January started off as what seemed to be a make or break month for the New Orleans Pelicans. It appeared that the Pelicans roster would be fully healed and that the brutal part of the schedule was behind the Pelicans. Unfortunately, the Pelicans just didn't appear excited to play basketball.
Where Ya At?
After an exciting win against the Dallas Mavericks on the road, the Pelicans suffered maybe the most frustrating loss that I can remember as a "Pelicans" fan (not counting any Hornets losses). The team lost to that same Dallas team, minus FOUR of their starters, and at home. The morass of that loss would follow the Pelicans for the next two weeks as they dropped games against the Indiana Pacers, Los Angeles Lakers, and L.A. Clippers all in a row.
The Pelicans would get back on track with a super duper long home-stand that saw them go 6-1 to finish out the month. The Pelicans still finished the month with an winning record going 8-6, however, in the context of who they played, the Pelicans should have gone 10-4. Much like the win against the OKC Thunder in December of last season, that loss against Dallas at home may go on to define the Pelicans season.
The Pelicans schedule gets tougher to start February, with games against Memphis Grizzlies, San Antonio Spurs, and Cleveland Cavaliers. After the All-Star break, however, the Pelicans schedule eases up with games against teams such as the Philadelphia 76er's, Minnesota Timberwolves, and the Washington Wizards.
In all honesty, the East Coast trip, which sees the Pelicans play the Detroit Pistons and Washington Wizards, probably determines whether the Pelicans have a winning month in February. If the Pelicans can win those two games, they should go 7-5 in February.
One important date to note is February 18th is the NBA trade deadline. I don't expect to see the Pelicans make a move until they are right up on the trade deadline, which is normal. Typically, GM's hold their assets until the trade deadline because that's when they have maximized in value and when the opposing teams are most desperate.
At this point, the Pelicans hold probably the hottest movable asset in the NBA in Ryan Anderson, however, I don't think the Pelicans will move Ryan Anderson. Ryan Anderson is as much of the face of the Pelicans franchise as any player. I fully expect the Pelicans are planning to re-sign Ryan Anderson both for business and basketball reasons.
Nonetheless, the Pelicans are one of the more likely teams to make a trade deadline deal. The Pelicans are rumored to be actively shopping Eric Gordon and Omer Asik. Other teams have reportedly called about Jrue Holiday, Tyreke Evans, and Ryan Anderson.
I doubt any of those players are actually traded however. The player to watch in trade rumors for me right now is Alexis Ajinca. He is making about 4.5 million dollars a year but is the 5th big when the Pelicans have all of their players available. 5th bigs tend to make the league minimum, and Ajinca only played about 10 minutes a game in January.
Despite his low minutes with the Pelicans, Ajinca is still a relatively talented center on a good contract. Consequently, he is one of the few players the Pelicans could move in one of Dell Demps' famous my junk for your junk trades. I think Ajinca and Philadelphia's 2017 2nd round pick for Maurice Harkless is the framework of a deal that makes a lot of sense for both teams.
Portland doesn't have a true grit and grind 7 footer on their team and trying to develop one through the draft could take years. Plus, they get what is essentially a late 1st round pick as compensation for giving up a young player. On the flip side, the Pelicans can add a young wing player to a team desperate for young perimeter talent.
In any individual season there are a ton of sub-plots to look at in each game. The Pelicans are no different. Even with the Pelicans more developed roster, there are few things Pelicans should be looking forward to seeing improvement in for the month of February.
The most important thing I have seen progress in January was Anthony Davis' ability to pass the ball out of the double team. Anthony Davis is a star. Part of being a true NBA star means you will get double teamed habitually, if not every night. The easiest way to get around a double team is to be able to pass the ball. Though, that can be hard for big men in the NBA.
In January, it appears Anthony Davis realized that he has to start passing the ball more. Davis averaged more than one more assist per a game than he did in December, going from 1.4 to 2.5 assists per a game. When AD consistently makes the pass out of the double team, teams will stop doubling him, and one on one AD is as close to you can get as unstoppable.
The next big development in the month of January is the play of Jrue Holiday. In January, Jrue Holiday averaged a 6.9 net rating (how many points he accounted for both with his offensive and defensive play). In comparison, his October net rating was -23. The play of Jrue Holiday has been the most revolutionary thing to happen to the Pelicans recently. If he can continue his All-Star caliber play, the Pelicans have a good shot to make the playoffs.
In contrast, Norris Cole has started off the season poorly and not much has changed. Though Norris Cole is shooting better of late, in terms of Real Plus Minus (RPM) on the court, he ranks among the worst players in the NBA. Despite that, Alvin Gentry continues to play him a lot of minutes, even though Tony Douglas has proven to be a more consistent and all around better option. Only time will tell if Gentry will relent in his play of Norris Cole.
As a result of the injuries to Eric Gordon and Tyreke Evans, Bryce Dejean-Jones not only got signed to an NBA team, he is starting for the Pelicans. BDJ is no doubt hungry, his hustle on the boards, collecting 9 rebounds against Brooklyn, has been a breath of fresh air. His intense effort makes it easier for Gentry to keep him on the court. BDJ has also been fairly productive as a starter, shooting 40% from 3-pt range and collecting 5.5 rebounds. Still, that was against the Kings and Brooklyn Nets, it is worth reserving judgement on his NBA credentials until we see him against better talent this month.
Right now it's hard to see what the future holds for the Pelicans. By February 18th, we should have a clearer picture of what the Pelicans leadership has in mind for this organization. Until then, we will just have to look, wait, and see.
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