With wide-ranging expectations entering the 2017-18 season, all things indicate the New Orleans Pelicans are probably about what they will be, when this season reaches its conclusion.
Perhaps of all the voices here at The Bird Writes, this one has waxed the most negative, or realistic, depending upon your take on my logic over the acquisition of DeMarcus Cousins and new era of Pelican basketball.
Never have I sounded an alarm that New Orleans was on the verge of contention. Rather, since the beginning, it has come with a foreboding warning that the Pelicans may have stacked the deck at two positions, but have done little else to secure much more than a mediocre outcome to the 2017-18 season.
It is a team replete with deficiencies, wrought with internal errors, and flat out missing components.
Perhaps some of these are all too easy to highlight. New Orleans does hit 10.2 threes per game at a team-wide 34.3 percent clip and averages 108.7 points per game, but what excuse does the team have for its surrendering of 110.4 points per game? Only the Phoenix Suns defend worse of Western Conference teams. The Pelicans can point to their overt defensive woes before ever diagnosing the real issue: the lack of a small forward.
A recent tweet echoed that loudly, saying the Pels would be a 50-win team if Robert Covington simply occupied the 3-spot. It is actually hard to argue against that, but productive three-and-D swingmen do not simply land in the laps of every team. The Pels, instead, are more frequently going smaller, with E’Twaun Moore and Tony Allen seeing time at both wing positions as the Dante Cunningham experiment has seemingly failed.
Does that sound like a winning combination at what should often be a team’s most versatile productive position? Look at the fact that the best player of each respective Finals team was a small forward (Kevin Durant and LeBron James), and the fact that even having someone like Rudy Gay would make this Pelicans team better.
There is simply too much mediocrity on the wings to overcome the talent deficiency, and Davis nor Cousins is enough to balance that out, to be sure. The Pelicans may be 9-8 in the standings, but they have a negative point differential and it is unclear where any major sources of improvement can be derived from.
A healthy Rajon Rondo could help, but he just as well could proliferate some of the shooting problems, because he is a career bricklayer. Rondo also seems a bit on the washed up side. Perhaps all I am doing now is stating the obvious.
The point is, the Pelicans are not disappointing. They are not underachieving. This is the end result of a team that lacks balance and is some unique experiment, fortuitously driven by one trade that acquired Cousins at the low cost of a struggling Rookie Buddy Hield and spare change. However, the Pelicans desperately needed the inside-outside combo that Cousins and Hield could have brought.
Even if it is not to be through Hield, the result now should be that the Pelicans get more shots from supposedly their strongest wing player — Jrue Holiday. He is taking 13.2 per game and connecting on 46 percent from the floor, but to balance some of the strong play in the post, Holiday needs to do more. There is the issue of his 22 percent three-point shooting, obviously, but Holiday needs to be a bigger part of the Big Three than previously.
It seems as though I’ve done it again: I’ve stated all of these obvious things that Pelicans fans already know, and still some are going to counter that I am, indeed, still waxing too negatively. It is just that I have never been sold on the Cousins-Davis pairing, as exciting and tantalizing as it can be just to watch. Sometimes it is more than just how good a team is on paper, how exciting it is, but what it actually all equates to, when considering that the game is played 5-on-5.
The Pelicans are not a well-balanced team and they lack perimeter threats that inspire much confidence. The role players will have their nights of scoring well, but the Pelicans need an elite wing player to pair with their All-NBA bigs to be more consistent on a nightly basis. If that doesn’t happen, the Cousins era will likely end in what some call disappointment, but that is only because expectations were simply too high to begin with.
Sorry to be the bearer of bad news.