Making the playoffs will be a welcome sight to the Crescent City after a barren run in recent times. The last time Pelicans made the playoffs, Monty Williams was Head Coach and before that run into Golden State Warriors 2015 title path, New Orleans had missed out on the postseason fun since Chris Paul got traded to Los Angeles Clippers.
With the team in sixth spot in the Western Conference, there is belief the team will be competing beyond the regular season. That aside, New Orleans boasts two All Star Starters in Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins who will start in this year’s All Star Game next month in Los Angeles.
That has big positive implications on the franchise in the long term just as much as in the immediate term. Should management sign Cousins to a lucrative long term deal when he becomes a free agent this offseason, Pelicans will be attractive to entice the best talent on the market. By trading Jrue Holiday, Rajon Rondo, Solomon Hill, Omer Asik and a host of players while adding a star like Chris Paul or LeBron James or 2017 All Star Kemba Walker gives New Orleans its version of the “Big 3” mania sweeping through the league.
After toiling away at the bottom of the conference for years and scrapping through several drafts, good times are here in New Orleans. By virtue of a mass exodus of talented players from the opposite conference, the team cannot rest on its laurels just yet with a host of teams jostling for spots high up the standings to avoid running into defending Champions Golden State Warriors in the first round. To maintain its spot and even do better, Pelicans need to accomplish these tasks:
Keep offense going
This is Coach Alvin Gentry’s third season at the helm since Williams departure; the two prior campaigns have been mired in topsy turvy events out of his control. Dealing with a string of injuries to Davis and personal misfortune to Holiday, Gentry’s time has been characterized with inconsistencies. Coming into New Orleans as the offensive master on Warriors 2015 Championship team, his first season was a hit on offense but terrible on defense. Last season, Pelicans offensive rating dropped to 26th while its defense moved up to 10th.
This season has been no different as New Orleans offense is ranked seventh with its defense dropping to 24th. However, offense is emphasized more in the modern game and teams in a better stead to make deeper postseason runs like Milwaukee Bucks and Cleveland Cavaliers are faring worse than Pelicans on defense. Having Cousins-25.2 points and 12.7 rebounds- and Davis-26.7 points and 10.5 rebounds- around can’t hurt.
Trade for a 3 and D player
The team’s injury situation has vastly improved this season but swingman Solomon Hill has not experienced it after injuring his hamstring prior to the season that effectively rules him out for this campaign. In his stead, the likes of Dante Cunningham, Darius Miller and DeAndre Liggins have been rotated in the position. Having non three point shooting Guard Rajon Rondo and good three point shooting Guards Jrue Holiday and Jamer Nelson on the roster, Cousins and Davis who have their fair share of struggles shooting from deep, the team needs as much spacing as possible. Nabbing a player to create more space for Davis and Cousins to do damage inside and around the paint is the key to unlock the true potential of the former Kentucky duo.
Atlanta Hawks Kent Bazemore showed Pelicans what they need by drilling the final shot from deep to beat New Orleans 95-94 recently. Stuck on a rebuilding team going nowhere, Bazemore is an ideal candidate for the role. His $17 million average annual salary is a big headache but moving players from the roster creates space for management to absorb his contract. Dallas Mavericks Guard Wesley Matthews is a perfect candidate for the role; both players are highly rated defenders and bringing either over is bound to improve Houston’s defense.
Need to downsize
With four Centers, Alexis Ajinca, Omer Asik and Davis and Cousins standing 6 foot 11 inches, the New Orleans Pelicans are simply too big to play in the modern NBA. Little wonder their value has dwindled in the league. Ajinca and Asik are big enough to bang with big guys inside the paint but are helpless when open to speedy undersized frontcourt players like Draymond Green, Tristan Thompson and Serge Ibaka.
Against the Warriors, deploying such players just won’t cut it due to the latter’s “small lineup”; bringing in a player who can defend Guards and grab rebounds like Julius Randle is a positive move.
By Yaw Adjei-Mintah
@YawMintYM on Twitter