The Pelicans Without Their Wings

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One of the more pleasant surprises from the previous season, the New Orleans Pelicans, found themselves in the middle of a storm. Standing at 4-13 (as of November 29), they are the second-worst team in the West at the moment, with historically bad Lakers being the worst.

After winning 45 games and reaching the postseason for the first time in the post-CP3 era, the Pelicans were supposed to make a step forward in the powerful Western Conference. Instead, they are already four and a half games behind the 8th spot, with pretty slim chances to recover and do something this year. How the hell this happened when they have an all-world talent in Anthony Davis?

There are many reasons that can explain the Pelicans downfall: new head coach, the decline in some players game, the injury bug, dormancy in free agency, improvement of their key rivals like Phoenix and Utah and really tough schedule.

To tell the truth, if not because numerous injuries that hit the Thunder last season, the Pelicans probably wouldn’t make the playoffs. But even with that in mind, nobody could deny that New Orleans was up and coming force.

Now let’s focus on two main New Orleans’ issues: coaching and injuries.

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After all, it seems like Monty Williams wasn’t that bad coach at all. His successor Alvin Gentry is respected among executives in the league, with a lot of experience as an assistant or head coach in the NBA. He helped the Warriors win a championship as Steve Kerr’s right-hand man. But so far he was awful in New Orleans.

His offensive and defensive sets don’t work, Davis looks like a mortal man once again after putting monstrous statline last year, and Pelicans were a scapegoat for almost any relevant NBA team. To say that their defense is awful would even be a compliment.

According to the basketball-reference.com, the Pelicans are second to last in both points allowed and defensive rating. Basically, they can not defend a wheelchair. It’s even weirder considering that Davis, Asik, Ajinca, Gordon, Perkins and Cunningham are all at least decent defenders.

Three of them (AD, Gordon, Asik) are seeing big minutes and have a great impact on the Pelicans game. At the same time, their offensive rating (Top 10 last year) declined, and now it is in the bottom half in the NBA.

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Maybe it’s too early, but it’s not clear what Gentry is trying to achieve, what kind of system does he want. For now, we can describe his work as insufficient and confusing. With better guidance and balance on both sides, it’s safe to assume that Pelicans would have more wins.

New Orleans is also one of the most injury-prone teams over the last few and this season:

  • Davis has been constantly slowed down by minor injuries.
  • Jrue Holiday is limited to 25 minutes per game, and he usually misses back-to-back games which prevent him from showing why he was an All-Star in Philadelphia.
  • Backup guard Norris Cole is battling ankle sprain with no precise timetable for his return.
  • Quincy Pondexter, one of the best shooters on the roster and main spot-up option off the bench has a knee injury.
  • New Orleans’ second-best player – Tyreke Evans, has yet to make season debut after having surgery on his right knee. His absence is the most obvious reason why the Pelicans aren’t competitive and in a better position. Pick-n-roll actions between him and Davis were a cornerstone in Williams’ system, relying on Tyreke’s playmaking skills and slashing combined with Anthony’s versatility and freakish athleticism. Evans can’t shoot, but you can always expect from him to create something on offense and ignite the stagnating ball movement.

Without him and with Holiday playing below his capabilities, the Pelicans are very predictable, lacking any serious playmaking. The fact that Eric Gordon, guy whose great talent was overshadowed by his countless injuries, was one of the steadiest and most consistent Pelicans players says a lot. Much deeper teams would have problems overcoming such adversities.

But there is a ray of light for them. Evans is a week away from returning. Curry, James, Durant and Westbrook are all feared among the opponents, but nobody is more feared than Anthony Davis. As long as he can stay healthy, the Pelicans can pull some winning streak and return into the playoffs picture.

Are you daring enough to bet against the Unibrow?