Which player has surprised you the most in the early goings with his contributions for the Pelicans?
Kevin: No one
Is it fair to say no one? I was kind of expecting what we are seeing from each individual. No, seriously.
Chris: Nikola Mirotic
After scoring 30 plus in back-to-back games, Mirotic showed the NBA world that last season was not a fluke by any stretch of the imagination. Then coach Alvin Gentry sat Mirotic for several important minutes in both matchups against the Clippers and Brooklyn. The amount of wing quickness presented by the opposition to go with Mirotic’s predictable permitter struggles defensively proved a tough matchup.
How did Niko respond? He only put up a quick 15 first quarter points on his way to a team-high 25 in Saturday’s loss against the Jazz.
Niko’s early aggressive offense has been a refreshing sight for a team looking to be much more balanced than just the duo of Anthony Davis and Jrue Holiday. But Niko’s performance against Utah was about resilience through a rough patch. I knew Mirotic could play and will eventually help New Orleans win many games, but it’s hard to think anybody imagined this type of start for him.
Jamile: Elfrid Payton
I knew he could pass, but entering the season, I feared the supercharged pace of the Pelicans could lead the young guard in committing more turnovers. To my surprise, Payton has handled the challenge well, playing with a poise beyond his years. Defensively, just his larger presence causes opposing guards into mistakes and his rebounding — at nearly six a game — has been a real benefit to the team.
Payton has also been really efficient at getting to rim and is hitting 43% of his three point attempts. We’ll see if the long distance shooting is sustainable, but the rest of his game looks like something he can contribute on a nightly basis.
Preston: Elfrid Payton
We knew what Julius Randle would bring, but Payton has been the revelation, especially on the defensive side of the court. We all know about his measurables and his ability to defend one-on-one, but he seems fully bought into the team’s defensive concepts, minimizing James Harden and Chris Paul to a dizzying degree in the season opener.
We must give Payton the benefit of the doubt in the performances against Brooklyn and Utah, where he was badly exposed but also performing at well less than 100% health. Instead, focus on his big-time three-ball against the Clippers and his wonderful care of the basketball (two turnovers per game) in Alvin Gentry’s fast paced attack.
Charlie: Jrue Holiday
Honestly, Holiday’s offensive drought has surprised me more than anything. I fully expected us to be discussing All-Star Jrue a few weeks into this season after watching an offensive game similarly seen during his playoff run. His defense has been intoxicating, as usual, but his jumpshot is off and the sublime feel around the rim seems a bit out of place. Oh, I’m sure he’ll get there, but I was expecting something closer to how Niko just took off like a rocket coming into the season.
Oleh: Nikola Mirotic
A case can actually be made for a number of Pelicans, but my choice is the one so many figured would make for good trade bait because he was an expendable piece on New Orleans roster in their eyes.
Niko is off to a fantastic start, averaging 22.7 points, 9.5 rebounds and 3.0 three-pointers through the first six games of this season. Playing next to Anthony Davis and Jrue Holiday and then competing for shots with Julius Randle, E’Twaun Moore and scorers off the bench, one would have assumed Mirotic’s numbers were destine to slink off into some dark corner. Instead, he’s 19th in the league in points per game, 22nd in rebounds and tied for 9th in made threes. Best of all, who hasn’t enjoyed watching his passion, his energy and how he tries to maximize every ounce of athleticism in his body to grab a rebound or hustle after a loose ball??
Travis: Anthony Davis
It’s hard to say that AD surprises anymore, but I’ve always been a little suspicious of his playmaking, dribbling and passing. Those three parts of his game are all getting more exposure this season and he’s been a one-man wrecking crew and possible MVP — he can pass out of double teams, rebound and run, and is a real shot-creator when there’s nothing else going on. His defense is locked-in and his timing on blocked shots and other deflections is impeccable. All in all, his game has fully rounded-out like so many of us dreamed about over the last six years.