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New Orleans Pelicans have started the 2017-18 season with their heads above water

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A 6-6 record is right in line with most expectations, yet there’s a chance better things could be ahead despite a more fearsome upcoming schedule.

NBA: New Orleans Pelicans at Miami Heat Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

The New Orleans Pelicans are off to a 6-6 start this season, which as one would expect, puts them smack dab in the middle of the NBA standings and a number of key statistics. But before lamenting about the fact a .500 record screams average, realize the start to this season represents a vast departure from the previous years witnessed under Head Coach Alvin Gentry.

In 2015-16, New Orleans was able to muster just a lone victory in their first twelve games, and last season, the Anthony Davis-led roster began 2-10. Six wins against six losses should suddenly seem like a big step forward, especially after considering eight of the completed games on the schedule have come on the road.

It’s obviously early, but let’s have a look at the Western Conference standings.

http://www.espn.com/nba/standings

Honestly, there’s only one glaring surprise here — the Oklahoma City Thunder. After many had predicted the combination of Russell Westbrook, Paul George and Carmelo Anthony to finish second in the West behind the Warriors, the Thunder are off to an uninspiring 4-7 start. Personally, I think they’ll be fine in the long run because this isn’t the first time three high usage players have struggled to meet expectations at the outset. Right, LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh?

Anyways, getting back to the Pelicans, the first twelve games failed to give onlookers a useful read on what to expect going forward. The team beat up on the bad squads — as any good team should, yet they managed to score only one victory (Cavaliers) in six tries against the top 16 of the NBA Sagarin ratings.

There’s sizable risk of New Orleans being just an average team, that they are what a lot of the early season indicators seem to echo. However, there is something significant to cling on to that gives rise to the hope they may be capable of achieving greater things in the future.

The Pelicans starting group of Jrue Holiday, E’Twaun Moore, Dante Cunningham, DeMarcus Cousins and Anthony Davis has been one of the league’s most effective lineups. Among five-man units who have appeared in 100 minutes or more, New Orleans starters rank sixth.

NBA Stats

This is particularly impressive because Holiday, Moore and Cunningham have been rather pedestrian in far too many games and the same can be said of the bench. For whatever the reason(s), the players around Davis and Cousins have struggled to provide consistent production. Thankfully, the supporting cast has shown signs of life in recent games, but there is something more tangible worth mentioning — reinforcements are on the horizon.

Dynamite, All-NBA talents rarely have trouble posting typical numbers in nearly all circumstances, but the same cannot be said of role players. Their jobs are to notice and fill in certain gaps. And when injury strikes, it’s akin to throwing a monkey wrench into well-intended plans.

When Solomon Hill, Rajon Rondo, Alexis Ajinca, Frank Jackson and Omer Asik couldn’t be counted on to start the regular season, consider the chain reaction.

  • Holiday, who was penciled in to be the team’s starting SG, had to move back to point, a position that was already thin before injuries struck.
  • E’Twaun Moore’s presence was needed in the starting lineup to make up for Holiday’s transition.
  • Dante Cunningham was forced into not only a starting but much larger role, as Darius Miller started slowly and Tony Allen needed time to improve his conditioning.
  • With Cunningham required to spend a large amount of time at SF, Cheick Diallo was thrust into the third backup big role.

The domino effect was real so it’s not a complete mystery as to why so many of the Pelicans role players struggled out of the gates. Fortunately though, improvements have been noticeable of late, so an increase in comfort levels may be at work, but even better, the team’s floor general is expected to return in about a week.

That’s perfect timing because New Orleans is staring at a lot of tough Western Conference matchups on the schedule in the next thirty days. Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins have often carried the Pelicans with MVP-like performances, but as we’ve witnessed in a lot of the close losses to good teams, they’re going to need a little more consistency on a regular basis from the rest of the bunch — which is entirely conceivable once Rajon Rondo returns to action.