Hey there, New Orleans Pelicans bandwagoners! Glad to have you here — you’re looking at a Western Conference playoff contender for the first time in a few years. This is AD’s best team to date and, after a critical DeMarcus Cousins injury, the Pelicans were forced to change their spots, becoming faster, more fun and more competitive. But if you haven’t seen too many games this year and now find yourself at a friend’s BBQ and don’t know what’s up with the Pels this year...
Guy: Hello kind sir, tell me about these Pelicans of the NBA!
You: What do you want to know?
Guy: Anthony Davis is good, but could be much better and tougher!
You: Well, not really. AD is more than good, he’s great. MVP-worthy and often historic make for a foundational big man and a lock for first team All-NBA this season. He’s been amazing, showcasing new talents every other night, while occasionally bringing you a straight up dunkathon like the one he brought against the Clippers to etch the Pels into the postseason.
Davis can shut down opposing teams drives and shots and, with Jrue Holiday (yes, we’ll get to him below), make the backbone of a strong defensive unit that can turn their blocks and steals into fastbreak dunks and 3s. Basically, don’t worry about him getting “better” again next year — it might happen, as often happens with superstars — because he’s becoming a winner and another in a line of transcendent bigs like Kevin Garnett and Dirk Nowitzki while being as overwhelming as those two combined.
Other Guy: Ok, so that’s our pop hit: AD is great and the Pels are very much improved. What are some deep cuts?
You: How about E’Twaun Moore, Ian Clark, Cheick Diallo and Emeka Okafor?!
- Moore drains 3s in bunches; watch him pull up early in shot clocks. But he’s also a consistent secondary nearly-iso shotmaker in the midrange. The floaters are wet and he rarely has trouble navigating amongst the trees near the rim despite not possessing elite athleticism.
- Clark also hits 3s and draws attention on the arc, but he’s been mostly cold this season — although things are trending upward the last few weeks. However, he makes for that lack of deft outside shooting by scoring in waves in and around the paint area. The former human victory cigar in Golden State is definitely a real NBA player and might help this team’s ceiling if he can get hot a couple times in round 1.
- Cheick is the super young, formerly raw big with hyperactivity and very real skills. Diallo’s shotmaking feels legit every time he goes up from 18 feet. He’s also a guy to get loose balls and generally stir the pot in open floor situations. He went to Kansas for one year and barely played — obviously a “project” when taken in the 2016 draft. The investment looks like it was worth it.
- On the other side of the experience spectrum we have Okafor. Yes, that Emeka Okafor. Played for UConn…? Played even for the Hornets…? Remember? Yeah, he spent four years out of the league rehabbing a back/neck injury! Yikes. Big ups to the guy though, because he isn’t just there for show. He doesn’t need to start, but he definitely knows where to be and has excellent timing on blocks at the rim. Don’t expect much of anything offensively though.
Guy: Alright, so who starts?
You: Well, who are we playing? Lately, it’s Rondo, Jrue, Moore, Mirotic and Davis.
Third Guy: Who’s Mirotic? I thought that was Omer Asik.
You: Nope, different guys. Asik isn’t on the team anymore, keep up. General Manager Dell Dumps masterfully flushed Asik and a future first round pick for Nikola Mirotic at the trade deadline while also getting our own second rounder back from Chicago — proving that if you love 2nd round picks (and with the emergence of Cheick Diallo and promise of Frank Jackson — we all should) let them go. If they come back, they were always yours. The starting lineup has been super hot recently, so they’ll go with that and probably bring in Solomon Hill (back from missing, like, 70 games), Darius Miller (back with the team after a couple years overseas), Clark and Diallo getting most of the minutes off the bench.
Guy: Man, I thought Rajon Rondo and Jrue Holiday were done. Isn’t Rondo an assist-hunter and Jrue’s never healthy?
You: Old news, my man. Old news. Rondo might be the occasional assist-hunter, but hey, that’s a pretty good thing to hunt out. Many metrics surrounding Rondo are iffy, but represent an improvement over what was witnessed in all of his stops since leaving Boston. Yet, he seems to make a positive impact in many, if not most, games — especially since Boogie went down. He finds the open guy, he passes guys open, and throws a ton of alley oops to AD. Also, his value from the bench and in the locker room can’t be questioned — his teammates love him.
Rondo has been another shrewd Dell Demps low-cost gamble, but the guy to talk about is Jrue: he’s been magnificent. Turns out last year’s medical plan of limiting his minutes is working: Jrue played in every game this year but one, and in heavy minutes and expanded responsibilities. He’s been a playmaker, tremendous scorer and ascended to a...what’s a level above elite level defender? He’s been the Pels second best player since the Cousins injury by a mile and, at times, was the second best player even while Boogie was still running up and down basketball floors.
Other Guy: He’s good on offense?
You: Yeah dude! His offensive game is all about deception. He’s so supremely athletic even compared to this league of superheroes that when he blows by guys it looks fluid as opposed to the look of an explosion. He’s more composed. Then, he might jump a half-step earlier than you anticipate — picture Allen Iverson in Phil Jackson’s dress code. A more controlled attack. He’ll go off either foot, going either way and will finish with either hand. His balance and core strength is great. He moves like a supped up version of Roger Federer or something — or maybe even the Silver Surfer (Jrue seems like a guy who would sit on the edge of the cosmos and ponder the wonders of the universe). It’s good to watch.
Defensively, though, is where this really proves its point. Before this season, we knew he was great at stopping ballhandlers. He’s also been great off-ball and has really made a difference by causing turnovers in the form of steals and blocks. There aren’t many guys his size to be that good at both. He’s super good, no matter what style of hair he wears. If you are a Pelicans Twitter aficionado — like myself — you would have already seen Kumar’s (@FearTheBrown) AndNone Mixtape of Jrue making guys look silly.
Guy: I thought this team would stink it up after Cousins got injured. So, they’re gonna get rid of him now, right?
You: Whoa, whoa, easy there, hoss. Cousins had this team chugging along, too. The game he got injured in was likely the team’s climax up until that point that season, a 115-113 win against the #1 seed Houston Rockets. The Pelicans beat good and great teams early in the year, too. This second iteration of this team has been great too, but GMs, coaches and players know they would like to have both Cousins and AD as teammates on the floor. It’ll obviously be difficult and, in a way, historic, if he comes back to around 90% of his abilities. Achilles ruptures are bad. It’s his first major injury of note and he does rely on his driving and playmaking, but has also never exactly been a jumping jack, so maybe he’ll be back in pretty good shape for at least a few years — then add Nikola Mirotic to the mix and Alvin Gentry can stagger three extremely talented and extremely different big men to create all kinds of mismatches and problems! The future is the drool emoji wearing sunglasses.
Guys: Wow, you sure know a lot about the Pelicans.
You: [winks at the camera]