With Anthony Davis, there’s nowhere for your squad to go but up. Unfortunately for the New Orleans Pelicans, that doesn’t seem to be the case.
The Pelicans haven’t played a quarter of the season yet, but it’s time to panic in New Orleans. Their team sits at 1-11 (with their only win coming against the Dallas Mavericks), a bottom three team in the NBA and the absolute worst team in the West.
Coming off of a playoff berth (albeit the eighth seed), not many expected the Pelicans to come out of the gates this poorly. Consider me an example: in an article with FanSided’s Dunking with Wolves, I saw them as the seventh best team in the West and primed for a potential first round upset. Instead, the Pels are in the basement looking way up on teams they are supposed to be better than — the Lakers, Trail Blazers, and Kings are a few examples.
So, without further ado, I will address the question that fans are asking: what’s wrong in New Orleans?
Injuries have affected that team greatly over the course of the last few years. Their core — Eric Gordon, Jrue Holiday, Tyreke Evans, Omer Asik, Ryan Anderson, and the aforementioned Davis — haven’t played altogether much at all in a span of three years. Currently, they’ve already had a string of injuries, with Gordon, Evans, and Asik being three of those guys in pain. Add on Holiday, who’s been playing limited minutes so far this season, and you’ve got a world of hurt — literally.
(It’s been so bad that the Pels just reached out to Jimmer Fredette again, who couldn’t even make it in San Antonio in coaching legend Gregg Popovich’s system). However with that said, Fredette was waived early Thursday.
Another huge problem has been the defense. Whether you’re using the eye test or analytics, you’ll notice that it has been nothing short of atrocious thus far. The Pelicans are giving up the most points per game in the entire league (109.9), which is more than nine points higher than the league average. On top of that, teams are shooting nearly 40% from deep while playing New Orleans, which is the second highest percentage in the league.
What’s even more unfortunate in this regard is that the Pelicans aren’t in the top half of the league in scoring, meaning that not just their defense is losing them games.
It’s actually surprising that the Pels are even as good as they are offensively. With a few of their weapons missing, teams are then able to collapse and double (or occasionally) triple team Davis wherever the superstar may be on the court. In result, Davis has shot 47.7% this year, down seven points from last year’s field goal percentage (53.5%).
Almost every single per game statistic for Davis is down this year. His scoring, rebounding, shotblocking, and passing numbers are all down, and his turnovers per game (and turnover rate), fouls per game, and field goal percentage are all down. Oddly enough, this is all occurring while he’s posting a career high in usage (30.6). Obviously Davis has taken a hit from the lack of production around him.
Another intriguing aspect to this team is the fact that they had a coaching change in the offseason, electing to fire Monty Williams and bring in Golden State Warriors assistant, Alvin Gentry (which Hussein Murray has covered here), to not only change a few things offensively and defensively, but to also instill a winning attitude into the Pels’ young core.
So far, he’s done neither.
Gentry has coached historically bad teams before (his 2010 Suns come to mind, when they were usually always in the bottom half of the league in scoring defense), but this might be his worst yet. Teams shoot a scorching 47.9% from the field against the Pelicans, and 82.6% from the charity stripe, where they’re getting a lot of looks because of how frequent New Orleans fouls the other team.
It’s a mess in New Orleans, and there is no other way around it. With this team most likely going to be sitting at home this coming postseason, Gentry could already be on the hot seat.
But… Until then… What do they do?
I hate to put it this bluntly, but tank. There are a lot of guys out there that hate the idea of tanking, but, in all reality, why wouldn’t you? I’m not advising current Pelicans general manager, Dell Demps, to just trade away all of his players for picks (like a certain guy does in Philadelphia), but to hold guys out longer than they need to recover from injuries.
There’s star power in this upcoming draft, and a certain Kentucky freshman (well, actually there are two) named Skal Labissiere will be taken towards the very top. If the Pelicans could grab him and pair him in the frontcourt with Davis, they could be looking at the league’s best forward-center duo in three or four years.
It’s ugly in Louisiana, and chances are that it won’t get any prettier either. We’ll have to see where the team goes from here, but as for now, it’s a train wreck not even basketball’s youngest superstar can fix.