Better than the Philadelphia 76ers. That’s the extent of the good news NBA power rankers delivered on Monday. The New Orleans Pelicans were expected to struggle without the services of Jrue Holiday (family), Tyreke Evans (knee), or Quincy Pondexter (knee) to begin the season. I even expected Alvin Gentry to feel his seat warming up in August immediately after the schedule was released.
But, like it or not beginning the season 0-6 (these power rankings were written before the loss to the Golden State Warriors) with Anthony Davis in the lineup every game raises questions. The defense, which is least tied to Gentry and reasonably considered a product of newly players and Associate Head Coach Darren Erman, has improved significantly (if we believe DRtg with this sample size, we probably shouldn’t) compared to last season. It is the offense, where Gentry bakes his bread, that is failing New Orleans.
Like last year we have to ask if the hole is going to be too deep. Yes, Jrue Holiday and Tyreke Evans are expected back in the coming months (if not weeks if everything continues going well with Lauren Holiday’s rehab) but it could be for naught. The Pelicans may find themselves so far under .500 that instead of battling for a playoff spot all the return of Holiday and Evans accomplishes is limiting the value of a lottery pick.
And to think the season is just two weeks old.
Last Week: 29 - This Week: 29
The Pelicans switched up their starting lineup (moving Omer Asik to the bench) last week, but remained winless with bad defense (against Milwaukee on Tuesday), bad offense (in Memphis on Wednesday) and bad execution down the stretch in all three of their games. One minor bright spot has been the back-up backcourt of Langston Galloway and Buddy Hield, which finally made some shots last week. The other reserve guard - Lance Stephenson - went down with a groin injury and had to be waived so the Pels could sign Archie Goodwin.
Last Week: 26 - This Week: 29
After three more losses last week by a combined 11 points, with two of them coming in overtime, before the depressing dispatch delivered late Saturday to announce Lance Stephenson needs groin surgery, we're truly not sure what to say in this space. Yet another source of woe: The Pels wound up next on the schedule for Golden State after each of the Warriors' losses so far. It's just too soon in the schedule for the basketball world to be feeling as sad as it does for Anthony Davis.
Last Week: N/A (Were 24th to begin the season - This Week: 29
The Anthony Davis experiment is not a totally mangled one, but at this point—a definite low for the franchise—it’s never been clearer to see where things went wrong. Davis is averaging 30 points, 11.7 rebounds, two assists, two steals and three blocks, and yep, you guessed it—no player has ever done that before for an entire season (thanks, Basketball Reference). And yet the Pelicans are winless through six games.
For this to happen, "historically good" generally has to meet "historically bad." Though New Orleans has hit awful luck with Jrue Holiday away from the team and Tyreke Evans hurt, there’s no ignoring how close a stronger Pelicans team could be to competing, thanks to Davis showing up fully-formed. And so, predictably, this is what superstar limbo feels like. Tim Frazier has been a nice find. There’s little else to supplement, with Omer Asik and Alexis Ajinca plodding around the paint again and key off-season signing Solomon Hill struggling to contribute at all.
So, tough sailing is ahead. You can point to bad contracts and poor drafts and Davis’s frustrating bill of health, but the fact remains that the Pelicans still aren’t anywhere near competing, and they’re still paying for their mistakes—trading Robin Lopez, a competent starting center for the possession–eating Evans, dealing a first for Holiday, and cluttering the backcourt. More contracts come off the books next season, sure, but there’s little infrastructure built to convince a free agent of substance to sign on.
Patience is a virtue, but New Orleans rushed its evolution with Davis, and now it will have to wait. They tried to buy the house, not build it. Davis, in the meantime, would like to remind you who the best young big man in basketball is. C’mon, Dell Demps.
Last Week: 28 - This Week: 30
The Pelicans somehow managed to land as the Warriors' opponent after both of their losses. As if they needed more things to go wrong. This team is wretched. When you find yourself saying "Man, losing starter Lance Stephenson to injury is devastating" you have hit a new low.