The New Orleans Pelicans have two supremely talented NBA players on the roster in Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins. In the coming days, much will be written on how teams with such talent should, or always have, made the playoffs. Our own Oleh Kosel has been teasing this work in recent podcasts.
Whoever you ask rates Davis and Cousins highly. Sports Illustrated’s Top 100 puts AD at 8th overall and Cousins at 23rd. ESPN’s NBA Rank is even more optimistic with Davis at 6th and Boogie at 17th. NBA 2K18 has Davis (7th) and Cousins (8th) both in their top 10.
Yet, all of this should come with a caveat. The Pelicans have defied history before. Before Anthony Davis, 36 NBA players made First Team All-NBA twice or more in their first five seasons in the league. Every single one won at least one playoff game in that span. Davis, the 37th, is the first player to fail to accomplish the feat.
Davis just finished his fifth season and was named first-team All-NBA for the second time. He's the 37th player in NBA history with multiple first-team All-NBA selections within his first five seasons but the only one not to have won a single playoff game over those first five seasons.
New Orleans teams accomplishing the seemingly impossible, such as losing a playoff game by a record 58 points or blowing a 20 point fourth quarter lead, is a hallmark of the franchise. Their ineptitude with a star like Anthony Davis already occupies an undesirable place in the history books.
This summer was full of Saints fans expecting the team to defy the prognostications of the media and make a solid run into the playoffs for the first time since 2013. Investment in defense, a second year for defensive coordinator Dennis Allen, and the expectation that their health luck just had to be better, buoyed fans’ optimism.
Instead, they again sit at 0-2 (for the fourth consecutive season) with a defense that has allowed over a thousand yards and has yet to create a solitary turnover. Cornerback Delvin Breaux is out with a misdiagnosed fractured fibula, two players (DT Nick Fairley and recently acquired long snapper Jon Dorenbos) are out with heart conditions, and both projected starting offensive tackles were out against the New England Patriots. Shockingly enough, good luck need not immediately follow bad luck. You’d think those who were also Pelican fans and have bet on injury luck turning at any moment now would have better perspective.
I’m sure if you research NFL Hall of Fame quarterbacks still producing at the rate Drew Brees does on a weekly basis you’d be hard pressed to find one who missed the playoffs (six times in the last ten seasons included three straight) as frequently. Some may use that as evidence that Brees is overrated, as I’m sure other NBA fans will be tempted to do should a pairing of Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins fail to make the playoffs.
I do not believe that Brees, Davis, or Cousins are overrated. These are not individual sports and even hall of fame quarterbacks or superstar big men need help. Once again, there are questions as the Saints resort to undrafted free agent cornerbacks and the Pelicans fish for legitimate rotation players on the wing. Roster construction and salary cap management continues to be a question on both the football and basketball sides of the operation.
It may be unprecedented that a team as talented (at the top) as the New Orleans Pelicans fails to make the playoffs. Don’t take it as a guarantee. They’ve accomplished the impossible before on Airline Drive.