The New Orleans Pelicans, winners of four of their last five games, are on the move up the standings. With most of the core group together again and E’Twaun Moore expected back for Satuday’s matchup against the Timberwolves, how much faith do you have in New Orleans of finding a way into the 2019 playoffs? Do you believe they are easily one of the better teams in the West when fully healthy?
It seems to be the same story every year with this team, no? Haha, I know better, but I’m feeling deja vu: Get off to a slow, sub .500 start, the national media heads write the Pelicans off, and then all of a sudden the team begins to gel and makes an unbelievable playoff push.
I have very little doubt that the Pelicans will get hot in the second half of this season and make the playoffs as a strong 6-8 seed. This team is talented and a threat to win playoff games so it’s just a matter of if they can get hot in the post-season.
Unfortunately, the Pelicans dug themselves a massive hole by not having a quality backup point guard to fill in for Elfrid Payton while he was injured and to help a second unit that struggles to create their own offense get easier buckets when he’s healthy. The Pelicans are currently 20-22 and would have likely won at least a quarter of the games they lost had there been that type of player on the roster.
The West is a blood bath and the East is better than most of us thought so that huge drop off from Payton to Tim Frazier may prove to be too much to overcome. However, if they remain healthy, if Frank Jackson and Jahlil Okafor can continue to provide a spark off of the bench, and if the right kind of trade is made, the Pelicans have a decent chance of climbing the rankings because they do have a lot of talent on the roster.
Chris: More than 50%
When the Pelicans made their run last season, it wasn’t until after the All-Star break. You’d for once like to see a late season surge not mainly place the Pelicans into the playoffs, but in the end you’ll take what you can get. Now that New Orleans is close to registering the healthiest roster we’ve seen since four games in, the real challenge begins. Even banged up, they’ve supplied the second-best offense in basketball, so can the defense answer the call?
Last season it took New Orleans until January to become a good defensive team, as they were average to atrocious in the months prior. And so that trend may continue as they’re ranked 16th in Defensive efficiency here in January — if that number were to stand, it would be their best month of the year.
With another expected addition to the roster soon and some good luck, medically those numbers can possibly improve. The West is a cluttered mess and shall be all year, but NOLA is back healthy at the right time with the competition on the schedule about to turn fierce. When healthy they should be able to compete with pretty much anyone in the West. Either way this upcoming road trip should answer a ton of questions.
This roster, despite its flaws, is one that belongs in the playoffs. The hole that they dug for themselves is deep enough to warrant a significant drop in probability, but this team has already demonstrated an ability to catch fire both this year and last that gives me no reason to doubt that they could replicate that success.
Remember their 10-game winning streak from last February and March? The Pelicans weren’t running the gauntlet by any means, but they got into a rhythm that seemed less like a fluke as the games went by. The offense was firing on all cylinders, averaging 124.9 points per contest. It is true that Davis was in true super-saiyan form throughout that stretch (35.6 points-per-game!), but the best part about having a player of his caliber is that he is capable of ripping off a run like that at any moment. Perhaps this current three-game streak (their fourth of at least that length this season), where he currently sits at 31.3 points-per-game, is the start of just that.
With that said, it would not be fair to call the healthy Pelicans “easily” one of the better teams in the West (assuming that better equates to a top-four seed). That has less to do with the Pelicans themselves than it does with the rest of the conference. Teams like the Nuggets, Clippers and Spurs have thus far been able to consistently demonstrate an ability to maximize their potential, while others like the Warriors and Thunder have enough talent to be impossible to dismiss. I do believe the Pelicans have the talent to separate themselves, but they will have to earn that distinction.
While the Pelicans have looked good when fully healthy, there always seems to be something that prevents this team from winning consistently. I am, however, fairly confident that we won’t see New Orleans losing to bottom feeders any longer, but will be tough for New Orleans to crack the top eight in a packed Western Conference though.
However, while the West is very deep there aren’t as many truly great teams in the conference as years past. With teams like the Lakers and Kings coming back to the pack a bit lately, New Orleans has a golden opportunity to turn their season around if they remain healthy. The wildcard in all of this will be what moves — if any — Pelicans general manager Dell Demps decides to make at or near the trade deadline.
If the team plays well in the coming weeks, it’s possible Demps decides not to rock the boat. However, given the train wreck we saw during the Pelicans recent injury-laden stretch, it would be wise for Demps to at least look at bolstering the depth of the roster. Depending on how any new pieces gel with the current cast, New Orleans could be headed for another late season push similar to last years run after acquiring Nikola Mirotic.
When the Pelicans are healthy, they are the fourth-best team in the Western Conference, trailing just the Golden State Warriors, Oklahoma City Thunder, and Houston Rockets, in my opinion. The regular season success of the Los Angeles Clippers and Denver Nuggets is just that, regular season success. Those two teams have not definitively proven that their top seven players can outduel an opposing team’s top seven in a playoff format when an extended bench provides fewer benefits (with injuries being the exception).
I wrote about how critical health will be for any hopes of keeping Anthony Davis here. The Pelicans aren’t deep enough to sustain even one injury to their main six components and still challenge contenders, especially with the head start they’ve given the rest of the Western Conference. The Pelicans will have to make a move to shore up their depth, or Frank “Ferrari” Jackson and Jahlil Okafor will have to prove their late outbursts are sustainable, and Darius Miller will have to find his aggressiveness on a night-in-night-out basis.
While this may seem alot of ‘ifs,’ it’s what the Pelicans need to keep AD, so we have to believe it’s possible, right?!
I still have faith in this roster when healthy and engaged; the first begets the second in most cases. The Pelicans have a tough road ahead but also have shown no interest throwing in the towel, and should they remain healthy I think will be in every contest until the end of the season. The greatest concerns are health and continuity.
Gentry having his full complement of players to better manage the positional fit of New Orleans’ best lineups should put this team in the upper echelon of the West. There are still holes in the roster, but the development of Frank Jackson and Jahlil Okafor continuing along its current trajectory, coupled with overall health, should place this team in the playoffs and also make them a serious first round upset threat again.
I’d have to put the prospects at no better than 50/50 at this time. At 20-22, a conservative guess would be that the Pelicans can’t go worse that 25-15 from here on out. That isn’t impossible, but there are a lot of difficult games on the schedule and the Pelicans blew a lot of games that they should have won early.
They are 9-9 against the Eastern Conference with 12 games left to play. Nine of those 12 come against teams in the playoff hunt. Fortunately for the Pels, only four of those will be on the road.
The West is even more difficult. Out of their final 28 games against the Western Conference, 16 come on the road, where the Pels are 5-16 this season. They have a winning record against one team in the West (Phoenix). I guess the silver lining is that they can move up since there are so many teams ahead of them.
Sure, New Orleans has as much talent as any team in the NBA when they’re healthy. They are also one of the worst defensive teams in the league. They may talent their way past some lesser opponents, but to make the playoffs, they have to be at least an average defensive team. I’m not sure if they’re committed to becoming that.
On any given day, I feel like my takes are about half as gleeful as those of Preston’s so...
But in all seriousness, I do like the potential of the top six when fully healthy; however, I find it extremely difficult that the key components can remain upright and active for another 40 regular season games.
With that in mind, Dell Demps needs to make a move in order to grant the Pelicans a buffer against further injury mishaps. Landing a viable and contributing small forward and a solid backup point guard could mean the difference between a consecutive playoff berth and Anthony Davis contemplating his future in New Orleans more than ever.