The New Orleans Pelicans are now finally getting it together.
There are plenty of positive signs, and no longer must this writer scour through the box scores and clips of blowouts attempting to piece together “silver lining” type articles.
Just last night, Anthony Davis came out and absolutely dominated the young Minnesota Timberwolves in a 117-96 win, showing there is a lot more Timber-puppy before this team can be billed a legitimate threat.
The same may not apply to New Orleans much longer, as people are waking up to the fact this team can play some serious basketball. It is not the one-man team it appeared to be as Davis carried all the weight through its rough 0-8 start.
And the best is likely still to come, with Tyreke Evans and Quincy Pondexter returns on the horizon. Once fully healthy, this Pelicans team may be better than the iteration that made the postseason in what seems like ages ago (but was really just two years ago). Lost in all the hype surrounding Karl-Anthony Towns is that Davis is still the league’s best big man, and perhaps that is not going far enough?
Let us take a look at four takeaways from the Pelicans win over the Minnesota Timberwolves, starting with the most audacious.
1) Anthony Davis is the league’s most dominant big man in nearly two decades.
Anthony Davis must have read the NBA GM poll. He may have even heard “NBA Twitter” and its incessant hyping of Karl-Anthony Towns and the Timberwolves.
Davis came out on what seemed like a mission to dispel any talk that Karl-Anthony Towns is the league’s best young big. A.D. dominated Wednesday’s game, though Gorgui Dieng drew the defensive assignment for most of the night.
Davis had already amassed 26 points in the first half on 10-of-15 shooting, and then added another 13 points in a third quarter which saw the Pelicans really run away with the game. He finished the game with 45 points and 10 boards while knocking down 17 of 27 from the floor. It was his 10th 40-plus point game of his career and his third this season already.
Dieng’s defense was actually good, but Davis proceeded to hit tough shot after another, digging into his entire arsenal of post moves and drives. He even knocked down some triples. There really was no prescription for what Davis was doing, and even when he drew Towns on switches, he punished the Timberwolves.
In a cringe-worthy moment, he dove into the stands to ignite another transition opportunity which was part of a 10-2 run to open the third quarter. Thankfully, he walked away unharmed.
Davis’ skill set has to be considered the best of any 4/5 in recent NBA history, and he could be the first big man to lead the league in scoring since Shaquille O’Neal — a full 17 seasons ago. Whether that translates to an MVP award or not is tough to say because the Pelicans are still just a 6-10 basketball team.
On the other hand, since Jrue Holiday’s return, New Orleans is 4-0 and has won 6 of its past 8. The playoffs are by no means out of the picture with the No. 8 Portland Trail Blazers maintaining just a two-game edge not even one-quarter of the way through this season.
2) Jrue Holiday’s defense adds just as much as his playmaking.
Jrue Holiday has added a lot to the Pelicans offense, but what seems to be going somewhat ignored is the defensive impact he has made since his return. Though a 6’4” point guard, he drew the assignment of small forward Andrew Wiggins for large tracts of the game.
Guess who struggled mightily?
Holiday funneled Wiggins into defensive pressure, forced tough shots, and by and large shut down a guy who has already recorded a 47-point game this year. Last night Wiggins was 2 of 19 from the field and unable to get much of anything going at all.
Holiday has long arms, but what really keys it is his anticipation. He seems to be a step ahead of even quick guys like Wiggins, because Holiday’s lateral foot motion is probably even more impressive than his quickness or end-to-end speed. What may be best about it is that Alvin Gentry has ignored positions a lot and simply put the best five performing players on the court together.
It is a pretty simple notion that tends to accelerate good basketball.
3) Tim Frazier is absolutely a part of this team’s future.
Honestly, I felt the return of Jrue Holiday was nothing but bad news for Tim Frazier. But that has not been the case at all. Frazier has only played even better with more talent alongside him in the backcourt. This is a fantastic development, as it seemed apparent that you just cannot leave Frazier off the court after the start he had. Sure, the Pels began the season with eight losses, but to lay any of that blame on Frazier would be ill-placed and absurd.
Frazier has such a great set of point guard skills, and his changes in direction and hesitation dribbles open so much up for Davis (and Terrence Jones/Omer Asik) inside. He also is still dialing up the triple, which is nearly a requisite in today’s NBA. Frazier was on the court during the Pelicans’ huge third quarter run, showing that this team can be at its best with him at the helm.
Given how well Holiday adapts to various assignments, it may be that the best option for a starting backcourt is, in fact, Timmy and Jrue.
4) Buddy Hield must stay aggressive and confident.
So, this season has not started so great for one Buddy Hield. There are various theories floating around as to what could alleviate his struggles, but the simplest seems the best here (Think “Occam’s Razor,” I suppose): He is simply in a shooting slump.
Sure, it happens to coincide with a major leap in competition in coming to the NBA, but the game will slow down for Hield and a lot of the shots he has missed have been quality looks that we are used to him hitting, at least looking at his great collegiate performances.
Shooting is probably the most translatable skill (even more so than rebounding), and it should be just a matter of time before Hield gets it together.
The thing is, with the Pelicans now starting to win games and Tyreke Evans soon returning, the pressure that was placed on Buddy from Day One (see: Vegas’ favorite for Rookie of the Year) can fade and he can go back to being a rookie.
Yes, he is a Wooden Award winner and a lottery pick, but he still is going to take some time to adjust to the pace of the NBA and if Hield does not really come on until year two, don’t count yourself as one of the ones who simply said “Bust,” this early. Patience is a virtue, and it is not as though we are talking about a guy who lacks talent. Keep yo’ head up, Buddy.