NBA schedule makers were remarkably unkind to the New Orleans Pelicans at the beginning of the season. In their first 19 games they face playoff teams from last season 10 times including the behemoth Golden State Warriors twice and the retooled San Antonio Spurs once.
Of their nine games against non-playoff teams the Pelicans suffer a rest disadvantage three times; on the road against Sacramento and Milwaukee and then at home against the Minnesota Timberwolves. It is not terribly difficult to predict a rough start to the season against these odds.
But wait, there's more! News of Lauren Holiday's brain tumor pushes Jrue Holiday out of uniform for the beginning of the season. Using the reported timeline of an induced delivery in late September then a six week wait until removing the tumor means an early December return to the court for Jrue Holiday is an ideal projection. Alvin Gentry has already said the team does not expect Tyreke Evans to be available at the beginning of the year.
|Date||Opponent||Pelicans Rest||Opponent Rest||Advantage||TV|
|10/29/2016||at San Antonio||SEGABABA||1||Opponent||NBATV|
|11/7/2016||at Golden State||2||2|
Can it be worse than last year's disasterous 4-13 start? Probably not but a legitimate chance of matching that poor first month exists. Many will point to Nate Robinson and Jimmer Fredette as an example of just how bad it was last November. Those players hardly logged minutes. The vast majority of guard minutes were played by Ish Smith, Eric Gordon, Jrue Holiday, and Toney Douglas last November.
Is that quartet honestly significantly worse than Tim Frazier, E'Twaun Moore, Langston Galloway, and Buddy Hield? I don't believe so. There is a massive gap between expectations for Eric Gordon and what he actually produced. Still, Gordon last November was better than reasonable expectations for Buddy Hield in his first month in the league.
From there measuring out the potential impact of the remaining guards to last November demonstrates just how similar the boat is the Pelicans find themselves in. How much better is Tim Frazier than Ish Smith, if at all? Is E'Twaun Moore better than the minutes restricted version of Jrue Holiday? I have my doubts.
The one area of real perceived impact would be Langston Galloway over Toney Douglas; yet Douglas averaged 16.4 points, and 4.1 assists per 36 minutes while shooting 44% fron the floor and 40.5% behind the arc in November. Galloway will find that level of production and efficiency difficult to equal.
Lingering over all of this is head coach Alvin Gentry. While it is unlikely the Pelicans make a move for a new coach during the season his seat will warm up in a hurry. As we saw last year his go-to is insulting the effort of the players when the organization is losing while actually trying to win games. Will he find a different angle with a roster full of high effort, good character guys? Perhaps pull self-deprecation out of the Monty Williams handbook? If not, how will this team react to his motivation methods?
It's no secret that Anthony Davis needs Jrue Holiday. The impact Holiday has on AD's success is dramatic. If New Orleans is going to stay in the playoff hunt Davis must produce at an All-NBA level at both ends; especially until Jrue Holiday returns to the lineup. The perimeter defense will spring more leaks without Jrue at the point of attack abd Davis will be charged with creating shots for himself and others in Holiday's absence.
Can the Pelicans keep their heads above water until Holiday comes back? Absolutely. Placing a ceiling on what Anthony Davis might accomplish is foolhardy. I just wouldn't bet on it.