Why the New Orleans Pelicans Can Become One of the NBA's Hottest Teams

Thomas Duffy@@TJDhoopsFeatured ColumnistMay 22, 2013

Why the New Orleans Pelicans Can Become One of the NBA's Hottest Teams

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    The New Orleans Pelicans have the potential to become one of the hottest, most popular teams in the NBA. Granted, the pelican isn’t an animal that strikes fear in the hearts of opponents, but Austin Rivers defended the team’s new name to Skip Bayless on ESPN's First Take.

    “You gotta roll with it, man. We have a new team, a new name; we’re getting a new arena, a new practice facility and a new start.”

    The former Duke standout also pointed out that the pelican is the state bird of Louisiana, so at least there is a connection to the state and the city of New Orleans.

    Rivers will be part of a young core on a team that has just two players older than 30 years old and whose average age is 24.7, the second-youngest in the NBA. Although he struggled somewhat last season, scoring just 6.2 points per game on 37.2 percent from the field, Rivers has the potential to blossom into a star. After all, he only played a year at Duke and then was selected with the 10th overall pick in the 2012 NBA draft as a 20-year-old—he has room to grow.

    The future of the Pelicans could possibly be built around Anthony Davis, who was selected first overall in that same draft as Rivers. Davis made a strong case for the 2012-13 Rookie of the Year award, putting up 13.5 points and 8.2 rebounds per game, but ultimately fell short to Damien Lillard. The former Kentucky Wildcat shot 51.6 percent from the field as he showcased his versatility at both the forward and center positions.

    The Hornets finished last season with a dreadful record of 27-55, but in 2013-14 they will look to improve upon that tremendously under coach Monty Williams. Will they win the NBA Finals? Probably not. But the Pelicans do have the potential to become one of the NBA’s hottest teams.

A New Beginning

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    As Rivers mentioned on First Take, this is a new start for New Orleans basketball—no more Hornets, and hopefully, no more losing.

    The Pelicans aren’t going to go on a 27-game winning streak like the Miami Heat did this season, or even win their division (which is home to both the San Antonio Spurs and the Houston Rockets) so the main goal should be to make the playoffs.

    NBA teams, or any other sports franchises for that matter, have distinct cultures. The Spurs’ culture is centered on winning; the Charlotte Bobcats are known for losing. Despite what coaches and players will say, a given season has a great impact on next year’s team, but for the Pelicans this is different.

    A new team, logo, mascot and a new start is exactly what New Orleans needs. They can no longer accept losing as part of their post-Chris Paul culture. Winning needs to take precedence in the inaugural season.

Success of Brooklyn Nets

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    In 2012-13, the Nets played their first season in Brooklyn after moving from New Jersey. The team’s popularity, and record, skyrocketed during the inaugural year, but the Pelicans probably won’t see the kind of win increase that the Nets saw. Brooklyn got a new arena, the world class Barclays Center, new uniforms, a new logo—everything that Rivers talked about.

    On the first day that the Nets officially made their move to Brooklyn, they sold more gear than they had during the entire 2010-11 season (via CNBC).

    In 2011-12, the Nets were ranked dead last in home attendance with 13,961 fans per night. Last season the team climbed all the way up to 16thin the rankings with 17,187 fans in attendance, a difference of over three thousand people every night.

    The Pelicans have that kind of potential—they won’t be as good as the Nets were this season, but the support of their fans will go through the roof.

Core of Young Stars

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    Austin Rivers, Eric Gordon and Anthony Davis have the most upside for the Pelicans, but the team can also add a potential star to the group in the upcoming NBA Draft. New Orleans was awarded the sixth overall selection in the lottery, and various mock drafts have predicted who the next Pelican will be.

    SB Nation, along with ESPN and several other mock drafts, see New Orleans drafting Trey Burke, the star point guard from Michigan, which would push Rivers further into the bench. Other options for the Pelicans would be Alex Len, the big man from Maryland, or Victor Oladipo from Indiana.

    Regardless, New Orleans will only get better by adding another youngster with the potential to become a star to their roster.

Invigorated Fan Base

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    The Hornets ranked 29th in the NBA in attendance last season, averaging just 15,528 fans on per night (via ESPN). That number should climb substantially this season, despite the fact that no groundbreaking roster, or coaching, moves have been made.

    The idea of a new beginning doesn’t just work for players—it plays in the fans’ psyche as well. People are going to want to go see the new arena. They’re going to want to buy the new jerseys and apparel and the team itself will just become a hot topic, thus increasing its popularity.

They'll Actually Be Good....Soon

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    The Pelicans are not a championship contender, but they don’t get enough credit for whom they have on their roster. They could actually be pretty good this season.

    First of all, the team is extremely young, so there are going to be ups-and-downs as the season goes on. But New Orleans has a rising star in Eric Gordon, the 24-year-old point guard who averaged 17.0 points and 3.3 assists per game this season.

    Starting alongside Gordon is Greivis Vasquez, who put up nearly 14 points and nine assists per night in 2012-13. Manning the inside are Davis and Robin Lopez, and then there’s three-point assassin Ryan Anderson, who hit 213 shots on 38 percent shooting from beyond the arc this season.

    With the young team having the chance to grow together in an invigorated new atmosphere that's given life to New Orleans basketball once again, they’re going to be able to make a playoff run over the next couple years.