The New Orleans Pelicans currently have an even record of five wins and five losses, but judging by the reactions of many following Saturday’s narrow victory over the Bulls, the play has largely been unacceptable — especially of late.
Is that the right take?
Since dismantling the Cleveland Cavaliers, the Pelicans stumbled down the stretch against the Orlando Magic, lost a nail-biter to the Minnesota Timberwolves and squeaked out wins in Dallas and Chicago — home of two of the worst teams in the association.
During the team’s recent slide in performance, Anthony Davis hasn’t stopped flying high. For the most part, DeMarcus Cousins has contributed famously, too. But as for the rest of the roster, they’ve been as inconsistent as one could have ever imagined possible.
Jrue Holiday hasn’t knocked down a single three-pointer in four games now, and his play within individual games continues to waver between extremes. After a solid October, E’Twaun Moore has gone missing in November. Ian Clark’s shooting touch has been on hiatus even longer, and Dante Cunningham, well, let’s just say there’s no one who would welcome pushing the reset button on the season more.
Still, despite all of these negatives, the team is 5-5 through the first ten games of the schedule. Need I remind anyone of the outsets witnessed the last several seasons?
To kick off the 2016-17 campaign, the Pelicans started 1-9. The season before... another 1-9. Basically for two straight years, it was over before it began. Yet here we are, listening to or reading similar comments about the team not being good enough, about another season headed for abject failure.
Hey, it could all still turn out that way. Things have a habit of going south in New Orleans. Since the Pelicans last postseason berth, circumstances have constantly gone awry, with detrimental injuries and disappointing play leading the way.
In Chicago, events were ripe for the turmoil to continue. Cunningham, Holiday and Moore combined to make just eight shots out of 28 attempts and Boogie couldn’t get anything going for most of the game. Yet after the final buzzer sounded, the Pelicans were walking towards the locker room with victory in hand.
Before you can run, you’ve got to learn how to walk first. Before you can put forth a Golden State Warrior type of effort on a nightly basis, you’ve got to first figure out a way to just be better than your opponent on a given day.
The Pelicans could have folded when they were trailing 64-57 at the start of the fourth quarter, but instead they found a way to pull out the win. With the main cast running on fumes, several unlikely heroes came up big: Darius Miller and Jameer Nelson.
Miller, who had fallen out of the rotation for his lengthly streak of non-contributions, drilled two key three-pointers to ignite the rally. And Nelson, who had failed to make an impact the previous four games, was dynamite, sealing Saturday’s win with a cold-blooded three.
During the waning moments of the home opener against the Golden State Warriors, DeMarcus Cousins glanced at surrounding teammates and uttered, “Ay, we good.” — as in we’re a good team. Despite eventually falling to the champs by a 128-120 margin and starting the season 0-2, the positive frame of mind was something new.
As we’ve seen since, the Pelicans aren’t as good as they thought they were during the first week of the season — well, they haven’t proven it yet. There’s been too many individual subpar performances, too many stretches of where either the offense or defense collapsed for too long of a period. Simply put, the bipolar tendencies have been far too prevalent.
But at the same time, there’s been hopeful glimpses. Saturday night witnessed Miller and Nelson rise to the occasion. In previous games, Holiday, Moore, Clark and others have sprinkled in tiny specks of fairy dust. The role players haven’t been a dumpster fire 100% of the time.
The stats also add some support. The Pelicans currently have a net rating of zero. That’s not good, but at the same time, not bad — it’s as average as you can get. After ten games last season, New Orleans net rating stood at -7.4. The previous season, -10.3. Sorry, but those figures compare woefully to the here and now and most certainly do not scream, “Here we go again!”
For three straight seasons, injury and other factors have shortchanged New Orleans out of the gates. Yet despite not having a third of their roster (Rajon Rondo, Solomon Hill, Frank Jackson, Omer Asik and Alexis Ajinca), they’ve managed to start the 2017-18 campaign four wins ahead of the pace of the last two seasons.
Look, the Timberwolves loss wasn’t good and these recent wins against the Mavericks and Bulls shouldn’t inspire anyone; however, keep in mind that with Davis and Cousins on board, the Pelicans don’t need much from the rest of the roster. Unfortunately up to this point, they haven’t gotten much of anything at all, but are you willing to bet the house that’ll continue? That a 29.3 FG% reflects Cunningham’s real potential? That Holiday is going to finish the season with a 22.5% three-point shooting percentage? That the injury list is going to exceed twitter’s limit of 140 characters?
Despite being shorthanded in every game so far — and thus forcing the team’s core to play an uncomfortably high number of minutes, the Pelicans were within five points of the Warriors rather late, had a chance to knock off the Trail Blazers without any assistance from Davis in Portland, and may have been a Tony Allen layup away from beating the Timberwolves.
It’s true the Pelicans haven’t beaten a team with a winning record yet, but that observation doesn’t begin to tell the whole story neither. This squad is sitting at a .500 mark in the standings, although injuries and underperformance have run rampant since the regular season began.
Seriously, how can you say with any certainty that the glass is either half full or half empty?