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NBA Season Preview: New Orleans Pelicans will go only as far as Anthony Davis takes them

The Bird Calls Podcast, Ep. 154: Four close followers of the team give insight to a number of important questions.

NBA: Preseason-Toronto Raptors at New Orleans Pelicans Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

Meaningful basketball is upon us and we’ve brought in four reporters who cover the New Orleans Pelicans to get their takes on some of the most popular storylines leading up to the 2018-19 season.

Perhaps the most important theme: it’s do-or-die time for the Pelicans. What is the bare minimum to make Anthony Davis happy? Will General Manager Dell Demps and Head Coach Alvin Gentry face real possibilities of losing their jobs? Should AD walk, what’s left to keep the rest of the roster from sticking around?

Actually, come to think of it, aren’t these the same questions facing the team every year?

The Pelicans are no strangers to pressure, so the ever-ascending stakes shouldn’t be of concern, and yet once more, they will have to put up or shut up in a season that could ultimately decide the future of superstar Anthony Davis.

So bring on the questions, the concerns and the storylines because as Oleh’s favorite romantic storyteller says:

“Never forget that anticipation is an important part of life. Work’s important, family’s important, but without excitement, you have nothing. You’re cheating yourself if you refuse to enjoy what’s coming.” — Nicholas Sparks

To help us with these burning questions, the cast of The Bird Calls assembled four of the Pelicans’ beat reporters in a season preview podcast. Here are some of the highlights. Enjoy the full conversation HERE, and don’t forget to subscribe and rate out podcast today!

What were your impressions of the Pelicans’ offseason?

Andrew Lopez of (@_Andrew_Lopez):

”You probably would’ve wanted a little bit more out of that point guard position, but there wasn’t that much of a market and you’re already cash-strapped.”

“Probably a B+ because you have to grade them on what they were able to do. I love the Randle signing, one of the most underrated signings of the year, mostly because of what Julius can do in this Alvin Gentry offense. He fits almost exactly what you want out of an Alvin Gentry big man. You saw the success with DeMarcus in January. Going out on a limb, Julius Randle is not going to average five turnovers a game when he’s handling the ball as Boogie did.”

“For me, you may have wanted to see them unload a deal, maybe Alexis’s contract if he can’t contribute. Alvin told me he’s a month away from possibly contributing. You may have liked to see them get rid of a deal, but you have to like where they’re at right now.”

How much will the Pelicans miss Rajon Rondo?

Will Guillory of The Athletic (@WillGuillory):

”I don’t think there’s any question about that. Rondo was great for this team down the stretch. The way he was able to push Jrue Holiday and Anthony Davis. Those two guys have so much talent, but a lot of times when younger guys haven’t accomplished much, they need those older guys to push them, to show them what it takes to compete at the highest level. I think they learned a lot from him, and they’re hoping they can carry that into this season. The way he watched film and understood opponents really showed them so much.”

How will losing Rondo affect Anthony Davis?

Will Guillory:

”Losing Rondo will not have that big of an effect on AD’s numbers, because he had great numbers before him. He’ll have 28/11/3 no matter who’s on the court. Without Rondo, he wants to improve on grabbing the ball off the rim and pushing it. Be more of a playmaker, a guy who can go coast to coast. One of the few knocks on his career is that so many of his shots come from other playmakers. He doesn’t do as much creating for himself the way that Harden, Durant, and LeBron do. We’re going to see more of that this year. That’s something he really wants to do to draw opponent attention to open opportunities for Jrue and Niko.”

As a basketball fan, it’s hard to know what to look for in terms of preseason performances when your team finishes 0-5. What do you look for?

Andrew Lopez:

”It’s the efficiency when the offense is in. It’s hard to grade the preseason when your star is playing 75%. AD is just not going 100% right now. He made the comment the other day (paraphrasing), these guys know what I’m gonna bring when the regular season comes. He knows “maybe i’m not going 100% right now, but you know what’s going to happen.” That’s why you don’t see so much concern from Alvin when the defense gives up a lot of points. The 23 turnovers against the Knicks, that’s where I was concerned. This is a team trying new things. Cheick Diallo tried three corner threes. That’s not something you’ll see in the regular season.”

Will the Pelicans be able to flip the proverbial switch?

Daniel Sallerson of @DSallerson:

”I’m hopeful they can flip the switch, and I’m confident that they can...I didn’t think the defense was that great, but I also thought there was a lack of intensity, a lack of effort. I think some guys were just going through the motions.”

Following a disappointing preseason performance, should fans expect a bumpy start to the regular season?

Karen Loftus of ABC26 (@KCLoftus):

”I think it is going to be a bumpy start. We’ve seen that in the preseason. The one game to look at is the Raptors game. Coach Gentry really wanted the Raptors game to feel like a dress rehearsal. The starters were gonna get more minutes, sort of the combination of guys was going to be what you’d see in the regular season. They were pushing the pace, which was good, but in that same token, pushing the pace led to more turnovers, miscommunications.”

