Hey, remember when Dell Demps was heard talking about “the process” instead of the playoffs on media day?
“I think all the teams in the Western Conference right now are setting goals to get to the playoffs. I think right now what we’re going to focus on is the process. That process is going to be our daily work: focusing on our defense, making sure we’re doing the right things — playing hard, playing smart, and playing the right way.”
The message was heard loud and clear, so much so that only one out of our six participating writers dared to project the New Orleans Pelicans finding the 2017 postseason.
Predict where the Pelicans will finish in the Western Conference and briefly explain your reasoning.
Jason: 7th or 8th
The Pelicans did a great job adding solid depth at the wing — probably as a result of multiple seasons of injury from Jrue Holiday, Tyreke Evans, and Eric Gordon — but still lack the second superstar required to compete in this league. (Fingers crossed Buddy Hield eventually yields those results!)
That being said, the Western Conference is not as deep as it has been in recent years, and Anthony Davis now has some competent two-way players alongside him and coming off the bench so he doesn't have to average 35 points a game for New Orleans to be a winning team. I think that the Pelicans will have roughly a 42-40 record and will be the seven or eight seed against the Warriors or Spurs. Yay!
I believe we have a real shot at being 2nd in the Division, but hear me out because it doesn’t mean an automatic playoff berth.
I don't like what Houston has done at all. I know they are destroying planets in preseason, but it reminds me a lot of that Steve Spurrier-coached Washington team that blew everyone out in preseason and fizzled when the real games started. There are just too many injury prone and defensively minus players on that Rockets team for them to be a true force. However, KJ McDaniels finally being unleashed could be a thing.
I'm also skeptical of Memphis. Chandler Parsons has always been overrated in my eyes, and though he is a solid player, his knees would really worry me if I were holding up a foam finger that was stained with Gus' Fried Chicken grease. Gasol and Randolph are another year older and their bodies are seeming to respond poorly to age. Conley is coming off an Achilles injury, which could take some time for him to get back to form from. Also, there's a new staff and an adjustment period.
Dallas invested heavily in a seemingly terrible Harrison Barnes and outside of Dirk, Wes Matthews (if healthy) and their coach have little to fear.
All this said, the rest of the West is stronger. I see the Pelicans finishing in the top third of the league in offense and around 15-17 in defense (which is a huge improvement), but even with this jump, the Pelicans will likely miss the playoffs, landing the 10th spot in the West. However, they should be fun to watch and competitive in every game, fighting for the 8th seed until the final couple of weeks. It's going to be a building block to a real playoff run in 2017-2018. It's Dell's media day process before playoffs mantra.
Out of the playoffs. Sure, I wouldn't be shocked if the Pelicans did make the playoffs. There is certainly talent on this roster, more than many give credit for around Anthony Davis. But, making the playoffs would require a number of things to happen which have not occurred historically.
Players in this organization would need to stay healthy. I'm dubious on this one. Alvin Gentry would need to coach a team with a respectable defense. The last time a team with Gentry as head coach was above league average he was in Detroit, and Davis was six years old. I'm not predicting the Pelicans get ravaged by injuries or that they are one of the worst defensive teams in the league. But, they probably need to have better than league average health and defense approaching league average to let the offense carry them. History tells me that is extremely unlikely.
I expect the Pelicans, Timberwolves and, yes, the Trail Blazers, to find themselves all vying for the final two playoff seeds in the Western Conference. However, the Pelicans will ultimately fall short with a record around .500 in large part because they fail to overcome the early season absences of Jrue Holiday, Tyreke Evans and Quincy Pondexter. The good news is Anthony Davis reclaims the title of one of the best players in the NBA, the defense takes at least one step forward thanks to marked improvement in the intensity category, and Buddy Hield proves to be a more complete player than anyone imagined following a mixed summer league bag.
I think the first 3 spots in the West are set in stone, but after that it's up in the air. Looking at a better case scenario, the Pelicans can easily challenge for one of the final postseason seeds if they can weather the storm while Holiday is out and avoid other cataclysmic injury.
First, here’s how I see the entire Western Conference playing out:
1. GSW 2. SAS 3. LAC 4. OKC 5. UTA 6. POR 7. HOU 8. MEM :::: 9. DAL 10. NOLA 11. SAC 12. MIN 13. PHX 14. LAL 15. DEN
So, a quick scan of the conference leaves me feeling the Pelicans will miss the playoffs again this year. Maybe I’m too pessimistic, but I don’t see enough high-level talent, or depth, at either guard spots. I like Ajinca as a back-up assuming Asik plays better this year than last. The wings have added depth, but like with my earlier points about Tim Frazier, if you’re really looking for Solomon Hill, Dante Cunningham, Quincy Pondexter and Lance Stephenson to dominate their position game after game, you’re kidding yourself.
Now, about the elephant in the room, the injury bugs have already started, which come in addition to the Pondexter/Evans/Holiday problems. Even if everybody WAS healthy, they’re still a collection of positionally-average, supporting cast-types who surround Anthony Davis, who has never played more than 68 games in his four NBA seasons.
Asking everything to come together perfectly is just asking too much; to win 50-something games and make the playoffs, we’d need: MVP-caliber Davis over 70+ games, lots of Jrue sooner rather than later, Solomon Hill career season, E’Twaun Moore career season, legit backup PG minutes from un- or barely-proven Tim Frazier and Langston Galloway, Good Lance, non-bumbling Asik, etc.