defense for drive-and-kick opportunities. Coupled with the continued exponential development of Anthony Davis and the arrival of coach Alvin Gentry, his return to health has the potential to turn the Pelicans into a real juggernaut.
Even better, Holiday brings values both ways: he possesses the size and foot speed necessary to handle all types of defensive matchups, he’s particularly attentive on the ball, and he has a knack for forcing turnovers. Davis’s rapid ascension to MVP candidate form makes it that much harder to remain patient during Holiday’s absences. The potential for something pretty magical to come together is sitting right there, if only Holiday can get back in the game (and stay there).
Tyreke Evans - 58 (Last Year - 84)
Tyreke Evans plays as if there is a tractor beam pulling him towards the rim at all times. Unfortunately, the basketball is always a part of this magnetic tug, and that’s where he gets into a few problems. "Attack mode" is his way of life, whether he’s running the offense out of high pick-and-rolls, isolating against a defender on the perimeter or taking off in transition. Standing 6’6" and thickly-built, the 25-year-old Evans prefers risking the possibility of a low-percentage shot in traffic, an offensive foul, or a wild runner in hopes that his forays will exhaust or overwhelm defenders and create quality inside-out looks for his teammates.
That approach worked fairly well last year, on balance, as Evans stepped into greater ball-handling and offense-initiating responsibility after the loss of Jrue Holiday to injury. Although Evans is hardly a natural point guard, he’s comfortable with the ball in his hands, and his downhill style makes him a constant threat in pick-and-rolls. It wasn’t always pretty and it was occasionally frustrating to watch: his locomotive approach left him making just 52.9 percent of his shots in the basket area, he struggled more than most to finish plays in transition, and he never grasped that he was one of the NBA’s least reliable clutch shooters while teammate Anthony Davis was one of the NBA’s most reliable. Despite his blinders, Evans led the Pelicans in assists and he was one of just six minutes-qualified players in the NBA to average 15 points, five rebounds and five assists in 2014-15. This wasn’t empty stat-stuffing: New Orleans finished with a top-10 offense and the Pelicans’ offensive rating improved by 6.5 points when he took the court. As an emergency back-up plan, Evans as lead guard worked out swimmingly.
Holiday’s expected return brings serious questions for Evans, who has started for the bulk of his six year career but was used primarily as a sixth man during the 2013-14 season. A return to the bench makes sense for a number of reasons. First, Evans isn’t the world’s most sophisticated defender, although he is zealous on the ball, and Holiday grades out much better on that end. Second, Evans and Holiday are both used to having the ball, so it would make sense to space their minutes to avoid redundancies and keep a lead guard in the game at all times. Finally, Evans isn’t much of an outside shooter, so trying to play him off the ball alongside Holiday isn’t ideal from a spacing standpoint, especially if Eric Gordon is available.
Perhaps new coach Alvin Gentry, who arrives from Golden State, will view Evans fitting into an Andre Iguodala-like role that would give him free reign over the second unit and put his play-making ability to greater use. If that’s how it plays out, look for Evans, who won the 2010 Rookie of the Year award in Sacramento, to be in the discussion for the 2016 Sixth Man of the Year award.
Feedback here is in line with many Pelican fans opinions on these players, including my own. Jrue Holiday appears to have the higher upside between himself and Tyreke Evans, but the issue of durability severely muddies the waters. While reports are that Holiday will have his minutes limited early on who starts later in the season could be up for significant debate. Ben Golliver wrote the blurbs for both Holiday and Evans.
Rob Mahoney did the legwork on Anderson and chose not to delve too deeply into Anderson's defensive limitations. If the game was only played on offense Ryno would rank much higher. Injuries surely play a large part in the drops by both Holiday (minus nine) and Anderson (minus 13) in these rankings. The health and conditioning of both Holiday and Anderson are expected to play a large role in just how successful the Pelicans will be this season. On the flip side, Evans staying on the court combined with the sheer volume of his workload on the court contributes to his 26 slot climb.
Further down both Eric Gordon and Omer Asik find themselves on the outside looking in. Both projected starters appear on the snub list. While Anderson's one way utility maintains a slot in the top 100 the limitations of Asik (offense) and Gordon (defense) keep them from the top 100. Sports Illustrated will be releasing the top 10 on Thursday, where we assume Anthony Davis will make an appearance.