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AD’s health, team defense and DeMarcus Cousins top most pleasant surprises of 2016-17

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It wasn’t an entirely disappointing season for the New Orleans Pelicans.

NBA: New Orleans Pelicans at Utah Jazz Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports

Despite a 34-48 record, the New Orleans Pelicans had quite a few positives emerge this season. Name the most pleasant surprise or theme to emerge from the 2016-17 campaign. (It can revolve around an individual player, reflect upon part or the whole team, be the implementation of a new coaching strategy, anything!)

Jason: New additions to roster

As I have said, I think the best part of the season was the new pieces New Orleans added over the course of the year. Cousins is a superstar talent, Jordan Crawford will win 6th man of the year next season (you heard it here first), Quinn Cook is a nice bench guard on a minimum contract, and I love what I have seen in the few minutes that Chieck Diallo has played.

Kevin: DeMarcus Cousins and Anthony Davis tandem

Easily, this is the Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins pairing. It may never win a championship — and I loathe the championship or bust mentality — but it will producing winning, fun and meaningful basketball. It will force other teams to change their style of play and rosters to counter what New Orleans puts on the court.

Isaac: DeMarcus Cousins and Anthony Davis tandem

NBA: Portland Trail Blazers at New Orleans Pelicans Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

The best trend was surely the Fire and Ice alley-oops. Without a doubt, Demarcus Cousins' vision has the potential to unlock the floor for Anthony Davis unlike anyone has before. In just a short stint, the chemistry clearly developed. Going forward, high-lows and four-five pick and rolls could be unstoppable in the era. Although plenty of pundits in the national media have hinted otherwise, I saw no rift between Boogie and Brow. Maybe that was reflected by Cousins' pleasantly surprising lack of technicals in a NOLA jersey.

David: DeMarcus Cousins and Anthony Davis tandem

Trading for DeMarcus Cousins has to be the answer here. The Pelicans have two top (15? 20?) players in the NBA. That's actually a thing! The best front court pairing since Tim Duncan and David Robinson played together for the San Antonio Spurs resides in the Crescent City. Even better: mere months and not a decade plus separate the two in age. If it really works, this could truly establish basketball in New Orleans.

Zach: Anthony Davis health

My most pleasant surprise was Anthony Davis' health. The biggest bugaboo surrounding Davis was that he was as fragile as they come and it was hard to not buy into the narrative. Coming into the year, the most games Davis had played was 68, but he topped that number with 75 and it could have been more. Had the Pelicans been playing for the postseason in games 81 and 82, Davis would have been out there. I always knew AD was capable of playing more than 60 games a year, but I had to see it happen to confirm it. Like thinking there's a woman out there for me, you know?

Oleh: Team defense

An identity was born inside the Smoothie King Center, one many didn’t believe possible with Alvin Gentry at the helm. The Pelicans finished with the 9th-best defense (104.9 DRtg), a significant improvement upon the 28th-rated calamity witnessed one season earlier. The addition of stout defenders in Solomon Hill and E’Twaun Moore, Jrue Holiday and Anthony Davis taking another step forward in their development, and going to a heavy switching scheme, all played instrumental parts. Gone were a lot of the breakdowns witnessed in years past plus it was notable the defense remained just as stingy once DeMarcus Cousins joined the starting lineup. Well done, Darren Erman.

Brett: Jrue Holiday’s defense

NBA: Houston Rockets at New Orleans Pelicans Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

Jrue Holiday emerging as a multi-positional lockdown defender was something new. He either did not defend at this level prior in his career, or he simply is doing it at new positions, but his defense particularly against Andrew Wiggins and other larger opponents was eye-brow raising. Speaking of Brows, could the Pelicans become an elite defensive team despite some struggles? With so many good individual defenders, it is not something that should be counted out.

Ryan: Jordan Crawford’s impact

I really enjoyed Tim Frazier at the beginning of the year, but to finish the season he was meh. His scoring ability still needs to improve a lot if he wants to remain a pertinent guard in this league. Jordan Crawford, on the other hand, was a HUGE boost for the Pelicans, someone that can score in bunches. He is exactly what the bench needs going forward.

Travis: Team defense

The best trend is the defense. I saw plenty of games and the defense didn't *pop* out to me, but the numbers bear out a big improvement from last season. Another is just time: Solo, Moore, AD, Jrue and others spent a lot of time together this year, hopefully working out the kinks. I consider the first 20 games of 2017-18 to be some of the most important in franchise history... here's hoping the team defense and time spent together will equate to a hot start next season.