On Friday the New Orleans Pelicans held a far different media day than we’ve been accustomed to since Anthony Davis arrived. Luster has clearly been lost as the national media has moved on from “The Brow” to a new young darling big man from Kentucky; Karl-Anthony Towns. Dell Demps did not discuss playoffs and players did not predict a massively improved defense like last fall. Instead, the focus was on the process.
If you’ve followed the NBA for the past four years that concept has many negative connotations.
“Trust the Process” was the fan cry of the Philadelphia Sixers behind then GM Sam Hinkie. The first real transaction of that process, trading Jrue Holiday to New Orleans for the draft rights to Nerlens Noel and the Pelicans 2014 first round pick (eventually Elfrid Payton), links these two franchises who took far different approaches to building a contender. Dell Demps had a trump card already in hand with Anthony Davis. Hinkie was set on acquiring one (or, preferably, two or three) such trump cards of his own in Philadelphia and planned on losing at nearly historic levels to increase the possibility of drafting such a star player.
Now, four full seasons into the Anthony Davis era in New Orleans, Demps is trying to re-calibrate the direction of the franchise and the expectations of success for those on the outside. Las Vegas has already done its part, putting the Pelicans over-under at 36.5 wins, the lowest since Anthony Davis was a rookie slated to start with Greivis Vasquez, Eric Gordon, Al-Farouq Aminu, and Robin Lopez. That loaw number was set before we learned that Quincy Pondexter would not be available on opening night to join Tyreke Evans (knee) and Jrue Holiday out of uniform. 36.5 is beginning to seem on the high side.
Tim Frazier, Buddy Hield, Langston Galloway, and E’Twaun Moore will form the backcourt rotation unless a roster spot is created for Lance Stephenson. That’s a guy who was in the D-League last March, a rookie, and two expected reserves if you’re keeping track. League average PER is 15.0; none of guards available have eclipsed that number in an NBA season. Lance Stephenson came the closest in 2014 when he posted a 14.7 PER and led the league in triple-doubles with five.
Alvin Gentry’s system is conducive to point guards posting impressive stats, look no further than Ish Smith last November or Tim Frazier to end the season. However, those numbers did not result in victories. There’s also a reasonable concern about how these pieces will fit together. Both Frazier and Hield appear to be negatives on the defensive end. A starting lineup of Frazier and Moore might work but creating shots off the bench with Langston Galloway at point may prove difficult. How much will that set back Buddy Hield’s development? Should the Pelicans instead take their lumps and start both Frazier and Hield to get Buddy the looks he needs even if the overall team suffers?
Here we will see how much the organization truly believes in the process. Developing Buddy Hield and putting him in the greatest position to succeed should be high on the list of priorities. Are both Dell Demps and Alvin Gentry willing to increase the chance of losing games (and possibly their jobs) for the future health of the franchise? If the past is used as a guide, the probability of that happening is rather low.