In their latest power rankings, ESPN projects the Pelicans to finish 8th in the Western Conference next season. As of today, what odds do you give New Orleans of making the 2019 playoffs? Are you more optimistic or pessimistic and why?
Jason: More optimistic
I think the eighth seed projection is a little low for the Pelicans. The team seemed to come together after the injury to DeMarcus Cousins and adding a guy like Julius Randle should only propel that playoff roster. Overall, I think the Pels will finish in a similar spot as last season, so depending on a game or two, I predict they will finish between the 4-6 seeds. Hopefully New Orleans can build on the first round sweep last season and push closer to the Conference Finals.
Kevin: More optimistic
The West kind of got better, but they also kind of didn’t.
Golden State is Golden State, but Houston got worse by losing Luc and Ariza — and they may be in even worse shape once they add Carmelo Anthony. Portland is definitely worse than they were last season. OKC is likely better, but they also were already above the Pelicans so that’s a wash. Utah is probably as good as they were last season. We improved upon the roster that we had in the playoffs. San Antonio will be radically different so it is hard to say how good they will be — though I believe 7th in the West is probably were they are again. Minnesota is poised for a letdown with in-fighting, bad rotations and Derrick Rose being prominently featured. Denver is interesting, but I’m not ready to say they are better. The Clippers should be better, yet I don’t think they are good enough to be penciled in as a playoff team. The Lakers obviously added the best player this offseason, but Michael Beasley can only carry them so far — obviously I’m joking, but while they certainly seem like a playoff team, I’m not ready to say they leapfrog the Pelicans into the top 5. Memphis could be a playoff fringe team if healthy, but I still think Dallas is a year or two away.
Chris: More optimistic
I give them a 60 percent chance of getting into the postseason. I think another year under Gentry and good health will benefit New Orleans. They played well down the stretch last season and really appeared to mature collectively.
My biggest fear with possibly losing DeMarcus Cousins was not getting anything in return; however, getting Julius Randle was more than anyone could have imagined. Losing Rajon Rondo hurts, but from a regular season perspective, it’s overrated once you remember the amount of games he didn’t close or played limited minutes altogether.
I believe that the leadership and mental basketball lessons will stay in many areas. Rondo brought the best out of many Pelicans players last season. Now the training wheels are off, and I think they’ll be up to the challenge.
Preston: More optimistic
Anthony Davis is a truly transcendent player, and with Jrue Holiday’s confidence fully restored, the sky is the limit for a team that possesses these two young studs. Nikola Mirotic is poised for a breakout season, and anything Julius Randle can add to the table will be almost considered lagniappe when paired with those three.
At this point, the Pelicans’ ceiling is likely a 6th seeded finish once more, behind the Warriors, Rockets, Thunder, Jazz, and Spurs, but they will have every opportunity to improve via trade over the next six months.
David: Less optimistic
I think just making the playoffs will be a challenge again. The West is tougher than it was last year, and let’s not forget New Orleans didn’t lock up their spot until the final week. Will playing fast all season long be too much to ask of Anthony Davis, especially if he’s playing more center? Can Jrue Holiday keep his torrid level of play up again? My hope is the commitment to defense makes the Pelicans a difficult out every night. My worry is the margin for error is tiny and a team that got more than its fair share of close wins last year might need even more this season.
Zachary: Less optimistic
I’m giving the Pelicans a 35 percent at best of finding the playoffs in consecutive seasons. I don’t know when New Orleans basketball has ever been so arrogant to just assume a playoff spot in a Western Conference that’s as competitive as it’s ever been, but here we are. On the one hand, the Pelicans were a game out of third in the West — yet were also two games from missing the playoffs. And the Lakers just happened to add LeBron James. By my count there’s at least 11 playoff caliber teams in the West. Whether New Orleans makes the cut remains to be seen.
Oleh: More optimistic
With memories still somewhat fresh of the 2015 playoff exit and two poor subsequent seasons, fans are cognizant of how things can go so wrong in New Orleans after envisioning a future that held so much promise. That said, if the Pelicans can avoid a mind-numbing number of key injuries, I find it difficult to pick against them of making it back-to-back playoff runs considering they’ve added to last year’s surprising playoff group.
Anthony Davis is probably the best two-way player in the league and he’ll be flanked by more legitimate two-way cats than he ever has had the privilege of playing next to in his career: Jrue Holiday, Nikola Mirotic and Julius Randle. They’re all young and are built to play in Alvin Gentry’s system. And if the role players, including E’Twaun Moore, Ian Clark, Darius Miller, Elfrid Payton and Solomon Hill, can complement this core, and the Pelicans get some unexpected production out of Frank Jackson, Cheick Diallo or other guys towards the end of the bench, New Orleans will be the deepest team Dell Demps has ever assembled.
Yes, I understand that the competition in the West has improved, but it doesn’t take away from the advancements New Orleans has made. As long as Davis and Holiday supply the requisite leadership, the Pelicans are built to play close to 48 minutes a game in the manner that ripped through C.J. McCollum and Damian Lillard last April.
Travis: Less optimistic
The question about optimism/pessimism is almost completely unrelated to whether or not this team will make the playoffs for one reason: the playoff race in the West will be like no other we’ve seen in recent years.
So many teams got better, including the “bad” teams like Lakers, Mavericks and even Suns. There may only be three real “locks” to find the postseason: GSW, Houston and OKC. After that, it’s a real bloodbath. Like last year, where the Portland Trail Blazers were the 3-seed but didn’t *FEEL* like a traditional 3-seed, this year will see bunched-up Western squads separated by a handful of bad bounces, ill-timed injuries or 3-game shooting slumps. So, I feel great about the team, generally, but do realize that even a successful season could see the Pels miss the playoffs. 50-50 chance!