Has it only been a year since the New Orleans Pelicans were the darling of the NBA? Just last October the Pelicans found themselves in an enviable position, the hottest young commodity around the league. Anthony Davis was the en vogue pick to win the MVP, Alvin Gentry was going to unlock AD’s full potential, and routine trips to the playoffs were on the horizon.
Before the season began last year New Orleans was ranked no lower than 11th in the NBA Power Rankings I tracked. They finished the season ranked between 25th and 27th. Computer models were not as bullish as most Pelican fans in 2015, but still put the franchise easily into the playoff picture. Win projections stuck between 43 and 46 wins. Not the substantial increase fans expected thanks to the coaching change, continuity, and the hope for improved health, but not a disaster either.
Instead we were served a heaping pile of disaster. A train wreck into a flaming dumpster. 30 wins. Injuries almost too numerous to count. General Manager Dell Demps remade this team during the off-season adding Buddy Hield, Cheick Diallo, Solomon Hill, E’Twaun Moore, Langston Galloway, and Terrence Jones while saying goodbye to Eric Gordon, Ryan Anderson, Kendrick Perkins, and Norris Cole.
Computer models? Unimpressed.
Five Thirty-Eight’s CARMELO projects 35 wins, down from projecting 46 last year. Andrew Johnson’s PT-PM model puts the Pelicans win total at 37, minus eight from last fall’s 45 win projection. Nick Restifo, like Johnson a writer at Nylon Calculus, uses a model based on RAPM and projects 39 wins in New Orleans, down from a projection of 46 last October.
Are there teams each season who dramatically over-perform expectations? Absolutely. But, that Portland Trail Blazers example in your mind is more misplaced than you might believe. Five Thirty-Eight put the Blazers win total at 39, Nick Restifo had them at 38 wins, and Andrew Johnson’s model suggested 33 wins. The Las Vegas over-under total for the Blazers was a paltry 26.5 yet every model was confident Portland would hit the over. They did to the tune of 44 wins and their third consecutive playoff bid with Damian Lillard.
Keep checking back in as we continue to prepare for the Pelicans season, tipping off this coming Wednesday.