We’re just past the quarter mark of the season schedule and the Pelicans are hovering right at .500 — with precisely the same record witnessed one year ago. Has your outlook changed, and if so, for better or worse regarding where this New Orleans team finishes come season end?
I don’t think it’s changed, though that expectation feels somewhat stunted — like picking up smoking at eight years of age or something.
I previously believed we’d hit the ground running instead of limping, especially after the first four games; however, season’s are certainly waves with lots of peaks and valleys. While there are troubling trends like high turnovers, poor half court sets, allergies to setting screens and a complete lack of boxing out, some of those should start correcting themselves and others will be over compensated for with talent, athleticism and hopefully some improved effort.
There is certainly at least one move for Dell to make, if not a couple of small ones to improve the roster, and as the deader weight at the end of the bench gets turned into contributors, that can be counted upon to also help steady the ship.
My outlook hasn’t really changed, however, the Pelicans need to figure some things out pretty quickly.
It has been a roller coaster season, but the highs of this team have been higher than almost any team in franchise history. For a few games, they looked like a giant version of the Warriors, then in the next few, more like a giant version of the Suns. Of course injuries have played a big role, but I think we would have been pleasantly surprised over the first 20 games had the starting unit remained intact. My suspicion is that their record would be much better, but of course that’s not the world we live in.
Here’s the funny thing: I would have never dreamed this possible before opening night, but New Orleans misses Elfrid Payton, badly. He really took the coaching staff’s schemes to heart by executing the desired strategies wonderfully. In addition, his size was a nice bonus on the defensive end working next to Jrue Holiday. Unfortunately, it seems the Pelicans will at least need a stop gap until Payton returns. This is kind of a bummer because it would be great if Dell Demps could concentrate all of his trade chips on adding a desperately needed wing defender/shooter with size. Now, he may have to burn at least some chips on a veteran backup point guard.
One of the things I’m oddly happy about early on is the failures of Ian Clark and Darius Miller. They have failed to step up when this team has needed them. Don't get me wrong, it’s not that I’m actively rooting for disappointment, but at least now we know for sure that they cannot be counted on for the future. Regardless, New Orleans will have to continue treading water in the standings until the front office either makes a move, or the team organically improves. Believe it or not, I do still think a top 4 seed remains a possibility.
Preston: Changed for the worse
The Pelicans sit two losses behind the Mavericks currently, but in all eventualities will probably leap frog one of the Mavericks or Grizzlies, who have both been a pleasant or detrimental surprise based on your preference. However, the Kings, Spurs and Jazz loom just one win behind, and the Rockets sit just two games to the rear of the Pelicans. In the grand scheme of things, New Orleans doesn’t need to scoreboard watch, but their inconsistencies have made what looked like a slam dunk all the more questionable.
Riding high off of the 2018 postseason performance and with the acquisitions of Julius Randle and Elfrid Payton, the Pelicans were supposed to find stability and race out to an early season lead on their fumbling counterparts. Instead, New Orleans remains stuck in the middle of the pack after losing some winnable games (New York, Washington, OKC, Philly), and showing general malaise with or without Anthony Davis’ presence on the floor. The turnovers have been a troubling addition, as has the lack of action and movement, but the general empathy on the defensive end has bothered me the most.
The Pelicans should get a boost upon Payton’s return (likely at the end of the month), but the disengaged mentality and lack of responsibility (remember the locker room evasion) really puts into question the leadership on this team. With Payton in tow, the team may not miss Rajon Rondo, but we have yet to see anyone truly seize the leadership role in his absence.
Charlie: Changed for the worse
This Pelicans team has lacked discipline and energy night to night and quarter to quarter. It’s unclear to me whether this development is a leadership issue, coaching problem or a combination of the two, but the team is all too often flat out of the gates and has to rally.
The injury issues through the first quarter of the season have shown just how thin the roster is and how reliant it is on Anthony Davis and Jrue Holiday to do a lot. Even with Payton’s return, the team is a twisted ankle or knee bruise to any of their core six away from being outside the playoff picture and continuing to flounder in the standings.
Changes are needed before the trade deadline to both stabilize the roster and bolster the energy around the franchise to maintain their rightful playoff positioning.
Prior to the season, I had the Pelicans pegged for around 45 wins. Just looking at the Western Conference last year and seeing the improvements that teams made during the offseason, it just seemed logical that wins were going to be harder to come by. While I didn’t anticipate this kind of start, I haven’t yet been convinced to adjust my thoughts.
At their best, the Pelicans belong in the top 4 out West, but they aren’t at their best today. Right now they are like most of their peers, hoping to put together a couple of significant stretches of good play to leverage into momentum heading into the postseason.
Five and a half games separate 14 of the 15 teams in the Western Conference. In other words, it’s anyone’s ballgame, so the New Orleans Pelicans can still maintain realistic expectations of a finish towards the top half of the playoff draw.
While some view the current record negatively — sitting with an 11-11 record and tied for ninth, I feel the uneven start will pay dividends. We’ve already seen the best and worst of the Pelicans this season. That’s important because the front office has time to address the issues well before the trade deadline. Had untimely injuries or disappointing play largely waited to occur until the final third of the season, it would have been difficult to make adjustments.
Through 22 games, New Orleans is well aware of its identity, what works and what doesn’t. The coaching staff knows how to get the best out of their top scorers. The whole organization knows what role players are best suited to play alongside their core and who on the roster is useful to that cause and thus who is not.
As long as injuries to key personnel do not remain an issue all season long, I’m fairly confident this Pelicans team will find their stride again and be able to make the necessary push up the standings.
The expectation is that New Orleans makes the playoffs and gives a higher seed a run for their money. Or perhaps that is just my assumption. Was anyone really expecting more than that logically though?
Anthony Davis and Jrue Holiday are great together, but it is going to take adding another legitimate star to what is already on the roster, to push this team over the proverbial edge. Davis still doesn’t have a second-fiddle, and the DeMarcus Cousins experiment failed, as this particular writer warned everyone it very well might. Not always is it a matter of simply adding a mega talent, but actually, it matters which player it is. Specifically so, even.