“There was the good and the bad, and they might carry over into the first couple of games of the regular season as they find out which five will have the best chemistry. Coach Gentry said they have several talented players on the bench, but it’s just a matter of when to piece them in, who to sub them in with, which rotations will work, and that just doesn’t happen overnight.”

Andrew Lopez:

”It wouldn’t surprise me to see them under .500 after ten games. I don’t mean that as a slight. It’s a really tough schedule to start. The one thing I remember when the schedule came out, is that the end of this season is where things really pan out over the last 13 or 14 games. After this opening slate, 4-6, I think is a win. Pels’ fans need to just be patient. Now if they start 8-2, buckle your seat belts.”

What are you expecting from the Pelicans’ bench this season?

Daniel Sallerson:

”I think Julius, Niko, and AD will swallow most of the frontcourt minutes, I’m not sure how many that’s going to leave for Jahlil Okafor, but there are options out there. Who is the backup behind Elfrid Payton? Right now, it looks like it’s Ian Clark. I want to see more of (Frank Jackson). We saw spurts in the preseason. How many minutes do you give him in the regular season?”

Karen Loftus:

”I’d like to see Frank more. From practice to preseason games, I like the kid, he’s fast, he’s athletic, he has a good sense for the game. Yes, he’s young (20), but he’s somebody that can give quality minutes. They need fresh legs, somebody who can push the ball, grab the ball and get it upcourt in two to three seconds. As far as Jahlil goes, i think he’ll be back soon, and he’ll be a role player too.”

Can the Pelicans’ sustain their preseason pace?

Daniel Sallerson:

”They can go just as fast as they did in the preseason. They key is what Alvin Gentry called “organized chaos.” Can they keep from turning the ball over? If they can take care of the basketball, then yeah. All five of these guys are capable of bringing the ball up the court. I think that’s gonna dictate how fast this team goes, as long as they can mitigate their turnovers.”

How will the Pelicans utilize their new three big man rotation?

Andrew Lopez:

”That’s the biggest storyline is how they can make this three big man lineup work. We’ve seen him (AD) with so many different big men, he can make it work with anybody. But how will the other guys fit in? Those guys are so dynamic offensively, they’ll find a way to make it work. They’ll get enough spacing to find areas to create, but the biggest question is defensively how can they remain solid enough to keep those guys from being targets?”

Daniel Sallerson:

”I don’t think there’s a bad lineup, it’s a bit of a pick your poison. It gives you a ton of options, and now you can sit Anthony Davis a bit more.”

How can the Pelicans upset the Rockets on opening night?

Daniel Sallerson:

”Transition defense is gonna be huge. The teams the Pelicans have played have been running just as fast as they have. James Harden and Chris Paul like to run. It’s so cliché, but live-ball turnovers need to be cut down tremendously. Finally, another cliché, don’t get off to a rough start. The Rockets can get off to a 10-0 run and suck the life out of you in the Toyota Center. You have to hope they can flip the switch.”

Will Guillory:

Chris Paul and James Harden create such great shots for their teammates. The Pels are so great at attacking the paint, but the Rockets will trade those twos for threes. The Pels might start to force the issue. That game, in particular, will be interesting to see Randle and AD and how they attack that lineup with those two.”

Will the Pelicans make the playoffs?

Karen Loftus:

”They’re definitely going to make the playoffs. We know what they’re up against in the Western Conference. it will not be an easy path. They have a lot of talented players, for sure, but are these guys around him going to fit? Will the chemistry be there? I think that has yet to be seen.”

What will become of Anthony Davis by season’s end?

Karen Loftus:

”He’s putting pressure on himself. He wants to be the best, he wants to prove he’s the best. He wants to win in New Orleans and he wants to do it this season.”

Andrew Lopez:

”He will sign the supermax extension. The question becomes, who does he sign the supermax extension with? He’d be leaving $60-70 million dollars on the table if he left in free agency or waited for a trade next year. They need to just show him that they’re moving in the right direction. His family loves it here. He’s a quiet guy. The biggest thing he’s going to try to do with this change in agents is get more endorsements. His biggest endorsement is Red Bull. The only time I’ve seen him in a commercial is a Mobil One oil commercial. He’s been on a SportsCenter commercial or NBA2k, but he needs to expand his profile. Could he make up that extra money in endorsements if he went to Boston? Probably, but if they’re going in the right direction, I think he’s gonna stay here.”

Thank you so much to our four guests! Make sure to follow them on twitter:

  • @DSallerson
  • @KCLoftus
  • @_Andrew_Lopez
  • @WillGuillory

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Geaux Pels!