The New Orleans Pelicans season sits at an important fork in the road.
With 31 games remaining, the Pelicans sit four games out of the 8th seed in the loss column behind the Denver Nuggets. Incidentally, four games also separates New Orleans and the Los Angeles Lakers for the most losses in the Western Conference.
The issue is a number of teams sit ahead of the Pelicans and a fifth, the Minnesota Timberwolves, sits right alongside with an identical record. It’s going to take a vigorous charge between now and the end of the season to sneak into postseason play, and a legitimate argument can be made that New Orleans does not have enough ammunition to even remain in the thick of the race.
As I mentioned last month, the Pelicans are not missing games due to injury at a prodigious rate, and if one removes Quincy Pondexter from the total, the team would rank among the healthiest teams this season. Rather, the problem has been that outside of Anthony Davis and Jrue Holiday, the Pelicans are not getting enough consistent contributions from the rest of the roster.
Here's how the New Orleans Pelicans fared during Week 15 of the NBA season (Jan 30-Feb. 5): pic.twitter.com/CFCqBelSn3— NBA Math (@NBA_Math) February 6, 2017
During the Pelicans most recent 3-game road trip, Davis averaged 24.7 points, 13.0 rebounds and 3.0 blocks a game, and Holiday averaged 21.7 points, 7.3 assists and 5.0 rebounds. Only two other teammates cracked double figures in scoring and Holiday’s five rebounds a game tied him with Buddy Hield for the second highest mark during the stretch.
For shame, taller, bigger members of the team!
And for those unfamiliar with the Pelicans troubles, realize the recent issues over the last week have been far from a random blip on the radar screen.
Updated TPA breakdown for the New Orleans Pelicans: pic.twitter.com/Xu5mfmyq2O— NBA Math (@NBA_Math) February 2, 2017
If you ask me, Davis and Holiday are awfully lonely, especially during most offensive possessions. When Eric Gordon and Ryan Anderson skipped town, the thinking was the Pelicans would be fine because Alvin Gentry’s system would provide the necessary boost to the questionably skilled players. After all, a MASH unit comprised of Tim Frazier, Omer Asik, James Ennis III, Alexis Ajinca, Luke Babbitt, Jordan Hamilton, Toney Douglas and Kendrick Perkins were able to remain respectable on offense to finish last season’s horror show.
It hasn’t been the case in 2016-17.
The offense has ranked in the bottom five in offensive rating all year and troubles have really cropped up during the final minutes of close games. The Pelicans own the league’s worst clutch time FG%, second-lowest 3FG% and sixth-worst FT%. Putting the ball through the hoop during the last five minutes of a tight contest has been a chore of epic proportions so it’s no wonder New Orleans has won only 10 games out of a possible 28 nail biters, despite so many supreme defensive efforts.
In spite of an offense that has vastly underperformed all season and downright fallen apart late in most 4th quarters, it’s difficult to imagine the front office wavering from a playoff or bust approach just yet. Although things have not clicked all season, expect management to analyze their standing in the race following the finishes in each of their next six games against the Suns (twice), Wizards, Timberwolves, Kings, and Grizzlies.
This stretch of games are all set to be played before the NBA trade deadline, and it’s not the most fearsome list of opponents. A sub-.500 record over the next week and a half and even the most ardent supporters should start prioritizing next season, specifically looking for ways to infuse the Process with talent from a stocked upcoming NBA draft. However, rightly or wrongly, a momentary heartening 4-2 or better jaunt will probably keep the ship sailing on a course along the rocky shoreline, trying to avoid that one rogue wave.
No, it has not been easy being a New Orleans Pelicans fan for quite some time and some clarity on the issue would be most welcome.