For the past couple of years, the New Orleans Pelicans have been a team in complete and utter disarray despite the fact they have the most talented young player in the League. They have continuously wasted draft picks on questionable trades, and they have handed out poor free agency contracts as they seek to win now, instead of build patiently around Anthony Davis.
Weirdly, despite years of gross mis-management, the Pelicans find themselves in the running for the Eighth seed, and not in the way you might expect. Alvin Gentry’s teams have generally been offensively dominant, but weak defensively, but this current Pelicans team is experiencing the opposite phenomena. The Pelicans rank 6th in defensive efficiency, which is really impressive when you consider that they have been without Tyreke Evans and Jrue Holiday for the majority of the season. On the whole, Alvin Gentry appears to have this team organised and defending the three point line well, as they rank in the top ten of defensive three point percentage.
The offence has been chronic for the most part as since December 1st, they rank dead last in offensive efficiency, despite the fact they have Anthony Davis and rookie sharpshooter Buddy Hield. When you couple this with the fact they have the man responsible for changing the NBA’s offensive emphasis as their Head Coach, the struggles seem wholly bizarre. Gentry himself has struggled to explain the offence, but he is adamant that it will only improve with the return of Tyreke Evans and Jrue Holiday.
On the whole, I am inclined to agree with Alvin Gentry, as his system requires good players to be able to run it well. Jrue Holiday is one of the more underappreciated players in the League, and since his return, New Orleans have improved at both ends. Holiday isn’t a sharpshooter by any means, but his 35% chip from down town is respectable enough to stretch defences, and he can often punish this with his playmaking ability. The Pelicans have a 13-11 record since Jrue Holiday returned, and none of the other teams below the eighth seed have had as good a record in this time frame. Holiday is one of the more important players in the NBA, people just don’t seem to realise it.
The return of Tyreke Evans also gives the Pelicans an advantage, as his unique ability to collapse defences and make good decisions will hopefully help the likes of Buddy Hield and ETwaun Moore to get in their groove from beyond the arc. Against the Knicks, Evans did an incredible job of collapsing the defence and he managed to grab four assists in the process. His quick step should help create space on the perimeter and in mid-range, which are both areas Anthony Davis likes to operate from. Since his return, Evans has averaged 4.9 drives per game and whilst he isn’t quite scoring as many drives as he would like, his rhythm should eventually return, he seems to be a little bit rusty in that department.
Evans also gives the Pelicans a real option in the pick and roll game, which is something they have been lacking. Evans has been used as the pick and roll ball handler on 4.3 plays per game since his return, and he ranks in the 84th percentile in effectiveness which is comfortably the best on this roster. When you want to run an up tempo system, you need guys who can create immediately off the dribble, and Evans is one of the best in the league at doing this. He isn’t an amazing long distance shooter, but his ability to quickly attack defences will open up gaps on the perimeter, and Gentry’s system needs this.
Danny Ferry is now the de-facto General Manager of the Pelicans, and his fingerprints are all over this roster. When Ferry was in charge of the Hawks, he filled up the roster with players who could be seen as being low risk high reward. Kyle Korver was his biggest success story, as he secured him from the Chicago Bulls in exchange for cash considerations. Korver became a pivotal player in Mike Budenholzer’s ‘five out’ system, and Ferry essentially got him for nothing. Other success stories for Danny Ferry in Atlanta include DeMarre Carroll, Paul Millsap and Shelvin Mack. Ferry has tried to do similar things in New Orleans by signing players such as Solomon Hill, Terrence Jones and Etwaun Moore. These guys are not big names, but the Pelicans aren’t blessed with cap room, and these cost effective options are paying off thus far. New Orleans is a small market team without cap room, and Ferry’s clever manoeuvring has given them a chance to make the playoffs.
The Jrue Holiday-Anthony Davis combination gives this Pelicans team a balance that none of the chasing pack really have. The Blazers are horribly lopsided, Denver don’t know their best rotations, and Sacramento are a disaster waiting to happen. New Orleans might not be the best team in the West’s chasing pack, but they should be considered prime favourites due to roster familiarity, and also because of balance. This Pelicans team isn’t one that impresses statistically, but they know how to win games, and they have one of the better players in basketball. This is a bizarre mashup of a roster, but the majority of the roster is contributing, and key players are returning.